Category Archives: Adoption

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!

 

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!”

“Mom, what makes me special?”

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#2 Cherub came home from her first day of 7th grade yesterday and asked, “What makes me special?” I thought this might be a preface to her upcoming birthday, but it was homework, a getting-to-know-you worksheet from one of her teachers.  (The worksheet also required her to calculate how many days she’s been alive. As she scribbled the numbers out on a piece of scrap paper, I resisted the urge to say, “Sweetie, what makes you special is that you’re doing that math by hand right now rather than grabbing a calculator…”)

These sort of worksheets are a minefield for kids with unorthodox histories. For example, another question asked “Are you the oldest, middle, or youngest child in your family?” #2 is the youngest in our household, but has two younger brothers who live elsewhere. Trying to help, I asked, “Which feels more true for you in your daily life – that you’re the youngest or in the middle?” to which she replied with a smile, “I always feel like the oldest, but we won’t go there…”

Hilarious. And true.

Another worksheet asked her to create a timeline of important events in the life of one of her parents (“or someone important in your life”) in the 5 years before her birth. I was like, “Well, I fled from an abusive marriage, worked for a new age guru, and lived under an assumed name…” !?!?!?! Lord have mercy if this little timeline project ever became something she had to stand up and explain to the class.  Ultimately, we used meaningless neutral statements such as, “In 2001, my mom moved back to New England…”

Then she faced the same question about herself – what were the important events in her life? I was like, “Oh honey, you should THROW DOWN on this one. You list the things you’ve been through and YOU WIN this little timeline contest.” I was a bit salty at this point. We’re in the FIRST DAY of school. It’s a little early for this level of parsing to be required.

THIS DOG needed a walk, so I said that I’d think about all these questions as I looped the block. But the answer was clear: the most special thing about my kids is the lives they’ve lived in the midst of their complicated timelines. The amount they’ve overcome is staggering.

I want her teachers to know this about her. That while she has the ability to blend in, and pretend that the most special thing about her is her artistic skill or her beautiful singing voice, undergirding all of that is the truth that this kid is tough as nails.

The Cherubs have the capacity to to appear completely normal. Which is their dream in life right now. Of course, the thing messing up their plan is that when people see Steve & me, the jig is up; it’s apparent that they’re adopted. In this way, Steve & I are a burden to our children, as well as a blessing. That’s hard for them…and for us.

But when I read something like this, from Hope Heals author Katherine Wolf, I wonder if it might all be part of the plan:

“Maybe in our limitations those we love can find a new way to flourish, not in spite of their constraints but because of them. And their imaginations get baptized into a new way of seeing themselves, and the world, and us. And maybe ours can, too. And in the places where there are scars and losses and holes from what used to be, something new and wonderful can start to grow…”

Ultimately, #2 opted for privacy. Her timeline lists things like, “In 2015 I got my first dog!” I don’t blame her. Bergie is a pretty fantastic addition to any timeline she lumbers through. But it’s all another reminder that our story is different, and doesn’t lend itself to easy explanations. Which is hard at any age, but doubly so when you’re a teen.

I appreciate this Modern Love piece by Tova Mirvis. It’s about helping her son navigate her divorce, and the reality that while his father still practices Orthodox Judaism, she no longer does. At one poignant moment, when her son asks her if she’ll love him if he makes different choices than hers down the road, she says, “You don’t have to match the people you love…”

I feel like that’s the banner over our family. We don’t match on the outside. Our timelines aren’t one single line, but four wild zigging zagging scribbles that intersected and began to zig and zag together. But as the weeks and months and years go by, we match more and more on the inside. We’re on a path together. People can’t see it, but it’s there, and I trust it.  And I’m learning to live into the truth that what makes you special isn’t something you can sum up on a seventh grade worksheet.

 

 

All the Hallelujahs

The Cherubs are back in school, and I’m relaxed for the first time since June :)

Summers, historically, are not our best season as a family. This one was no different. Most of the time, I felt like this Bart Simpson doll:

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And yet, as I scroll through pictures in order to curate a perfect internet version of our glorious happiness for you, I realize that we had some nice moments in there with all the boredom and the eye-rolling. Honesty requires me to disclose that for most of the past 7 weeks, the primary way the four of us showed our love for one another was by all the things we DIDN’T say. The spiritual fruit of Self Control was in serious rotation at the Ryan household as we four introverts spent way too much time together without the structure we need to thrive. But in the midst of that…

We flew to California!

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We spent a week a the beach in my hometown in Maine!

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We ate dinner ON THE FIELD at Fenway Park!

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We used the dining room table for jigsaw puzzles (who knew we like  jigsaw puzzles?) and ate at the kitchen island.

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And we made it through.

The kids are excited to be back at school, and I’m in awe that I can hand over the academic part of their development to qualified teaching professionals. (Thank you qualified teaching professionals! I’d hug you all if my kids weren’t so embarrassed by my existence that I’m essentially banned from their schools. Still though – giving you high-fives from here!)

We do so much better as a family when we have more going on, and when we spend our days out having individual lives and then come back together to share about what we’ve seen and done and learned. I don’t know if we’ll go back to eating dinner in the dining room or if this jigsaw puzzle thing is here to stay. But either way, I’m grateful for seasons, and the sure knowledge that new life is around each corner.

Hallelujah!