Hi, We’re Adopted.

We have had a camping trip planned for quite some time, but got rained out this weekend.  None of our kids are extremely flexible with things like that (most flexible kids in the universe with other things), and we were frantically trying to come up with a plan B.  We decided on a weekend up at a water park in Brainerd.  Since we booked the day we checked in, there weren’t a lot of options for rooms.  We ended up with a room that had 2 queens and a pull out couch.  That’s a lot of people in one room for a whole weekend!  Our first night was a little (a lot?) rough, though we found it pretty hilarious to hear “J” yell – “GOSH, you two!  Can you start making good choices so we don’t have to leave?!” He is not typically the one preaching about good choices, just sayin’.  Aside from that night, it was a really amazing weekend that was pretty phenomenal for attachment purposes.

Hotel stays and eating out all weekend = expensive

472 trips up all the stairs to go down slides = exhausting.

Hearing “I love this family!” coming from the inside of a tube slide = priceless!!!

Charlie overheard the kids enter the hot tub by saying, “HI! We’re adopted.”  We are struggling with the delicate balance between wanting them to have good boundaries/understanding their story is their own and the fact that there is no shame in adoption.  As an adult, I struggle with this balance.  Add in the confusion and impulsivity of a child and you have a recipe for spewing your stuff all over the place. We have reeled in the “my mom drinks beer and my dad is in prison” disclosure quite a bit.  I feel like we need to know where the need to introduce themselves as adopted is coming from.  Are they proud of it?  Do they feel like it defines them?  I want them to know that it is only one piece of them, like their hair color or name or athletic ability.

“J” told Charlie, “You are the best Dad I have had yet!” this weekend.  For the record, this was due to Charlie’s fantastic ability to transform transformers.  Speaking of, is there somewhere I can take a class for this?  I am weirdly bad.  Anyway, this made me sad.  This is all so confusing for both of them, but him especially.  He asks a lot of sad questions and really has a hard time grasping what’s going on.  Last week, he asked “A” when he could meet his birth Mom.  She told him when they were 18 they could, and he asked how they would get there.  “Our car, duh,” she said.  His concern was, “But what if we run out of gas?”  “A” is getting irritated at this point – “DUH, we will fill it up. Ugh.”  “J” turned to me to say “Don’t worry, we’ll still visit you sometimes.”  Thank you for naming my biggest fear, kiddo!  I was stuttering around, trying to figure out what to say, when “A” in all of her 7 years of wisdom speaks up.  “You have it backwards.  We can visit our birth Mom, but Ann and Charlie will always be our parents.  This is our forever family.”  Pretty sure I could take a few lessons from her in articulation!  I let them finish their conversation in “privacy.”  I use quotes, because I was really spying.  I was grateful to hear “A” repeat my words…”Ann and Charlie will help us find our birth parents when we are old enough if that’s what we want.”

“A” calls me “Mom” about 50% of the time, but today she referred to herself as my daughter.  It felt like a very significant milestone.  She has had a few “Moms” in the past, but has only been a daughter once before.  I just love these kids so much, it’s crazy!  I felt a little in awe all weekend at our fun family weekend.  I LOVE listening to the kids talk to each other in the back seat.  People frequently comment at how impressed they are with Jax and how well he handled the transition…but I just think he’s an old little soul that always knew they were his siblings on some other level.  I remember rambling on in a desperate attempt to help his 3 year old brain understand these kids weren’t leaving like all the other kids that have been here…”I KNOW, MOM!” he yelled.  Ok, I guess he knows. We knew we had kids out there somewhere, and we can’t really explain why we knew they were in foster care.  We aren’t saints who set out to save the world or anything dramatic like that…we wanted to expand our family and knew this was the way we were supposed to do it.  We get a lot of “those kids are so lucky” statements, and I want to be clear – Charlie and I are the lucky ones!  We have been blessed with three funny, resilient, kind, amazing kids. Sometimes they are all three a whole lot of work, make no mistake, but they teach us more every day than we will ever teach them.

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Monday night adrenaline rush

Dear Charlie,

For future reference, please give me a heads up when you plan on testing the fire alarms at 8pm on a Monday night.  Thanks for understanding.

Love,

Ann

Fire alarms never trigger a super calm reaction, but I’m telling you it took on a whole new meaning in our home when we expanded our family!  I frantically checked the hiding spot for our lighters and my back pocket for the fire starter I used on the bonfire earlier.  (A noteworthy first instinct…note to self: get people out FIRST, figure out how it started LATER).

Our night was very RAD-like this evening (RAD = reactive attachment disorder), and the fire alarm incident triggered some mopiness (that spelling is clearly not right, but you know what I mean – mopey!).  Our life is so not normal!  I trust this glass of wine I just poured will remind me that A) nobody thinks their life is normal B) our kids are healing every day, even when it doesn’t feel like it, and C) our house was NOT on fire, which is good news.  Cheers to a new day tomorrow!

Not What We Expected…

…in a really, really good way.  In the early early phases, we felt a sense of relief when we heard there were bio grandparents who wanted ongoing contact (including overnight visits).  We thought – GREAT, this will give us some special time with Jax to regroup a little.  Our (kind of traumatizing) experience with foster care left us worried that the kids would feel like a burden.  I hate verbalizing that, but it’s the truth, and I’m finding truth to be a pretty important thing.  Reading through the paperwork, I was so very worried that the kids would never be able to attach to us or us to them.  We committed to loving them enough for all of us and moved forward, but had a lot of fear.  It would be dishonest to say we weren’t scared out of our minds, and thinking forward to the potential for getting “breaks” helped us keep trucking.

This weekend we got one of those “breaks.”  An amazing family offered to take all of our crew for an overnight on Friday.  They are comfortable there, and were very happy to have a slumber party.  I still had a ton of guilt about this – are they ready to be away from us?  Are they going to worry we aren’t coming back?  Gah!  Today, the kids were gone on a day visit most of the day with bio grandparents.  We were so lonesome and sooo looking forward to a family day tomorrow!  Mostly, we were  all just bored.  What the heck did we do when it was just Jax before!?   The boredom and loneliness hit me like a ton of bricks, because it means something pretty amazing.  They belong with us.  I officially declare myself ATTACHED!  I don’t need a break from them to have time with Jax.  They are all three my kids, and while I love them all in very different ways, I freaking love them.  All of them.  The whole crazy bunch!  Attachment is a two way street, and their experiences and trauma leave them with a long road to walk.  I think it’s got to be a lot easier of a road when someone genuinely loves you, though, and I am filled with optimism and hope.

I didn’t hear what “J” said, because they were in another room, but I heard “A” respond with: “Yeah but remember, Jacob, this is our forever family. We can see her when we are 18, but Ann and Charlie will always be our parents.”  I’m assuming he asked something about when he would get to see their birth Mom.  She was not saying this for anyone’s benefit, because she had no way of knowing I was listening.  She is such an old amazing little soul, and I think there is some very important reason why she came to us.  I think she is going to do great things in this world, and I hope that telling her story and sharing her powerful words will inspire someone in some small way.  Maybe it will even give someone that feels called to adopt to let their faith be bigger than their fear 🙂

200 cool names

We talked a lot about names before we ever met our kids.  We always hoped they would take our last name, but had decided to let them decide.  We had always planned on keeping their first and middle names, as they were gifts from their birth families and something we felt was important to hang on to.  (Mind you, we second guessed this decision when we were matched with a few different kids with very “unique” names!). Like most things, our kids have been leading the way with names!  About a month ago they asked if they could share our last name “so our whole family has the same name.”  Yes, please! 

A couple of weeks ago, “A” approached us and asked if she could change her WHOLE name.  “I need to start over.”  After she went to bed, I asked Charlie if he thought that was just kid stuff – how cool that you might be able to change your name at 7?!  Charlie responded with – “No, I think that shit was deep.”  What a way with words, he has!  We asked her to think about it and we would talk about it again when finalization got closer.   Meanwhile, we talked to their therapists and a bunch of my therapist friends to get everyone’s take.  The general consensus in the professional world was to let her take the lead with it.  We laid out options for her and asked her to take some more time to think.  There were a ton of options, and it seemed kind of overwhelming:

1) Only change her last name

2) Only change her middle name and her last name

3) Change the whole thing

4) Move her birth last name to a middle name

5) Move her birth first name to her middle name

6) Some combination of the above(!?)

We had the most beautiful conversation over the weekend, and she decided she needs to keep her first name (we are relieved about this).  Her middle name is also her birth mother’s middle name and her birth grandmother’s middle name.  Sometimes her maturity amazes me…this is what she decided:

“I think I need to keep my middle name, cuz I’m the third person in my family to have it.  I think I might want to give it to my girl someday.  Can I have two middle names?  I want you to give me the other middle name, whatever you would have named me if you would have carried me in your tummy like Jax.” 

I’m very excited to announce her beautiful new name when we finalize!  “J” also had some really great insight about his name, and he chose to keep his first name and have us name him his middle name.  He thinks it’s “200 cool,” and so do we! 

It’s OK To Cry

I have never been a big crier, and quite frankly went out of my way to avoid it most of my life, but lately I cry pretty much all the time.  I cry when I’m happy, I cry when I’m sad, I cry when things are beautiful, I cry when things are not beautiful, I just cry!  It’s not only because I’m a basketcase (I swear)…it’s because I just feel everything so intensely since getting the kids.  It’s like I have a totally new lens to view the world!  “A” will often say things like “let’s not talk about my birth Mom, because then I will cry.”  Both kids have a tendency to “stuff” their feelings as a way of coping.  We gently encourage them to let themselves FEEL.  In the process, I have also starting letting myself feel more.  Healing our kids, healing ourselves, I tell you!

Yesterday morning, I was totally and completely overwhelmed with all of the sensations.  There was the smell of wood burning, the sound of all three kids laughing and playing together, the taste of coffee, and the feel of the cool Fall breezing coming in through the windows.  Kind of an everyday moment, but we just don’t take everyday moments for granted anymore.  The everyday moments feel like little mini miracles….sometimes not even so mini.  Two months ago we found out we were getting the kids in two days, and now here we are functioning as a pretty darn normal family with everyday moments?  Tear worthy, if you ask me.  I think this is the case when you add a biological baby as well, but it’s such a gradual process then that it doesn’t feel quite so intense.  When you add babies to the family, they don’t talk.  They don’t have really strong personalities.  They can’t  process or articulate what a giant change having them around is.  They don’t form opinions about you based on who you are as a person.  They can’t verbalize how big and scary this world is as compared their previous “life.”  Our kids do.

We met our kids’ bio grandparents today in person for the first time.  I was so nervous!  I kept thinking what it must be like to be meeting the parents of your child’s children.  What if they don’t like us?  What if they never accept us as the kids’ parents? What if they are resentful?  What if seeing them triggers the kids or makes them extra lonesome for their bio family?  Lots of questions.  It was actually really quite amazing.  They are beautiful people, and I’m excited to have them as a lifeline for our kids (and ourselves).  They are able to fill so many of our “unknowns” in, and the kids appear to be genuinely attached to them (which is HUGE).  They referred to us as “Mom and Dad,” which much have been incredibly painful and difficult.  They very appropriately answered the kids’ questions about seeing their birth Mom, and they said, “Ann and Charlie are your Mom and Dad now, honey, forever.  We are happy you are with them.”  I think that “permission” from someone in the bio family for them to be our children was a game-changer.  Grandma told me that she showed all of the pictures we sent to the kids’ birth parents.  Their birth Mom said, “A” looks like her Mom.”  While I sometimes feel pretty intense anger towards them, mostly I just feel so much pain for them.  I. can’t. imagine.  A and J’s Grandma referred to Jax as their new grandson and hugged us when we were leaving.  Wowsers.

Feeling that pre-visit nervousness made me think back to the time when I was driving to meet them/pick them up for the first time.  I never worried about how I looked during labor with Jax, because I knew without a doubt he would love me anyway.  I checked myself in the mirror many, many times as I pulled into the gas station parking lot and got a glimpse of my kids for the first time. 

I got a little off topic, but the moral of the story is to slow down a little.  Let yourself be overwhelmed with the “everyday moments.”  Let your self just feel…the good, the bad, and the ugly.  It’s all pretty beautiful!

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I Actually Really Love You

According to everyone who knew the kids before we did, they didn’t have the word “love” in their vocabulary.  It melted my heart to hear “A” tell “T” on the phone tonight, “I love you!”  I was in the other room, and Charlie was reading books or something to the kids.  “A” told Charlie, “I love you.”  He said that he loved her, too – and she clarified with one of the most beautiful things ever:  “I really actually love you.”   The more I think about this, the more profound it becomes. 

To back up for a minute, that crisis I bragged about not happening kind of happened last week, just throwing that out there.  By “kind of happened” I mean I cried for like 48 hours, almost quit my job, contemplated dropping out of grad school, gained five pounds, and drank approximately 17 bottles of wine (out of coffee mugs, of course).  Two positives: I have since pulled myself together, and I “really actually love” J and A.   A trusted coworker/friend told me mid-crisis : Ann, you know how when you are on an airplane and they tell you that you need to put your own oxygen mask on before putting your kids’ on?   Do that.

I am getting organized (shout out to Mary and Ana for giving me templates for keeping track of everything), getting the kids up 15 minutes earlier each morning to reduce stress, eliminating power struggles that don’t need to happen (bought a hanging shelf and put outfits for each kid on a shelf for each day to get rid of clothing battles on a daily basis), carving out time to work out each day, reducing my caseload a bit, and putting thought into what I’m putting into my body.   That’s my oxygen mask.

** A really quick plug for a book many of you have probably heard of: Have You Filled a Bucket Today?  A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids.  Mid-dinner last week after hearing some school stories from the kids about bullying (them being on both sides), I literally got up to search for books on amazon!  This came on Friday, and it’s amazing.  Highly recommend for all kids – it uses unique language to help kids understand the importance of kindness  You can purchase it here: http://www.amazon.com/Filled-Bucket-Today-Guide-Happiness/dp/0978507517/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1378690451&sr=8-2&keywords=filling+up+bucket

I had school all weekend (three more left(!!) in case you are counting), and my being gone triggers the kids’ abandonment issues quite a bit.  Luckily, this opened up some great conversation tonight about their birth Mom.  “A” was really open tonight about missing her.   I told her it’s okay she misses her birth Mom, and that she can and probably will always love her.  We talked about it being okay to love her birth Mom and Dad AND us, and that doesn’t  take away from either.  Her response?  “That sure filled up my bucket!  That was a nice thing to say.”  She never ceases to amaze me when she thanks us for things that shouldn’t require thanks.  She continues to talk about finding them when she turns 18, which we tell her we will help her with if she wants.  Tonight she hugged me and said, “You will always be my Mom even when we find her.  I can have two Moms.”  We both cried when she asked me, “Will I be too old to call her Mommy when we find her?”  It’s not easy, but I can sure see the importance of continuing to be open about their current feelings and future contact with birth family.  As much as we want to put them in a bubble and have them be “ours,” the truth is that they DO have two sets of parents….and that needs to be okay with us.  It would all be easier if we didn’t actually really love them so much, I think.

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