Starting Over – A New Adventure

It’s been an emotional week for sure. Downsized is my word of the week – from a job of 7 years. I thought we all left this in 2008, but sadly I add to a number of friends and family I know who have lost their jobs because of the current falsely hopeful economy. When I first got the news, strangely my first reaction was relief. I felt a 50-pound weight be lifted from me.  Sure I am worried about how we will pay our bills, but mostly I’m glad that the crazy treadmill speed I have had to run on is stopping before I just fly off the back and crash.  In this first week, I found myself rushing and rushing around the house, rushing to get the kids dressed, rushing to get to the doctor’s, rushing just like I always do.  Then it dawned on me, I don’t need to rush anymore.  Here I have been rushing around feeling like I can’t possibly get it all done unless I run, for way too long. That feeling gnawed away at me and I knew I had it, but recognizing it out of the daily grind was scary.  It is eye-opening to realize I was feeling that way ALL the time. I was losing that battle every single day!  This morning on the way back from my son’s school I was reflecting and likened it to going back to the factory settings on a computer and starting over.  (and strangely I got home and read a very similar analogy on my friend Mandy D’s blog! When I sense a pattern in my life, that’s when I know I am learning) That’s how I feel, and I don’t really know how to do it. I don’t know which programs to reload, because I don’t know what programs I need and which ones I can do without. I don’t know how to be a stay-at-home mom. I don’t know if that will be for one week, one month, one year or forever.  I do know that it feels weird to be home after I had finally accepted that I was a working mom, and was no longer bitter about not being able to be home with my kids.  Maybe that is the point, who knows.

You see, for months, okay years, my husband and I have been praying nightly for something to give. We accepted at least a year ago that we would not tell God how to answer our prayer, but that we would just pray for him to take over the situation. Since we didn’t know even what to pray for, we just prayed for God to just work it all out. It was all getting to be too much for me to be working a fulltime job, a contract job, and then trying to get my daughter to all her appointments etc.  She was still coming to work with me after a short-lived disastrous stint at a babysitter’s house. Being a full-time employee and a full-time mom was starting to wear on me and my daughter. We couldn’t afford to put her in daycare, but we couldn’t afford for me to stay home.  So, here we are strangely relieved to know that something is happening, even if we have no idea what.  When you ask God to move a mountain out of your way, don’t be surprised when he does.

When my husband accepted a lateral move for the sake of a quality-of-life improvement this summer, we knew it was the start of something greater for our family, but felt like just a glimpse. That is when I accepted that the answer wasn’t going to be that he was going to be leaping to a salary that would not require my income, and that the whole daycare thing would just have to work out some other way. I was okay with that and found that I knew so many others in my situation, working and running all day every day.

So, here on the other side of the downsize, I am trying to learn about this whole stay-at-home mom thing, at least for the time being. Quite frankly, my house is still messier than I like it (except for our bedroom is newly uncluttered and spotless and I’ve reverted to the clean freak I used to be where I don’t like anything left out at the end of the night). When my daughter’s therapists come it is no longer a day that I also work from home.  I can fully be present for her treatment.  I am not commuting 8 hours a week.  I have savored the spontaneous hugs from my son, hugs that someone else was getting every day.

I have acknowledged that I never want to feel that trapped in stress again, feeling like I can’t possibly run any faster before I am thrown from the treadmill in defeat. But what’s next I don’t know. I have a crazy excitement about it. I know whatever it is, it is better than where I am coming from. I am sad to leave this job that I was so passionate about.  It was truly the job of a lifetime, where I saw all of my passions and experience come together.  It was a big part of my life.  It made having my son in daycare feel tolerable because I was doing something to help people that spoke to my heart. If I have to work for a living it has to be something that makes up for missing out on time with my children. I do fear that I will still be stuck making either the choice to take a job that requires me to go back to a crazy schedule, or not doing that and not being able to pay our bills.  I have the potential and skills to work in the corporate grind, but I lack the desire at this threshold.  I am more in the business of helping people, and a non-profit veteran. I know it will be difficult to find that socially-minded job with a paycheck big enough to cover daycare. But maybe that’s not my answer.

I felt that I have been preparing for this season in life for some time. But I’ll save those details for another blog entry for fear of once again being too wordy. I feel God’s peace overwhelm me and hear friends and family sounding more fearful about our situation than I actually feel. To say it feels like a much needed vacation sums it up.  I don’t yet know how to reprogram. I feel like there is some healing that needs to come from all that stress before I can effectively start over. For these first few weeks, I am just going to get up and see what happens (I am a planner so that in itself tells me I am in need of rest).  I do have very part time work at my former company that does give a little structure to my otherwise wandering schedule.  When we told my son that he would have to leave his school, I cried; he cried. We sat down and made a list of things that we would like to do together.  It felt like the right start to this adventure.  It felt good to be able to make plans and know that I could at least start to reprogram there. I can’t help but feel that even though so many of our plans have been turned upside down that I am once again right where I am supposed to be…and back to my word of the year BUILD. I don’t know if that will still include our dream of a fixer upper home for our family. For now, that has to be on hold. I am not sad that our plans are gone because I’ve been here before, right in the place. And this place has always meant that God was about to do something extraordinary.  And these children that I now have the privilege to be home with at least for now, are two of those something extraordinaries. So, knock me upside the head if I forget this perspective down the road, because at this point in my life I have been through enough valleys to know that God always gets me back up on that mountaintop.  And someday soon I’ll be there again celebrating how he rewrote this part of my story.

Our Children’s Magnets

Someone recently asked me if I adopted through the special needs program or the healthy program. I hesitated as I answered, because I wasn’t sure how I wanted to answer in order to be appropriate, and knowing it wasn’t an appropriate question in the first place. Many of you know that my daughter has some medical needs that we have been working on treating and diagnosing properly. The person asking me this does not know my children or know that I have a child with “special needs.” The first thing that comes to my mind in response to that question now that I couldn’t think of at the time was that ALL children have special needs. I don’t mean to say this to minimize the needs that some of our children have. Instead, what I mean is that each of our children has a different need within their soul that can only be met by you, their parent. It’s a magnet that sometimes sends us in polar opposites if we don’t respond right, but that can also connect us in deep ways we never thought possible when we manage to respond in the right way.

My son is one of those kids who was born to test my limits. Kids memorize our buttons and learn how and when to push them and he is no different. He is that kid who one minute can send me cracking up and rolling on the floor in laughter, but also possesses the same level of passion to push me in the other direction to where I can’t see straight. He knows how to make me cry and his 4.5 year old mind doesn’t possess the ability to stop himself sometimes. He usually is remorseful and throws out the, “I love you’s” immediately afterward trying to undo the damage. Does he have a special need? Well, yes he does, but not in the traditional way. He just needs us as his parents to show him how to grow and mature into a boy with a purpose in life…like every other kid in this world. We’ve been through the gamut of “normal” challenging toddler struggles with this one: hugs that turned into biting friends at school, or say the refusal to wear jeans or eat meat as early as age 2. We actually offer him extra vegetables if he will eat his meat. I asked the pediatrician at what point I should be concerned about the biting and he said, “Never.” Food for thought, right, because my first instinct is to find the problem and try to fix it? But what if there is no real problem except that I can’t get my magnet to work? With the exception of the No good, Horrible, Terrible Very Bad Daycare, he first attended, his teachers have used his spunk for good, and have helped him onto the road to using his power for good not evil. Coming from a special needs and social services background I have been around more children with “special needs” that “typical” children. That being said, I am learning that beyond labels and whether or not your child has one/needs one (topic for another time or place) is the simple fact that you are the magnet your child’s behavior seeks. You are the only person in the world who has the ability to do this. That is why your child is YOUR child. If I find the right side of my magnet, then all is well and my son and daughter will thrive and grow and hopefully eventually figure out how to flip their magnet around to the correct side as well and viola we will connect once in a while. Isn’t that what every parent wishes for their child? I’m not deeming life to be happy ever after with no tantrums, I hate you Mom or you’re the worst parent ever, but let’s hope my theory will minimize these slips of the tongue from our youngins. You are probably already doing this better than me, but at this ah-ha moment for myself, I thought I would share in case someone else needs that little encouragement today.

I will stop and indulge in that contagious laughter because someone said the letter “p” and he thinks they meant it in the potty word sense. I will take a moment to soak in the beauty of simple humor. I will make myself pause, slow down and find a way even when my child pretends he can’t put his own shoes on and I am already standing with 30 pounds of stuff and a 24 pound baby with keys in hand already late for work. I read a lot of books on parenting children from hard places and have been to my share of trainings on this as well. I can tell you that these same techniques work for all kids and all parents. The idea that we cannot take our child’s behavior personally is a harder concept for me than I thought it would have been… probably because I am more tired than I ever thought possible, and when someone told me I would never go to the bathroom in peace again they didn’t tell me I would never watch another movie, and never have a moment just to sit on the couch at the end of the night unless I was ignoring some other chore that needed to get done like say packing lunches or find the dang camp t-shirt that he has to wear tomorrow. I digress… Anyway, when I remember to stop taking the negative behavior as a personal attack on my psyche, I am able to respond in a special way, a way that is catered to the needs of my child and not my needs. I can laugh, make funny noises, talk in a funny voice or sing to redirect, ask him to shake out his grumpiness, and guess what I calm down too.  Yes – I am writing this as really plain self-discovery.

For my sweet daughter, who I don’t yet know what exactly your special need is in a diagnosable or undiagnosable way, I can only promise that I will find it. If it is laughter that you need, I got that one covered. However, my guess your need is different than you brothers. If I need to stand on my head to get your attention, so be it. Now that I am over the initial shock of your medical needs, sometimes your medical needs are easier to address than the emotional needs of your brother, because there is a label you have been given that has a formula for treatment. I can take you to your appointments, and we can work on the homework that the therapists give us, and we can go to every doctor that is recommended and then I see you respond and thrive. That part is straightforward. But your real special needs, the ones that don’t have a name, those personalized emotional needs, your magnet, I’ve not yet discovered. And that is the biggest mountain a parent faces. To find the way to make my magnet connect with yours in a way that doesn’t send either of us in opposite directions. I pray that God gives me the courage to find the way because this path is daunting.

I accidentally, ok it probably was divine intervention not accidentally, but anyway, I accidentally stumbled on a song on You Tube not once but three times in one day when searching out another song to play in the background while I worked. The song is “It Is Well” by Bethel and is a song that spoke to my soul. These words, “Through it all… my eyes are on you and it is well….let go my soul and trust in Him. The wind and the waves still know his name…and this mountain that’s in front of me, will be thrown into the midst of the sea” In my own personal strength my magnet never works. When I ask God to help me, guess what, my magnet starts to work. Sometimes it is my daughter’s needs that break me, and sometimes my son’s, but either way I just gotta trust that God chose these very children to connect with only my magnet and so therefore it can be done. So join me in this crazy adventure and let’s see if we can’t get every child’s magnet to finally work. Because really our children’s special needs are their special strengths and we need them to use them for good not evil. I want nothing more than for my children to find what makes their hearts tick and to find their purpose in life and this is how we start to do that. P.S. I promise I am going to write about something lighter next time!

In Defense of Open Adoption – This might be part 2

When it comes to adoption I often hear: “Do you have to have contact with the birth family?” “Now is this one of those situations where you share her with the birth family?” “You’re better than me, I could never do what you do.” “You’re a saint.” Or my favorite, “I don’t know how you do it.”(Certainly that phrase is a topic for another blog post because it strikes a chord with me)  I’m no saint. I actually fail miserably at this thing called open adoption. To be quite honest, there are days when I’d like to shut my door and stop all communication with our birth families.  Not most days, but certainly some days.  But then again, who can say that family relationships are easy? Have you ever rolled your eyes at a family member, your own “flesh and blood?”  I’ve heard your stories of family drama.

I’m still learning how to do this, and make mistakes all the time. There are times when the husband and I have to give ourselves a pep talks on the way to a visit with our birth mom.  Then we decompress on the way home about the hurtful things she said or the inappropriate way she treated us or our children. But in the end, if I have to soul search I recall something I said once in a job interview.  I was asked why I wanted the job.  I went on to reply that I could see myself doing a lot of different jobs, but when it came down to it, what really mattered to me is that I do something that helps people. That’s how I see open adoption.  I could do just plain do adoption, but when it comes down to it I wouldn’t be helping my kids if I didn’t work at loving their whole family.  This job sort of came to me by accident, a collision of fight and fate in my life that led me to fall in love with a my first child’s birth family that then led me to desire an open adoption with whomever my second child’s birth family would be.  I just felt like I would be losing part of my child if I didn’t have their birth family in our lives.

The long and short of it is, open adoption isn’t easy. It’s not always warm and fuzzy (but sometimes it really is), sometimes it really hurts me. Sometimes it even hurts my kids. But more often I am blessed by open adoption if I choose to change my expectations. Sometimes that blessing comes directly like today when my daughter’s birth grandpa, with tears streaming down his face, thanked us once again for sharing photos and coming for visits even in the midst of trying to diagnose and care for some medical needs our daughter has. He went on to say that he understands what we are going through as parents.  His acknowledgment of our struggles as parents and our efforts to include them in her life validated what we are doing, or at least what we are trying to do. It made me think that sometimes we get it right. Moreover, I was struck but what he said to his daughter, our child’s birth mom, during our visit: “They love her as much as you do.”  That is a phrase I will try to remember on the flipside: Her birth mom loves her as much as we do.  If that is true, and it is, then how should we respond?

Monday: I’m getting ready to head out the door to work while my daughter is raking in Cheerios and blueberries, and my son is busying himself doing exactly the opposite of whatever I ask of him. It’s the typical morning, only it’s not. It’s my daughter’s first birthday. She’s one. Really? She’s one.  I hear the text blurp and note that my daughter’s birth grandmother is saying a package is on the way. To back up a little, I am caught off guard by this because based on a somewhat recent not-so-pleasant phone call with her I got the sense that I would never hear from her again. Without going into detail for the sake of my daughter’s privacy, it was one of those calls that left me feeling so sad and so sick to my stomach. It was a call where I had to say no to her about something, which meant doing the absolutely right thing still left me the bad guy according to her.  Long story short, she had all but told me that she no longer wished to be considered a grandparent of my child, but that she still loved us blah, blah, blah.  Hard conversations ending in a package that arrived simply signed with first names. No longer the addition of a grandparent title on the signature. This is adoption. This is the sad side. This is the side I don’t know how to explain to my children.

Tuesday night: I was just crawling into bed and my phone rang with an out of state number. “Hello?” I said. “Hi baby!” the voice on the other end exclaims.  I’m tired and I want to sleep because my daughter never does and it’s my night to get up with her, but that voice immediately makes me smile. It’s the voice of my son’s birth grandma.  She’s spunky, loud, outgoing, frank, hilarious and why quite obviously a very good combination of my son and myself!  I fell in love with her long before I ever laid eyes on my son.  She adopted me long before my son was born as her “other daughter.” For those that know me personally, having not had a living mom since I was 15, this was no small feat because I don’t let just anyone adopt me.  She notices fatigue in my voice, and says, “You sound tired.” I explain.  We chat casually for a few minutes. She catches me up on the latest news. She is calling in response to a photo I just texted her where I told her that her grandson, my son, insists upon sleeping with the blue bunny she sent in a package at Easter, and that I often have to go searching for it because he claims he cannot sleep without it.  She laughs and says to tell him she’ll send a bunny in every color she can find, and I know she means it. That’s because it’s a connection, any connection, to her grandson, and she loves him madly – just like all of her grandchildren. Except she has had to love him silently from a far for many years out of respect for my son’s birth mom who for a while didn’t want contact, and didn’t want her mom to have contact either.  To have this woman back in my life (I know I still owe you that blog post, but I just haven’t found the right way to explain it yet) is not only a miracle, it’s a gift. I see her in my son every day and know this is how he will be when he is older.  This is family. This is adoption. This is the sad side. This is the happy side. This is the easy side.

Thursday night: I have a headache, and we are scrambling to clean the house and get ready for our visit with Girlfriend’s birth family this weekend.  I get a phone call from my child’s birth mom. She’s calling about the visit, telling me about the birthday cake she ordered and all of the gifts she carefully picked out for our daughter. She’s gone overboard even though we had already agreed on a toy I suggested and another previously decided small sentimental item. She’s animated with the excitement of the visit, where I feel a small dose of anxiety surface. The truth is our visits aren’t easy.  Sometimes she wants to erase my existence because she is still mourning not being able to parent her daughter.  Most of the time, it takes a great deal of energy to enjoy our time together. It pains me to say this because it isn’t how I want to react. I won’t defend myself because I don’t have to.  You’re going to have to trust me that my feelings (again without going into detail blah, blah, blah) are in response to actual inappropriate behaviors and words that transpire during our visits. I can suck it up and pretend our time together is beautiful for the sake of my child’s birth mom and for the sake of my children.  But I struggle with finding a way to stop her from hurting my children in the meanwhile. How do you tell someone that they are hurtful when they don’t see it, when they cannot see it, when they will not ever see it? This is adoption. This is the confusing side. This is the sad side. This is the side I want to be happy.

I sit her typing while my daughter plays on the floor over an hour after her bedtime, and my husband is half asleep on the floor next to her. She’s refusing to sleep and after an hour fight we’ve given ourselves a break even though it’s against our better judgment. So here she sits playing away. It’s been a weird day, and it’s looking like it will be another long night. But when I go to bed tonight I will answer the text message from my child’s birth mom with grace that I actually feel tonight.  When she says that she had a great time etc. I will tell that we did to and that we are so glad she did.  And it will be the truth. At least for today.  And that’s all I can promise or hope for.  I don’t know how to do open adoption. I don’t know how I do it. I don’t do it sometimes. But on a day like today, when I ignored the hurtful statements and the mixed messages, I actually did have a good time, and in doing so I helped my children, their birth family and myself. If I close my door and shut them out, I will lose part of my children and in the end I will lose part of myself.

This year we will get on a plane and fly out to see my son’s grandma for this first time since he was 7 days old.  I will introduce him to his half-brother, and watch them terrorize the neighborhood together. We will cry tears of joy over this reunion.  I will easily have a good time. Grandma will joke with my husband, who she also adores.  I will get called Baby a hundred times.  We will feel fully part of this crazy, loud, strangely fun family. She will be crazy and wild, and I will not care.  My son will eat things he normally isn’t allowed to and probably stay up way too late.  I will romanticize all of this in my head whether it is true or not.  And I will dream that one day we will have a glimpse of the ease of this relationship with other members of my children’s birth families. I will remember that this could all be invisible to me if we didn’t have an open adoption.  This is adoption. This is the happy side. This is the hard side. This is the easy side. This is adoption. We will get this right, or we will die trying.

One spare dollar

We have started actively pinching pennies more than usual over here in preparation for our next adoption. The start up costs have started adding up as we knew they would and we are preparing for battle by arming ourselves with frugality.  This month required a little creativity which is right up my alley.  I had paid all of our bills for the month and was feeling pretty good about that. Without going into personal financial details, let’s just say that our checking account was pretty low after paying the bills. This did not worry me because I had just recently gone grocery shopping, and had paid all the bills. Well, I should say it didn’t worry me until I saw one more bill creep out from under the pile of papers in front of me.  This particular bill for $36 could not be ignored because it was to renew my car registration that will expire at the end of the month.  When you are saving for an adoption even $36 is a lot of money. For one tiny moment, I began to worry. Let’s just say that my dark side likes to worry. I stopped myself because, I had to face it, I am not willing to lose hope over 36 silly dollars. It just so happens that Eric and I have what we call our Bag o’ Crap. You know what I am talking about, it’s that tote bag that you shove everything in when you want to pretend your house is clean. The one that falls out of the coat closet  if you open the door too quickly. The Bag o’ Crap had been getting pretty overstuffed these past few weeks as we have been concentrating our energy on adoption paperwork, taking on an extra contract job, filming our adoption video, taking the 100 photos our agency wanted and oh yes parenting a 2.5 year old boy.  Don’t you know I started working through that bag and putting things where they actually belong. Lo and behold, what is in that bag but a check, and not a check for $36 but a check for $37! One spare dollar! You are probably wondering how this could be possible that we would actually have a check for $37. Two of our family members carry on a tradition where they give us a check for our anniversary for $25 plus the number of years we have been married. We just celebrated our 12 anniversary and so naturally we received a $37 check. My friends I tell you this story to encourage you all. The reason I didn’t cash that check previously was because things were pretty hectic and because God knew I was going to need that $37 a few weeks later.  May you find your $37 check and have one spare dollar exactly when you need it, too!