We went on vacation last week :)
This was our first as a family. (Because no, I’m not counting that time we took our Black kids to the White Mountains.)
We went to Syracuse NY for the Vineyard East Regional Conference, a gathering of Vineyard Church leaders from Maine to Pennsylvania. The difference in these two experiences was a good reminder of how far we’ve come.
Last year at this time, the kids had just moved in with us. They were stressed and overwhelmed, struggling mightily to make the best of a situation they never asked for. They called us Steve & Trish, they submitted to hugs but didn’t reciprocate, they had no trouble expressing the many and varied ways we sucked. The list of things they hated included meeting new people, having new experiences, and my cooking. In other words, most parts of most days. Don’t even get me started about running errands or driving anywhere in the car. There were times they both just pulled blankets over their heads in the back seat just to get some space to process their fury. I moved my toothbrush out of the downstairs bathroom after finding it coated with soap.
I think what saved us in those early days was what we’d learned from other foster & adoptive parents: to IGNORE the part of us that wanted to say, “Oh honey, I know you’re hurting…what will make better???” Because the truth is, they didn’t know. They were in new territory, and needed us to help them map the land. So we doubled down on high structure & high nurture.
Steve and I gave endless hugs and words of appreciation and affirmation. We complimented toenail growth and praised deodorant application. We ate dinner together every night, even though it was quiet and angry and awkward. We kept the refrigerator STOCKED. They may not have liked all the food, there was a lot of it.
At the same time, the kids were expected to look good when they got dressed, not wear clothes with stains or rips, brush their teeth & shower daily, make their beds, and do the few chores we could dream up with excellence and without complaining. We gave them a script to follow for when they meet people (because people happen), and just ignored their “Oh it’s going to be AWFUL/I don’t want to go!” complaints when we left the house until they more or less learned that if something was planned, it wasn’t getting un-planned. They detoxed from high-fructose corn syrup and the dream that we’d swing through 7-ll to pick up dinner. They had early bedtimes, almost no tv, and quickly learned that there was just no way either of them was going to play songs in our car or our kitchen about what some girl was going to do to some boy after they left the club.
These were not the boundaries I would have predicted if you’d asked me about my parenting before The Cherubs arrived. I’m not against TV or music or even junk food. But we learned that these were the boundaries our kids needed, and so we build these rules like scaffolding around them to give them something secure to hold onto.
I don’t think I realized until this vacation how much this scaffolding WORKED.
I am in awe.
This year, our kids have just started calling us Dad & Mom. They hug us back and ask for affection. We have family jokes and things we laugh about. They’re still nervous about meeting new people, but have learned that meeting new people is ALWAYS awkward, no matter who you are, so they don’t take personally. They more or less tolerate my cooking. (Honestly I think we now just eat a bunch of healthy-ish food none of us really like, but we’re doing so much better than before that it seems like a win).
And in the days leading up to our vacation, they DIDN’T obsess about going to a big conference filled with people they don’t know. Instead, they chose a couple of good things to focus on: that we’d promised them McDonalds the first time we did a really long car ride, and that Auntie Gwen & their friends Grace & Sam would be there at the conference, too. They repeated these two things again and again, creating a narrative of excitement instead of fear. It was amazing.
When we arrived, the hotel had a pool…and a basketball court (GOD BLESS YOU Residence Inn Syracuse for that basketball court!!!) At the conference, there was a teen/youth track the kids could follow so they weren’t with the grown ups the whole time (GOD BLESS YOU Syracuse Vineyard for the teen/youth/get-away-from-your-parents-and-have-your-own-experience-track!!!). By the end of the first night, they asked, “Can we come again next year?” And by the end of the week they didn’t want to leave.
It was one of the best weeks we’ve had as a family.
I’m sharing this because Jen Hatmaker shared a similar then vs. now story on her blog last year that saved my sanity when I was deep in the trenches and feeling like I didn’t have what it takes. It’s been taken down, so I thought I’d post my own version to pay it forward, to cheer on all of you who are in this situation right now, or considering foster care/adoption.
You should consider foster care/adoption. I’m not sure anything in my life has gone on such a speedy track of growth and transformation. These kids are amazing. It has taken more than Steve & I thought we had, and there have been some white knuckled nights and long, frustrated days. I’ll admit that there was a season where the checkout guy at our local beer & wine store knew us REALLY well, because we were there A LOT.
But this kind of transformation in just over a year? It’s worth it. Some adoptions take longer to find the sweet spot; this isn’t a one-timeline-fits-all endeavor. But the wins are pretty huge when they come.