Author Archives: Trish Ryan

Adoption Question: What Do We Wish We’d Known?

A new adoption question from Karen: “I guess my questions would be centered around making that first decision: Is there anything you wish you’d considered before taking the plunge? Anything you wish you’d known going in, either about yourselves, your kids, or the adoption process?”

This is such a good question! And yet the strange thing is, the answer for us is no. When we realized The Cherubs were the kids for us, we moved forward and have not looked back. The challenges we wrestle with today weren’t things that could have been flagged earlier, or even things we would have avoided if we’d known.

That said, we know of other adoption situations where things were less straightforward: where DCF withheld key information that would have been a red (or at least a yellow) flag.  Or had a child move in to an adoptive home immediately, with no transition time. Or said that a child’s academic records were mysteriously missing because the school switched from paper to computer storage and “lost all the files.”  There’s a lot of bullsh*t in this process, no doubt about it. Some you can get through by asking enough questions and refusing to be pushed. But other things you just have to take a chance on and deal with as they come up.  This can be tough, and there’s a possibility that some hard choices will need to be made down the line. Or not. There’s really no way to know. Which is one of the ways this is a lot like biological parenting…you just don’t know.

There is a point where taking this plunge requires you to believe that you can learn to swim, and that you have what it takes to adapt to different depths and changing tides. You are banking on yourself – your ability to learn, adapt, grow – far more than you’re banking on the kids. That’s important.

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I remember an exercise we did in our adoption training class, where we all picked a piece of paper out of a hat with a set of circumstances/reactions/behaviors written on it that were common among children who have been through the trauma. Some things sounded mild (resistance to rules/authority, a child who considers herself an adult), while others were totally alarming (violence, setting things on fire). Then we were asked, “Your child exhibits this behavior – what do you do?”

At first, it was incredibly awkward. I remember feeling ashamed to have no answers, and afraid that this would disqualify us from adopting. But just the opposite was true. Our instructors wanted to put this on our radar screen: Kids who go through trauma are going to have some form of “aftermath,” and you can’t always tell right away what that will look like. They wanted us to understand that the kids we were considering were people, with a full range of human reactions. They were not dream fulfillment objects for us, waiting to run into this bright & happy new life with nothing but smiles, hugs, and giggles.

I’m pretty sure all of us in the class ignored this piece of wisdom, but that’s okay. It was there for us when reality hit and we needed it. Then were were grateful to have been told in advance that this is part of the process.

We did a lot of due-diligence before saying yes to this adoption. We’d stepped back from numerous other possibilities because one or both of us didn’t feel like it was a “green light” for one reason or another. So when we saw the Cherubs’ profile, and as each step revealed more and more that seemed like a really good match, it was easy to recognize what yes felt like after so many no’s.  And once we made the decision, we never looked back. There was so much to focus on as we shifted from “waiting” to “matched” to “we just met our kids!” to “Omigosh they’re moving in tomorrow…”, it was pretty easy to keep our eyes looking at the next thing ahead.

No matter what, adoption will be more difficult than you expect. For everyone involve. You are taking children who have never met you, putting them in a family situation they have no say in, and telling them, “Trust me! This is gonna be great!”

If you don’t think the sh*t is going to hit the fan from time to time as you try to make this work? You are – by which I mean, we were – naive.

Here’s the thing, though: That’s okay. There is incredible power in going into hard challenges with more confidence, hope, and bravado than reality might suggest, so long as you have some wisdom lurking around the edges for when you need it. As I said, to get in the pool at all, you have to believe you have what it takes to learn how to swim. If you take this plunge, you will learn how to swim, and it will be worth it.

Thanks for the question, Karen. I hope this helped!

Did We Steal Our Kids?

I was deep down a YouTube rabbit hole, watching a series of videos by a fascinating, opinionated, extremely conservative woman who has given birth to 10 children. She offered a variety of helpful and entertaining thoughts about the logistics of it all – the importance of routine and structure, balancing nutrition with food that’s fun, helping siblings get along – and then every so often, she’d veer off on some crazy tangent, like how she doesn’t let her toddler daughters wear snow suits, because snow suits have pants and are therefore unbiblical.  I laughed out loud. I was riveted.

In one video someone asked, “Would you and your husband ever consider adoption?” I was pretty sure I knew the answer. The defining statement of her life is CHILDREN ARE A BLESSING FROM THE LORD, and the New Testament directs Jesus’ people specifically to care for orphans.  I was sure she’d respond in the affirmative.

Wow, was I wrong! She looked right into the camera, eyes hardened, and declared, “No. I don’t think we’d ever adopt. If a family member needed us to take a child for a time, then maybe we might help. But we would never adopt a child that was not related to us, because that’s just stealing…”  She went on to say that infant adoption is essentially buying children, and that adopting through Child Protective Services is the absolute worst, because that means the government has taken a child away from their parents and relocated them according to it’s own standards, which is appalling.

I was shocked, and offended. But then I thought about it, and wondered, “What if she’s right?”

For the first time I faced this thorny question: would the Cherubs be better off if DCF had never removed them in the first place? Children are resilient, after all – memoirs like Educated and The Glass Castle show us that. And it their own ways, the Cherubs had developed a series of work-arounds to more or less survive. It wasn’t a great survival. Things were a bit feral, from what I understand. But kids have made it through worse. It wouldn’t have been good, but it would have been whatever it was, and they would have become different people, with different relationships and world views than they’re becoming now.

I ran this idea by #2 Cherub – the one who likes me the least and is convinced that she could run things far better than us if we’d just let her – and she said, “Yeah, I can understand how people could see it like that…”

Gah – what do you do with that?

You come back to the facts.

It’s debatable whether (and under what circumstances) the state should be allowed to remove children from their parents. I have all kinds of mixed opinions on that. But by the time we came into the picture, hoping to adopt? That was not the issue at hand. You don’t just go to DCF, point to a kid you think you could do a better job of parenting, and have the state go get them. You spend months applying for the chance to step in as emergency backup for a child who has already been put in a situation where they need new, functional parents, based on a long series of choices and decisions that you are not privy to and will probably never understand.

This is not a romantic world you’re entering. This is disaster clean-up.

Once kids are in foster care, something needs to happen. Foster care is highly unstable (and often devastating, although that was not the case with our kids), and children need a permanent home and long-term committed relationships. If the biological parents can’t, for whatever reason, do the job, someone needs to.

(Things get way murkier when you’re talking about infant adoption, and even more so when things are done internationally.  I know almost nothing about either of those, but for a  in-depth look at ethical international adoption, check out The Archibald Project. They’re fantastic.)

So no, I don’t think we stole the Cherubs. I’m the backup Mom, and Steve is the magical unicorn Dad (more on that in a future post) in a really difficult situation. Understanding our role, challenging as it’s been, helps us navigate the ups and downs that come with this usual family constellation and help the Cherubs grow and thrive.

Bad Breakfast Choices & Adoption Questions

I kicked off this second day of 2019 with leftover Chinese food, two spoonfuls of cottage cheese, and a stray chocolate chip cookie. It was every bit as gross as it sounds.

On a happier note, I have reason for optimism: Christmas vacation is OVER (Hallelujah!) and it ended on a much better note than it began, with all the adults & teens still speaking to each other. Miracles abound! Also, I’m midway through re-painting the upstairs bathroom, and anyone who has ever painted knows that the difference between the first splotchy base coat and the second coat of pristine beauty is a wellspring of happiness. So as soon as my stomach settles down, I’ll be at it.

After last week’s jump back into blogging (thank you for all of your comments, commiserations & encouragements – that was amazing) I looked back over the series I did a few years ago where I chronicled our adoption story and answered questions about how it was going. It was cool to see how far we’ve come…and I my response to several of the questions was, “Wow, I’d answer this much differently now…”

So I will.

I  know some of you are considering adoption, or in the midst of the intense/ terrifying hope of the application/homestudy/placement process – I hope this will help cheer you on and provide information you need. For those of you deep in the weeds of doing this thing, building new families with people you just met with some version the strangest introduction ever (“Here’s your new Mom & Dad!”) I hope this will encourage you…and remind you that  you’re not alone. I also appreciate how many of you are simply curious about this strange world, which is awesome: it’s a curious thing. So over the next week or so, I’ll revisit some of those questions and update where we are today and what we’ve learned.

And on a personal note, it’s good to keep track of where our family is at different seasons of this adventure – there’s so much that’s forgotten in the swirl of responding to the next thing in front of us that it’s easy to miss how far we’ve come.

 

Do you have questions you’d like me to answer? Let me know. Put them in the comments, shoot me a text or email, etc. Ask about anything, and I’ll do my best.

We’ll kick it off tomorrow with my thoughts on the charming question, “Isn’t adoption just stealing children?”

See you then!

 

A Teardrop Year

Holy crap, this year was hard!

Funny thing – Last December, I did one of those things where you ask God for a word for the coming year. I heard FUN. Well, clearly that was a mistake, because the word that best defines 2018 for us is CARNAGE.

So much blew up or collapsed, I can’t even write about it in an ordered way yet. It will come out bit by bit in the coming year as I make sense of what all this means in the larger story. But for now, just envision me standing very, very still, not wanting to step on any more landmines, waiting for 2019 to arrive and declare 2018 well and truly over.

However…in the midst of all this loss and disappointment, small encouragements popped up with surprisingly good timing, as if there is a God who loves me and cares about getting me through. These weren’t big solutions that saved the day. But small life rafts that saved the hour. Or sometimes the next ten minutes. Anne Lamott has written extensively about how God’s answers to prayer are often like pool floaties that keep your head just barely above the water, and DAMN, I wanted her to be wrong. I wanted more than that. But when you’re drowning, floatation in any form is a miracle. So I’m here to admit it: Anne is right.

It felt weird to find enjoyment in the midst of intense frustration, loss, and anger, but I think that’s life. Rather than lament the hard things endlessly (or buy into the lie that if I just analyze them from every single direction I can fix things or prevent them from happening again), I worked on my capacity to accept the small breaks from the tension whenever God handed one to me.  And that, as they say, made all the difference.

Borrowing an idea from one of the new blogs I discovered, Modern Mrs. Darcy, here is a list of some things I learned during this very strange, very hard year:

 1. NOVELS DOUBLE AS FLOATATION DEVICES – After almost two years of reading endless piles of (mostly mediocre) Christian non-fiction, I rediscovered novels on our vacation this summer, and it was like the clouds broke open and the sun shone through. Since then, I have read multi-volume thrillers, middle grade action-adventure, a book that reminded me that I hated being a lawyer (periodically I wonder if I should revisit that career, and there is ALWAYS something like this that brings me back), five books by Elizabeth Strout that helped me understand the family/social dynamics of my Maine heritage (the first two aren’t officially set in Maine, but they are the most Maine books I’ve ever read), and one-half of a book that made me VERY glad I don’t live in Florida.

Here’s what I learned: Novels are a means of escape, a way to learn without lectures, and endless opportunities to ponder life in new ways…without the stress of having all those dilemmas & plot twists under my roof. Now, I grab at least three novels every time I go to the library so I’ll always have a new world to escape into when this world gets to be a bit much.

2. KENNY ROGERS WAS RIGHTYou gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run…  Spot-on the best inter-personal advice ever set to music.

People are a gamble. You might think you know what they have in their hand, but you don’t really until they lay their cards on the table. Then it’s important to have a framework for whether you’ll stay for another round or cut your losses.

We folded on our church this year, and walked away from the denomination where Steve & I both came to faith. I ran from a friend who admitted that she’d repeatedly lied to me and didn’t think that was a problem.  We’re holding on to Jesus, our marriage, and the Cherubs. We’re counting our relational losses, and saving up to take a gamble again.  It’s not fun, necessarily. But it sure beats the alternative of just giving up and never taking a chance again. I’ve learned through a pretty crazy life that if I’m still alive, God still has new people, experiences, and surprises for me if I’m willing to receive them.

3. THE HIGHLIGHT REEL OF INSTAGRAM REALLY HELPS – In a year filled with things too heavy to wrestle into a blog or fling out on Facebook, it was nice to just compile a little scrapbook of moments that were funny or sweet. It’s absolutely a highlight reel – it’s not real life at all. (That my highlight reel includes a photo of half-price holiday llamas at Barnes & Noble shows how low my bar dipped.) But it is super-important to remember that there are highlights. Instagram helped me with that this year. (I’m @Trishryanonline if you want to follow)

For example, this:

The weeks leading up to Christmas were stunningly awful, mostly in ways that had nothing to do with the coming holiday. There were days I could hardly breathe, so I just careened from thing to thing to thing, wondering, What the fu*k?

But on Christmas morning, against all odds, we had these moments, and they were every bit as real as all the crappy ones:

Christmas 2018

 

You can’t see it in these pictures, but Steve gave me a necklace with a teardrop shaped stone. My immediate thought was, This is perfect…  There were so many tears this year (and so many that were never shed because at a certain point, you’re just dehydrated). This necklace is an acknowledgement of this…and a reminder of God’s promise that he He collects every one of our tears and makes them into something beautiful and strong.

If your holidays (or your year) were more like a horror show than a highlight reel…take heart, it’s almost over. I’ll take almost any excuse to be encouraged, and a new year seems like a particularly good one. You’re welcome to join me in mentally/emotionally/spiritually fleeing the year behind us…and holding very still and waiting for the New to come.  Here’s to good things ahead.

10 Days and counting…

We survived summer! The Cherubs aren’t in school quite yet, but #1 is at soccer tryouts right now, and #2 spent the morning at an 8th grade leadership workshop she didn’t want to attend, and we are close enough to resuming normal that I’m calling it done.

Guess what? This summer didn’t suck! I’ve shared before that I am bad at summer – bad with planning, bad with figuring out the structure our kids need, bad with attitudes that pile up as the days go on.  And while some of you shamed me (“Didn’t you ask for this?”) and a few of  you mocked me (“How hard can it be???”) most of you CAME THROUGH and told me, “Fill those days right up and don’t apologize!” So that’s what I did.

Probably the best decision we made was to send the Cherubs to a sleep-away camp several of you recommended for two weeks. We spent all their college money on hiking boots and waterproof camping gear they’ll never use again, and it was worth every penny. They got to have an experience that was exciting, structured, fun, adventurous, safe, and theirs to have without us. And Steve and I got to have two weeks to not do all the things parents are told we absolutely must do. It was glorious.

We didn’t eat dinner at a set time each night. Some nights we forgot it entirely. We stayed up late, came and went randomly, skipped church, and took a midnight walk along the beach because the moon was so bright on the water that it seemed a sin to drive by.  We talked about things at all different times of the day, not just after bedtime.

We realized some grave mistakes we’ve made in our family building endeavor…and had the energy and bandwidth to course-correct and imagine a new way forward. And we solidified our core: God first, our marriage second, kids third, work forth, church fifth.  Those ducks had been flopping helter-skelter across our pond for months, fighting for dominance. This time gave us a chance to wrestle them back into a row, and it’s made such a difference.

I know some of you are waiting for a newsletter I promised back in the Spring, and that may still happen. But trust me when I say that from an events standpoint, not much happened this summer that would justify space in your inbox. I hope this next season will be different!

I almost sent a book newsletter, because reading was THE unexpected joy of these past few months. I read a strange and eclectic assortment – a multi-book series by David Baldacci about a CIA sniper (LOVED!), the new essay collection from David Sederis (weird), a memoir by a woman who billed herself as “The Very Worst Missionary” (funny), another by a recovering drug addict (raw), and a surprisingly engaging novel by James Patterson & Bill Clinton (Who knew???). It was so fun to open up the gates and read anything and everything that caught my attention without regard to whether it would inform my thinking in some important way or generate good sermon material.

This will sound so cliche and obnoxious, but I guess I spent this summer breaking out of a bunch of patterns that weren’t working, and finding new ways to live. I’d accumulated some bad habits. Not on purpose, but because I was figuring so much out on the fly and I wasn’t sure what else to do. I’m not all sorted, yet, certainly. But I’m excited that the possibility of change is available even now, as I’m at the age where I used to believe life was set and unmovable. Thank God that’s not true. More on all of this in future posts, I hope.  For now, I’m glad to be back in the blogsphere, and curious to see where it takes us.

Happy almost-September, friends. The best season is almost here!

Update & An Idea

Happy day after Easter! It’s snowing here, which tells you why Jesus conquered death in the warmth of Jerusalem and not the nutso weather of Massachusetts.

I heard from a friend recently. She noticed that I’d stopped blogging, and wondered if that meant things were a bit, well…unbloggable. If I’d gone offline because life had gone sideways. That happens sometimes. But not this time, thankfully.  Things are good – normal, functional, surprising, funny.  Last week I was reading through a journal from 2016 and realized, Wow, I’d forgotten how hard things were then… 

Life right now is pretty groovy, comparatively speaking.

 

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Steve got a promotion!

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The Cherubs still  like me! (although #1 is REALLY not keen on taking family pictures in public – he humors me in exchange for blueberry Pop Tarts)

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This sign is still on our stove! Which I guess means that the award has not been rescinded.

In the midst of all this goodness, I haven’t been sure how to blog.

Mainly, I’m figuring out Cherub privacy. #1 & #2 are troopers about being featured in my chronicle of our life. They like the idea of helping other folks understand the ins & outs of adoption (especially in a way that doesn’t require them to stand up in front of people or speak). But we got to a point where every time I took a picture they’d ask, Are you going to put this on social media?  I don’t want them to feel that the pictures I take are always/only for online sharing, or worry that their friends might learn about their business (and bad hair days) via social media. I want them to know that I capture memories and stories for us, most of which no one else will see. (Unless they end up in the special file of  hilariously embarrassing pictures I’m saving for the rehearsal dinners before their weddings!)

Also, it reached a point where it felt weird to put some of the real-er stories (the ones with depth or tension, things that aren’t resolved yet) out there on the web for the whole world to see.

Finally, I had an idea. It’s not new or original, but it’s a viable road forward…

I’m going to experiment with email updates. It will be more private, and so can be more candid. It won’t be technologically fancy (there’s nothing wrong with fancy emails – I just don’t have time) I’ll start with once every couple of weeks, and include a hodgepodge of pictures & thoughts about all the stuff I’ve blogged about here – adoption, faith, books, fashion fails, things that crack me up (like the ongoing mystery of the American obsession with chickens…)

If you’d be interested in a test-run of the email, let me know. Obviously, no spam ever. I won’t sell your address or try to sell you stuff. This is just a way to keep communicating while narrowing the audience just a bit. Also, to tell more real stories, and push back against the internet pressure to only show the (staged) perfect moments where every hair is in place, all surfaces are clear, and the white board in the background doesn’t have two different misspellings of there/they’re/their. I don’t live in that world. But the world I live in can be pretty entertaining.

Like this note #2 Cherub left for our housekeeper at the hotel where we stayed for my nephew’s wedding:

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Adoption – almost three years

Finally, we’re a normal family.

I’m working on a guest post about our adoption for another site, trying to condense three years of intensity and insanity into a few concise, feel-good paragraphs. Holy crap, it can’t be done. I can’t make the process look pretty. But I can point to the results and say, Hey! Look! It worked! 

We had a normal start of the new school year, with #1 Cherub heading into his sophomore year like the budding soccer star that he is, and #2 Cherub beginning 7th grade with confidence that she can conquer math AND make the school musical.

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We were thankful at Thanksgiving, celebratory at Christmas, and tired of all that time together by the end of Christmas break. It was all delightfully mundane.

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If you’d told me two years ago that we’d be this normal today, back when we’d just met The Cherubs and they kind of hated us…I would have burst into tears, smiled at you politely, then fled home to drown my sorrows in Cabernet Sauvignon (it’s like Gatorade for adoptive parents – it’s what keeps you going).  And yet, here we are. At a point where I don’t even have wine in the house.  Miracles happening all around.

In the midst of this, I didn’t dare blog. I’m not superstitious, but it has felt way to dangerous to come here and say, our family is working! I guess that’s an indication of how precarious this has felt, because I can write about almost anything.

I’ve been thinking a lot about learning. Progressing, becoming better than you were before. I want that. But I hate how hard it is to recognize when you’re in the middle of it. I have friends writing books, taking on new roles at work, starting new businesses and relationships and families. From the outside, I can cheer them on and see how they’re growing – succeeding, flopping, getting back up, starting again and applying what they’ve learned. It’s so cool from the outside, and so not-cool from the inside, when it’s you. And yet…when it’s you, there are these moments that happen, where you feel like a little kid on a new bike, brave enough to yell out for the first time, “Hey Mom, Look! I’m doing it!”