Reflecting on 2013

Wowsers, what a year! 2013 started out with frustrating inquiries on literally hundred of kids, hearing lots of “you are not a match,” fleeting second thoughts about adopting, and doubts we would ever find *our* kids.  Our hearts were broken in May when we found out we were not selected for a sibling set (10 and 12 year old boys from Texas) – it was the farthest we had gotten, it had taken months, and the thought of starting from scratch was overwhelming.  Within hours of hearing that news, our social worker informed us a local adoption worker had read our file and felt she had a match.  It was three kids (instead of the two we had planned on), they were Caucasian (obviously we have nothing against Caucasian, we just didn’t picture that), and the oldest was 14 (older than we had planned).  On top of these variations from our epic plan, I couldn’t stand the thought of another “loss.”  There was not one ounce of excitement or hope, and we sort of just went through the motions.  Mostly, our social worker went through the motions for us because she thought it was a good match, too.  After saying “no” multiple times, we agreed to do  a weekend of respite to help them find the kids’ right family.  Charlie and I exchanged many glances over the course of that first day, trying to read each other.  We snuck into another room, and Charlie whispered – “this is crazy, but they are our kids.”  Relief!  We are on the same page!  We just KNEW.  The rest is history..

2013 was full of more emotions than I thought I had, ups and downs, and twists and turns.  We might be helping our kids heal, but they are also healing us.  They have given us many gifts, such as celebrating the small things, picking the important battles, taking nothing for granted, focusing on health and happiness above all else, being intentional about keeping our marriage healthy,  narrowing in on the people in our lives that truly support us, and gratitude.  I am always astounded at the gratitude they have, despite all of the awful things that have happened to them.  If they can be grateful, so can I.  This is my New Year’s resolution – to be intentional about feeling and expressing gratitude. 

We look forward to finalizing the adoption in 2014 most of all.  I seriously tear up every time I think of it!  I am so excited to hear the judge officially declare us the forever family we already identify as.  I’m excited for the kids to change their middle and last names.  I’m excited to reduce the amount of traffic in and out of our house and begin our “normal life.”  We still do not know if T will be included in this adoption or not…we hope to know more at our next hearing on Feb 5th.  We are trying not to worry or over-analyze the pros and cons of that, but to find peace in whatever decision is made and trust that whatever happens is exactly what is supposed to happen.

On to the upcoming adventures of 2014!  Happy New Year to all of you, near and far!  Thank you for joining us on this journey – I am blessed to have an outlet such as this.

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Christmas Wishes

J brought a Christmas book home from school this weekend, and I asked him to interpret his drawings.  It had things like favorite Christmas activity, favorite Christmas food, etc.  Then we came upon “my Christmas wish.”

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I asked him to tell me about the picture.  He looked down to the ground and said, “my wish is that you guys actually adopt us.”  Ugh. I would give so very  much to be able to convince them that NOTHING is going to stop that from happening.  I was pretty honest with the social workers that we are heading to Canada or Mexico if anyone tries to take them away.  They are our kids…the end.

One of A’s wonderful and kind friends at school gave her one of her American Girl dolls the other day.  I’m not sure this family fully understands what acts like that mean for A.  In *my* world, people are inherently good.  I grew up being surrounded by kindness, and it’s something I internalized.  I was given a gift of being able to find good in just about anyone.  J and A, however, do not see the world in that way.  People, as a rule, are not kind.  They are not trustworthy.  It is rightfully so that they view the world this way, yet it breaks my heart. Random acts of kindness, especially with a relationship to back them, are amazingly healing.  I don’t know what it is about this doll (named Maddy, for the record), but it (she?!)  has been a very interesting therapeutic tool.  She is being used to process all kinds of trauma.  The other four of us sat in stunned silence as this doll re-enacted A’s childhood experiences in the car on the way to Christmas.  I had tears pouring down my face as I drove…sadness over the things that she was acting out, but also tears of joy that she feels safe to do that in front of us and has so much courage to face it all.

It might seem weird to be excited about this, but the kiddos were so nervous at the family Christmas this weekend!  Yay for stranger danger!!  They stayed close to us for much of the party, which is such a healthy and typical response for kids being in an environment with tons of new people.  Even six months ago, that wouldn’t have happened.  They would have been hugging random people and striking up conversations with strangers.  These little things give me so much hope, it’s unreal.

MY Christmas Wishes are:

1) That the kids will someday soon believe us that they aren’t going anywhere. Ever.  Even if they want to.

2) That they can find some joy over the holidays…preferably beyond that of presents.

3) Peace and healing for the birth family.  I know that our kids will want to find them someday, and I would like them to be healthy when that day comes.  I’m working hard at my own forgiveness about all of this, and the more I work on this the more grief I feel for them.  I can not even imagine losing my children.

4) That slowly, but surely, they will start to understand what “trust” means.  That they can have courage to trust appropriate people, and wisdom not to trust strangers.

5) That no one punches anyone in the face on Christmas.  And since we’re making wishes, we would like to travel the world in an RV while homeschooling.  I think that might require a winning lottery ticket?

Happy Holidays!!

we match

I should know better than to go around telling everything things are going great!  This time, that signed us up for red nail polish on the couch, a grocery store rage, and feces in all the wrong places!   My sense of humor is fully intact now that classes are over, so we will chalk it up to a lesson learned and start fresh tomorrow!

I can’t help but spend so much time thinking about how lucky we are.  Following other people’s stories as they wait to be matched with their children and/or transition them in, I hear so much fear.  I remember, quite literally, waking up in the night in a panic that we were ruining our lives.  That sounds dramatic, I know, but it’s a legit fear for most people expanding their families in this way.  There is fear associated with adding a baby, but it’s different.  Babies don’t have irreversible trauma histories or sassy personalities (yet)!  The matching process can be infuriating and long and heart-breaking – but the wait is so worth it.  I think back to all of the kids wanted so badly, and I am *sure* we were not right for each other now.  I wonder why on earth our kids went through disrupted adoptions, why they were bounced around from foster home to foster home, and why they sat in care for so long before finding a family.  They are great kids!  I think it comes down to the match.  When it’s right, the “unmanageable” behaviors are suddenly manageable, the “deal breakers” are irrelevant, and there is an indescribable sense of peace about it all, despite the chaos all around.

A couple of weeks ago, “A” randomly said “Ummm Mom?  Just to tell you…do you think it’s weird that we look exactly the same?”  We pictured a very colorful family when we started this process…to the point that we had a hard time connecting with the idea of J, A, and T when we heard they were Caucasian.  Plans change, and my little “mini me” is a reminder that this was supposed to happen.

Going against a lot of my maternal/selfish instincts, I have been having a lot of conversations with the kids about birth family.  I want them to know I can handle it so they don’t have to keep secrets.  I want to share some of their grief and pain, even in a small way, and I don’t want them to think they need to protect me from that.   I want to know all about my kids, and this includes their roots.  I want them to remember some of the happy times, and I’m afraid those memories will be lost if we don’t talk about them.  I am finding these conversations bring us so much closer together, which is quite the opposite of what I had pictured.   Ironically, I am more likely to be called “Mom” after these conversations.  I really like being “Mom” to them…

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Booked Our Trip!

We booked our winter bonding trip today!  We are headed to the Florida Keys in February.  Charlie and I had planned on taking a trip to celebrate the end of grad school since I started, but our kids are not in a place where we can leave them for that amount of time.  Looks like a week of family bonding instead!  The last time the kids were on a plane was coming home from a disrupted adoption, so we aren’t quite sure how it’s all going to go.  We have never traveled with any kids at all, so it will most definitely be an adventure!  We are keeping our expectations extremely low, and we booked a quiet/low-stimulation place on the beach where we can stay the whole time if things aren’t going great.  Regardless, we will get lots of time together as a family, some sunshine, and a much needed break from all of our services!  The boys are pretty pumped about the Dodge Charger we rented, and if all goes well we will try swimming with dolphins, snorkeling, and/or sailing. This will be our view:

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We may or may not return 🙂

Despite the holidays, things continue to be going well for us.  I don’t even mean “well” in our re-defined version, either.  At one of our many appointments last night (this week alone we had two doctors appointments, a dentist appointment, a visit from our adoption worker, a visit from the kids’ social worker, a meeting with the guardian ad litem, in-home therapy, and an appointment with the FASD specialist), “A” blew us away with her response to one of the workers.  They asked her what she liked about “staying” with “Ann and Charlie” (really, worker?!).  “A” raised her eye brows and didn’t miss a beat when she replied…”ahhh…because they are my Mom and Dad?!”  That’s right, kiddo!  And here I thought I was the one on a mission to help people become more “adoption competent.”  These kids might have some mountains to climb, but pretty sure they will move their fair share of mountains, too. 

Testing, testing, 123

I went to a really amazing attachment training a few weeks ago, and I have been testing some of the things out with A.  I know that sounds terrible…I know I am her Mom and not her therapist.  That being said, Moms will go to great lengths in order for their kids to be healthy.  I am no exception, whether that means some blurred boundaries or not.   So first, a shout out to the Evergreen Psychotherapy Center – http://www.attachmentexperts.com/ – these guys know their stuff!  If you are interested, their website also does a great job of explaining attachment disorder!   The day after I started this, she transitioned to calling us “Mom and Dad” almost 100% of the time.  Coincidence? We are in such a good streak that if we didn’t have a revolving door of social workers and therapists coming and going I would almost forget about how crazy we are all supposed to be!

J, the one who we thought would be easy peasy to transition over due to his age, is pretty stuck on “Ann and Charlie.”  We are really trying to let him have the time and space to figure it all out, but it’s starting to get a little frustrating/discouraging/etc.  We strictly refer to each other as “Mom and Dad” and when he tells me he’s going to show Charlie something I say, “Oh yeah? You’re going to show Dad?”  For the record, this is not working!  Tonight, I gently reminded him at bedtime that he is welcome to call us “Mom and Dad” whenever he is ready because we are going to be his Mom and Dad forever and ever and ever.  He told me he knows that, but that he always forgets.  Then he told me he can’t wait to see “the Mom that drinks too much beer” and asked when he can see her.  He sometimes refers to us as “the Mom” or “the Dad.”  He has had so many Moms and Dads that the titles refer to a job description, not people.  We did our good nights (“good night, Ann, I love you”), and a few minutes later he was screaming/bawling.  I ran in there, and he smiled and said he was just checkin’ to see if I would come or not.  Apparently I passed the test, because I got a “good night, Mom, I love you” after that. 

We are all doing a lot of testing.  They are testing our boundaries, the conditions of our love, our ability to handle their past, our ability to keep them safe, etc. etc. etc.  We are testing out all kinds of different strategies in order to keep our house calm and to heal our kids.  Jax’s middle name might as well be “the tester” – I will leave that at that.  This rollercoaster has tested out our marriage as well as our relationships with family and friends.  I’m pretty sure we’re gonna pass.

Melt my crabby heart!

It’s been a rough few days in that Charlie and I have had the flu, and the kids have not (at least up until last night, when little man got it).  Do the math, this is not good!  Combine that with the added behaviors that the holidays bring, finishing up my last couple weeks of classwork, more appointments than usual, etc. and I have been slightly less cheery than Buddy the Elf. 

Speaking of Elves, our “Elf on a Shelf” arrived this morning. The kids named him “Clark,” (like superman, since our last name is Kent).  Side note, did you know superman is adopted? Squirrel!  Slightly off task tonight.  Anyhow, we have been pounding boundaries into the kids’ heads, which was evidenced by J asking if it was “ppropriate to tell Clark “I love you?”  I can tell he has been spending a lot of time with Charlie when he added – “or should I just stick with “I like you?””   Mostly I thought that was adorable, but it also made me happy that he is starting to ask us if things are appropriate or not.  Why HELLOOO impulse delay!  Nice of you to make an appearance.

Back to being sick, A wrote us an adorable letter the night we were in really rough shape:

Mom and Dad,

I love my Mom and Dad because they take care of us.  Even I love them when they are angry, mad, weird, sad, sick, and all that stuff. Even I love the kids so much, they are loud and silly.  They are funny too.  I really like little kids…even Jax and J. Jax is silly and 3 years old.  J is 6 years old.  They are both the exact same silly and funny. 

Love,

A

To further melt my crabby heart, J randomly started talking about the “200 Moms and Dads” he has had tonight, and then said: “I finally found the family I always wanted.”   I hope someday to better be able to explain to him how many hundreds of children profiles and pictures we looked at and prayed over for so many months, and how we finally found the kids we always wanted, too. 

 

 

Holiday Madness

Some thoughts on getting through the holidays with traumatized kids, based on a little experience, a little education, and a LOT of mistakes:

1) Understand that holidays trigger immense grief and loss.  While all you can think about is the fun and excitement, these kids are in deep pain and “forced” to put on a show about how great their new lives are. 

2) Keep it simple.  Holidays can be overstimulating for most of us, but it’s almost intolerable for kids with trauma histories.  Going from having very little to tons of presents, parties with lots of new faces, new traditions, etc can be absolutely overwhelming. 

3) Keep your expectations realistic (i.e. LOW).  If you make it through decorating the Christmas tree without any fires or blood, you should probably bust out the bubbly when the kids are in bed.  SUCCESS!

4) Honor the birth family traditions.  Communicate about what their past holidays looked like, and what they liked/disliked about them.  Incorporate their previous traditions into your family if you can. 

5) If you decorate a tree with hand made ornaments, make sure to have your new additions make some BEFORE having a decorating party that throws in their face that they are “new” and haven’t always been with you.  Make some baby picture ornaments if you can get your hands on some!  <—–this may or may not require major Facebook stalking.  Go with it. 

6) Don’t assume they have the same expectations about holidays as you.  Communicate until your are blue in the face about what goes on – the uncertainty of it all causes unneeded anxiety that can be better spent elsewhere.  I so take for granted what “Christmas” means, because I do things so similarly to how I was raised.

7) Don’t expect them to be appreciative…it’s not realistic.  See #1.

8) Anxiety looks like all sorts of things in traumatized kids that doesn’t look like anxiety.  Try to remember it’s anxiety and not malice (read: try to remember not to throw kids into snow banks head first).  In our kids, anxiety can look like arguing, hitting, bedtime issues, carelessness, extra tattling, etc. 

9) Be flexible.  Connection and healing is more important than doing everything just the way you always do.  If something’s not working, bail on it.  You can always try again next year!  Family and friends may not understand, but your kiddos need to know you have their backs, first and foremost. 

10) Don’t forget the wine.  Use coffee mugs if needed! 

Happy Holidays!! 

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