I don’t remember much from when I was 10. I don’t remember the birthday party I had, nor many specific moments. I have to really dig through my memories: who was my teacher? What did I like in school? What did I do during recess? How did I relate to my mom? What did I enjoy more than anything else? And slowly the memories come up; memories that allow me to find empathy for Missy.
When I was 10, I had a male teacher and I did not like him. My friend A and I laughed at him mercilessly, though usually in the privacy of our homes. We liked to play barbies. Each barbie had her own house which we carefully decorated, and a wardrobe chosen with a true eye for detail. The barbies were usually neighbors and close friends, they went out to parties and out swimming. The themes we explored would shock me, now.
When I was 10, I rode my bike to and from school. I went to the bakery to buy bread for my mom. I bought candy at the penny counter of the grocery store, carefully weighing the bag to make sure it was exactly equal to the amount of money in my pocket. I also stood outside the cornerstore and begged people for money, which I then used to buy a candy bar. With my friend K, I liked to play “orphans,” a pretend game where we were two orphans fending for ourselves in the woods. We donned headscarves and baskets, and played for hours in her room.
My friend H and I liked to play ding-dong ditch. Once, a neighbor threatened to let her dogs loose on us. We hid in my backyard shed until the danger passed, but when we came out it turned out she’d gone to have a chat with my mother, instead.
When I was 10, I fought a LOT with my parents. Things never felt very fair, especially when my older sibling outsmarted me and got me to do something, or when my younger sibling got away with not doing the dishes. I didn’t understand why my mom and dad got to sit down and relax together after dinner, while we kids had to stay in the kitchen and do the dishes. When an explanation was finally offered – “we cooked dinner” – I jumped on that and began helping out in the kitchen.
I learned how to bake a pound cake and when I became hungry for a sweet snack, offered to bake cake. My mom put an end to that when she realized how small my cakes were, compared to hers.
When I think about Missy and all the things she does that are annoying, all the things that make her seem like a lazy, irresponsible person, I need to think back to what life felt like to me when I was that age. I was self-centered, quick to point out anything that seemed unfair, and unaware of the tremendous amounts of work and patience that my parents exhibited on a daily basis. I need to stop myself from judging Missy’s character and instead give her a hug, play a game of phase 10, and tell her I think she’s really funny, or smart, or insightful. I remember just wishing that I belonged in my family, and feeling painfully aware of all the ways in which I did not. In the end, isn’t “belonging” all any of us want?
I wrote this last weekend and might one day share it with Sweetpea. While I didn’t exactly feel sad about weaning her, it did feel significant and important. I wanted to mark the end somehow, to have a weaning ceremony or nursing celebration, or something. We did had cake and it was lovely. She hasn’t nursed in almost a week now and soon, there will be no more milk. I’m finally feeling the sadness in that. Not Sweetpea though. She hasn’t asked to nurse even once, in spite of being hit with a cold and double ear infection. But she’s a tough cookie, and she was ready.
The last time we nursed, was today, Sunday morning. You’d woken up before me, as always, and eagerly walked into my room announcing: “Sun up! Time to nurse now!” At my prodding you sweetly asked more politely: “peaz me nurse now? Peaz you nurse me?” You were adorable and of course I obliged. The night before we had discussed, again, that this would be our last time. I gently reminded you of this and you just nodded, eager to get to the business at hand. For our last time, I’d pictured it would be leisurely and last forever, but that was not the case. “Switch!” Came the request pretty quickly. Even quicker: “all done! Me go see Buddy now” After church that day, we stopped at the bakery to choose your No-More-Nursing Cake. To my surprise, you chose a carrot cake. “This my nursing cake,” you proudly explained to the girl boxing it up. And to the nice man behind us. And the two single 20-something guys behind him. Finally you got to the older lady in the back: “this my nursing cake!” At home, you gobbled up your slice and went upstairs for rest hour, while I sat on my bed and quietly despaired at the prospect of no more naps. But then you came in and got under the covers in bed next to me. “Me take nap now. Not nurse, just a nap. Goodnight mommy.” We snuggled close, me being sure to keep my “nursies” covered, thinking you’d still want them; you didn’t. You closed your eyes and drifted off to sleep. I laid with you a long time that day.
I chose to nurse you long before you were born. Breastmilk is the absolute best nourishment for babies and with all of my back-to-nature tendencies, it was the only thing that made sense to me. I’m so thankful that it was possible for us to do so. I had heard many women exclaim how much they loved nursing their babies. The early days of nursing you were not easy. I felt pretty uncomfortable, and getting a good latch was really difficult. I didn’t know this at the time, but we also had thrush which caused it to hurt badly. But, as with everything else, practice makes perfect. And we practiced a LOT! You nursed like a champ, 10-14 times a day, sometimes more! I came to love our nursing sessions: snuggled on the couch or in bed, the lawn of the White House (oh yes!), or in the sling or a comfy seat at a coffeeshop, you latched on and drank that milk. We both became still, and looked at each other, and our love grew. It felt right, even as you got older and people started telling me you were getting too old for this.
As an infant, you would nurse and then look at me with milk all over your face and the biggest smile. “Milk” was your first sign, and I was glad to oblige. Before your naps, we laid on my bed and nursed until you drifted off to sleep, peacefully. I often stayed just to stare at you, marveling at your features and how quickly you were growing, learning, and changing. Even yesterday, you ran into our room in the morning excitedly declaring “sun up! Sun up! Me nurse now! You nurse me now!” You’ve always been eager to nurse together.
As much as I’ve loved our nursing relationship, over the past few months, I have felt some resentment as well. Sometimes you came in to nurse and I did not want to. I felt sad and confused by that, because I’ve loved it so much. I’ve prayed and journaled about it, and finally came to realize that after 2 years and 9 months of nursing, it might be time to change our relationship to not include it anymore. You have become so big, strong, and sure of yourself. You readily accept other forms of comfort and reassurance, and you’re simply the best snuggler. You’ve also begun to say “no” when I’ve offered to nurse you down for a nap. Many mornings you forget to come into my room for a nurse because you’re so excited about starting the rest of your day. All these things told me that you will be ok, we will be ok, even without nursing together.
So on Friday I told you: “let’s make this our last time nursing.” Your eyes got wide and you adamantly said “NO.” Just as I’d expected. However, I was surprised by your response after I asked you how many more days you wanted to nurse: “two.” Your answer was short, simple, and with mixed feelings I agreed to two days. So here we are, my dearest Sweetpea, today we started a new chapter of our lives together. May you continue to grow and blossom in the ways God intended. And may these early bonding moments be forever etched in your heart as you grow into the young woman you were created to be.
For the past 3.5 years, since becoming parents to Buddy and Missy, we’ve been attending weekly counseling sessions at a local center that specializes in working with families who are touched by adoption. They have literally been the ones to carry us through the roller-coaster ride of the first months and years. Missy attended play therapy and learned to identify her feelings, to know when she’s flooded, to use her “first aid kit for feelings.” She recently completed her trauma work and we were all set to begin on attachment. MrH and I found a safe haven for struggles with the kids, the changing dynamics in our marriage, and also our personal moments of hurt, joy, success, and failure. Most recently, Buddy began play therapy as we work to cope with his anxiety and low self-confidence. They were the ones who facilitated discussions with birth parents, advised us on how to proceed in ways that honored their feelings while addressing the kids’ needs for stability, and held our feelings when it got really hard. Over and over again.
Now, due to changes in governmental funding formulas that are beyond my ability to understand, this incredible non-profit is closing its doors. I just got the news. “Devastating.” The first word that entered my mind. Even after reminding myself that my family is now fine, and as a family we will not be devastated by this, it’s still the main feeling in my heart right now. A piece of my heart is devastated in the truest sense of the word. Shattered into many pieces, confused, angry: what kind of a world do we live in that this incredible resource to so many, could not find the additional $200,000 it needed to keep its doors open? Who are these folks in Washington (or our state, or whatever), so callously making decisions to save a buck, in the meantime cutting off hundreds of pre- and post-adoptive kids from the supportive services they need?
I spent the past hour maniacally cleaning my room, a small vestige of control in my life. See how good they were? I know that when I start cleaning like a mad-woman, I’m seeking control over something in my world. I know, too, that it’s a false sense of control, it doesn’t actually work. This world will still be just what it is. Nothing more, nothing less. But for right now, will you sit with me and just hold this feeling of devastation? Tomorrow I’ll put on the optimism again, tomorrow I’ll learn the lesson, tomorrow I’ll realize that this is a call to action for my own life. Right now, I just feel sad. For me. For the other clients. For the amazing therapists who are losing their jobs. For the world.
This is nothing new to anyone who has parented for a while, but this week I’ve felt increasingly pissy at the fact that I can not just take a day off. I’ve had this cold pestering me for over a week now. You know the kind, where you have a slight headache and sore throat, and feel all around “under the weather,” your day looks overwhelming, but any single task is still totally doable? So I move through my day and my kids forget that I’m feeling terrible, and I forget, until suddenly I can’t stand one more noise or sight or smell, and explode or need to whine (hopefully after having removed myself from said kids’ earshot!).
Sometimes I wonder: “who am I to complain?” I can let the kids watch tv for an hour while I take a nap. They’re old enough now to even occasionally play independently while I rest. We cuddle up on the couch and read. I don’t do the housework I usually try to keep up with so diligently (try being the operative word here). But after a week of this, my house is wrecked, I’m exhausted, and the kids antsy. I’m extra touch- and sound-sensitive but the toddler wants to be in my lap non-stop. The night-waking doesn’t break, and MrH’s workload isn’t reduced. My body screams: LET ME STAY IN BED!! every morning.
When the kids are sick, their activities (and sometimes those of their siblings) are canceled and we take a rest. When I’m sick, the kids whine and complain about missing their friends and being bored.
So I look back in my journals, trying to remember “to what end?” are we doing this? What do we hope to instill in our children? What experiences do we want them to have? I’m reminded that my kids can actually help out: unloading the dishwasher, taking out trash, sweeping a floor. I’m reminded that Missie can play with her friend for the afternoon. That I can nap with Sweetpea. And that Buddy is perfectly happy watching tv all afternoon, and gets PE and recess at school. I’d rather be a happy mama than a stressed and sick mama. I’d rather teach my kids that I am important too, that I matter, and that I have feelings. I want to model ways that I can take care of myself and that I’m worth it. These alternatives aren’t for the everyday, but for today, it works. Today, I can take a little extra time and rest, while teaching my kids that I’m valuable. And tomorrow? Eh, tomorrow’s the weekend. MrH, I’m calling in sick!
Our good feelings from Christmas have propelled us right into the new year, through a week filled with field trips and free play. Inspired by a gift from We Bloom Here (thank you again!), my kids and I spent a delightful afternoon painting peg people. Once they were dry, Missy spent an entire rest hour and then some costuming hers and Sweetpea’s. I reserved the ones I’d painted for myself, since it was just too fun to allow her to do it all. These are the ones she did. Delightful, yes?
We used the tutorials here and here, and also did a quick search on pinterest for some inspiration. In the end Missy did something completely different than what I’ll do with mine. She’s so proud of them, and loves to play with them!
Sweetpea received a dollhouse family from her grandmother, placed on her wishlist by yours truly. But… uhm… well, we don’t own a dollhouse. We owned a wood farm but the kids never played with it and it found a better home. We own the Diego magic treehouse, a $3 thriftstore find by Buddy. We own a trashpicked Dora house that sits in storage in our basement… You get the picture. To remedy that, I grabbed some boxes from the basement, some fabrics, and a pad of gorgeous scrapbooking paper that I’d purchased on close-out months ago. I showed the kids how to wallpaper and carpet the boxes. They took to it with gusto. Sweetpea made the decisions about color, Buddy and Missy made rooms. Missy has also spent several rest hours since then making furniture with little boxes, fabric scraps, wood blocks, and the like. Having my kids involved in making a dollhouse has been a dream of mine for years now, as I fondly remember working with my dad on decorating our wooden dollhouse with wallpaper and carpet scraps. That one even ended up with electric lighting and miniature furniture kits. I must admit, I prefer the cardboard construction.
Just when I thought our week couldn’t get any better, the kids realized that they could play house under our dining room table (also a fond memory of mine from childhood). I did nothing to encourage this. One afternoon MrH and I looked over, dead-tired from the holiday celebrations, and realized that Buddy was the mail-carrier, while the girls were crouched in their “house.” At regular intervals, he dimmed the lights announcing: “it’s evening now, time to get ready for bed!” or “GOOD MORNING!” while flicking the lights back on. Again. Hours. When it was bedtime Sweetpea was devastated that she wouldn’t actually get to sleep in her bed under the table. The kids begged us to allow them to keep the game set up, so we let them. Today, they played again all morning.
Is parenting as simple as some of the blogs suggest? Is some free time, a few new toys, and lots of boxes and craft materials, truly all they need? After this week, it’d be easy to think “yes.” I’ve parented for long enough now though to know that this is unlikely to last. That sooner or later, one of them will become dis-regulated again for whatever reason. I’m sure a new struggle is only just around the corner. But this week, I’m going to savor the beauty of my kids building up their resilience through play, as they are happily, creatively engaged.
Since marrying MrH and becoming a family of 2, we’ve talked about what we would want our Christmas to look like as we expanded our family. This year, we’ve finally hit it on the mark, we had such a lovely day! It was really the result of a lot of factors finally coming together after years of moving towards what we wanted, and also of some very meticulous, type-A planning (to distract me from our family’s rich emotional life).
When we were dating and engaged, we negotiated with our family’s each year about where we would spend which holiday. It was exhausting, especially because my family lives across the country, while his lives about 30 minutes away! We made the very difficult decision to tell both families that we would not be traveling at all during any of the major holidays. My family’s annual gathering was moved to a different time of year. His sister was relieved to no longer have 3 Christmas functions in one day as that family gathering now happens on Boxing Day. While there was all sorts of opportunity for people to feel hurt and rejected, we all worked together to make this alternate schedule work for everyone, and in looking back, the past 4 years of holidays spent at our home has been just what we hoped for. We had invited my family to come join us here for Christmas, but it turns out they don’t actually want to travel for holidays either. Go figure!
At the same time, ever since buying our home, God has placed it on our hearts that this is His home, to be shared with whomever needs it. (That agreement with Him is how we became parents, after all…). We knew our home was to be a gathering place, but weren’t sure what that would mean. This year, our Christmas at home finally felt like an actual gathering place. We hosted my sister and her boyfriend for a low-key brunch. Then had my in-laws, a friend and her family, and another friend with a date, all over. All people who were missing the large gatherings of family and felt a little stranded this particular season. It was delightful to have a house full, and our new dining room table was able to accommodate everyone. The kids were thrilled to blow out the candles on Jesus’ birthday cake, and spent the rest of the afternoon/evening playing with all the new toys they’d received.
Having so many phases to our day, and balancing it out with some outdoor time and some rest time, created a flow that the children managed with ease. Preparing in the days before allowed each of us to enjoy each part of the day. This truly was the Christmas that MrH and I have been working towards for a few years now. And while our needs and desires for the day will undoubtedly change, I am grateful for the time we had. I hope I will remember to feel encouraged about the steady progress we made as each year we moved a step closer towards how we wanted things to be.
Becoming a parent involves loss. No matter how desired, welcomed, and anticipated the child is, loss is still part of the equation. Even more so when suddenly (read: unplanned) becoming parents to two children, one with a known trauma history and the other with a known history of neglect. For the past few months, I’ve been acknowledging my losses and my joys as I became a parent. Part of me feels angry that it’s taken me this long: 3 years to get to a point of looking at my life in a clear-headed way and seeing that I’m not living it the way I want to. I’m not a modeling a life I want my kids to have. Now part of that is my perfectionistic self, and so I’m working to see that modeling how to work through grief is actually imperative to my parenting; my children will need to learn how to work through their own losses. So here goes:
- I grieve the loss of knowing I won’t have another pregnancy. For so many reasons we are not adding to our family.
- I grieve knowing that I will never have a natural birth or an empowering one.
- I grieve for all of my children’s losses, more of which become apparent to me as I continue to know them deeper.
- I grieve for the family life I’d envisioned, the parenting I’d envisioned, both made so different by the force of prior neglect, trauma, and resulting triggers and attachment issues.
- I grieve the loss of sisterly relationship with my sister.
- I grieve feeling like a competent, reasonable, patient person (though hope to regain that one day!).
- I grieve my relationship with MrH. It’s changed. I know it’s normal. I know we’re deeper now. I still feel sad for some of the losses.
- I grieve the time I didn’t get to spend with Missy and Buddy when they were little. “If only…” I would have done so much more.
I don’t remember the studies, but research consistently shows (as far as I remember) that people with children are less happy than people without. I guess it’s attributed to the daily grind, the daily stress of living with them, providing, cleaning, teaching. At the same time, people with children feel more satisfied on a deep level than people without children. I guess that’s why we do it to begin with, right? I’m becoming better at holding both of those truths: the truth of my feelings of loss and my process of grief, and the truth of the deeply beautiful and transcending moments of my days. One does not negate the other. I know that I have gained a great deal and am (hopefully!) on the path to becoming more whole, more joyful, and more grace-filled. I know that God is bigger than any of these, and I know that He works all things for good. I know all that, and I can still sit at the beach and feel my eyes well up with sadness about Buddy’s neglect; can still walk with a pregnant friend and be overcome with such intense sadness that I want to vomit; can still talk with someone about how wonderful my children are while feeling so lonely it’s like someone is squeezing my heart dry; can still hold my sweet littlest one and be enraged by the unfairness of it all, the loss of it all.
I see the beauty and I feel the pain. And I’m moving closer and closer towards acceptance.
I’m not trying to have a pity party. I’m trying to normalize people talking about grief, about loss, about the hard feelings. Too often we say “oh yes, isn’t it wonderful?” when we really mean “I’m having intense feelings of grief right now and need a few minutes.” So to all of us who have suffered loss for any reason I say: take those few minutes, weeks, months, years. Take the time to digest the losses, to grieve, and to reach a place of authentic wholeness. And trust that in the process, we are teaching others to do the same.
Tomorrow, Buddy starts kindergarten. He’s already successfully navigated the one-to-one assessment with his new teacher, and the two-hour orientation. He’s thrilled, and I’m thrilled for him. I’ve worked hard these past few months to have fun with him, to support him, and to love on him. I pushed and pushed myself against the feeling of “thank god, he’ll be someone else’s problem.” I feel proud of the work we have done together this summer. And now, I’m relieved he heads to school!
I’m relieved not just because I won’t have to wipe a poopie bum every day during lunch, or only because it’s hard to keep up with his abundance of energy. I’m relieved because I think it will provide structure and purpose to his days that he sorely needs right now. At home we try: we keep our routines and share plans for the day. He has done super in preschool for the past two years and this summer he has retained all of his academic kindergarten skills. We’ve worked on some of his social skills and he has developed a relationship with his therapist where he feels increasingly comfortable sharing the tough stuff. He has space and people with him he can work stuff outt. I wouldn’t have said this 3 months ago, but today I know that he’s ready. He knows it too. He has been more confident when meeting new people. He blew me away when he first met his teacher with his charisma and humor.
So I eagerly await my boy’s entry into kindergarten. I recognize the likelihood of him being an exhausted terror (at home only of course) for the next few months and I pray that as he settles into the school schedule, he’ll gain even more confidence and pride in the skills he’s learning.
***like my optimism? I’m totally aware of all the things that can go awry and have proactively worked to address those as well. But today… today I feel hopeful.
Today, I really felt in my element as a mother. I can tell you, that is a rare occasion for me! While I know that I have strengths as a mother, and that I even handle some really tough stuff with a modicum of grace and dignity, my kids generally have more needs than I have dignity, resulting in some very chaotic scenes.
But today was different. I’m not sure why. Buddy was a little less oppositional, and I a little more adept at handling it. Missy was excited about her spelling lesson, and I about spending the time with her. Sweetpea was just the cutest, as she nursed her baby and took a nap. The kids didn’t beat each other up every chance they got, and even read a book together, touching each other without disintegrating into hitting screaming messes. I had the chance to journal, and then actually wanted to go sit with them to watch their movie, rather than run for the hills and hide. It was a different kind of day, and I’m so grateful for it.
I want to gather up all the good feelings and slowly dispense them over the next week. To be taken and savored every time the going gets tough. I expect that it will, but for now, I relish in the hope that a day like this might come again.
The harder Buddy will push back. The more something matters to me, the less likely he is to do it when under stress. Sometimes I forget this all-important aspect of living with this boy. Like this morning, when he’d used the bathroom and needed some help with the wiping. MrH and I have slowly been working toward getting him to do this himself, making it as low-key as possible, never forcing him. MrH has had some success at this, and I thought I’d try suggesting he do it himself. He refused, and suddenly the reality of his starting kindergarten in a few weeks flashed through my eyes, “omg, who will wipe him there?!” Immediately followed by “he MUST wipe himself NOW, RIGHT NOW!!”
That didn’t work out so well. Especially because apparently my way of helping him wipe is different than daddy’s way, and of course it had to be daddy’s way. I clearly am inept at this particular task.
Bathroom issues are so triggering for Buddy and I keep forgetting. I forget about our suspicions of abuse, specifically where it pertained to toileting. I forget about his heightened fight/flight response, that can result in him sitting on the toilet, rigid, motionless, fists balled, ready for anything that might come at him. When he’s confident and happy, I forget about the traumatized layers just underneath the happy exterior.
With lots of breaks, tries, re-tries, patience, and gentleness, we finally accomplished the task 30 minutes later. I’ve been exhausted ever since, and feel badly for putting him through all that just because I was freaking out about how he will wipe himself in kindergarten. A better plan would have been to discuss it for a week with him, outside the actual bathroom, at calm times, how he would need to start wiping himself. Then start doing it once he’d gotten comfortable with the idea. Next time…