Category Archives: Family

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:

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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.

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!

 

Sharing a Win

I told you about the Women’s Retreat. And the CFCS Gala. But I also want to share a big family win that happened in the midst of it all.

Last Friday was the first night I’ve spent away from home & the kids since they moved in with us almost two years ago. We hugged goodbye Friday morning before school, and they saw me again Sunday morning before church because it was after midnight when I got in Saturday night.

When I think of what a disaster this would have been a year or two ago, I am in awe of how far we’ve come. I’m sharing this for those of you who are in the weeds of adoptive transitions right now and are terrified that the state of suspended existence you’re in right now might be your new forever normal. It’s not. 

Two years ago, if I’d tried this, the Cherubs would have been certain I was off doing something illegal. They would have been ANGRY, SCARED, and completely dysregulated (a psychology word that describes the state where you’ve lost your ability to cope and your behavior gets disruptive. The phrase, “He’s lost his sh*t?” Yeah, that’s dysregulation.) It would have been a mess, and totally not worth the damage and the aftermath.

One year ago, if I’d tried this, the Cherubs would have been mildly suspicious. The term shady would have been thrown around repeatedly, searching for a place to land. There would have been stern looks and mumbled comments about Don’t your kids matter more than a bunch of women? and I bet Dad wants you to stay home…  It would have been frustrating for everyone and probably not worth it, which would have left me ANGRY and SCARED that I’d always be hostage to their emotional ups and downs.

This year, there was none of that. The kids ate junk food they couldn’t wait to tell me about. Dad took them to Target and was in & out in under five minutes, a feat I cannot duplicate.  They slept normally, and jockeyed for who got to have their screen time first. They missed me, for sure. But they were free from worry and anger and fear, and able to continue on with regular life. That’s a gift.

It probably helps that we started talking about this retreat back in October. They saw the flyers, and the web page. They heard me announce it at church, and talk to people about logistics. They knew how stressed I was about low registration in the weeks before the event, and saw me grin with stunned relief as the registrations poured in during the last few days, putting us up over 100 people and squaring away the finances.  They knew who would be there, and a bit about what we’d be talking about. They knew it would be all women (which probably helped a lot.) A lot of preparation went into this on the family side.

But still. They were happy kids all weekend long. That is a miracle.

And on Tuesday, when we had another event to go to, and I told them “We’ll be coming home around 7:30pm”…then texted Steve’s awesome parents who were watching them at 8:25pm to say, “We haven’t even had dinner yet…” they kids were unphased. Grandma brought them upstairs and they put themselves to bed. And I had a glimpse of a world where these sweet children are truly able to launch out into the world feeling secure about things at home

I think I underestimate the role of consistency in relationships. Of being who you say you are, doing what you say you’ll do, and showing up where you say you’re going to be, over and over again.  Nothing we say can duplicate the power of trust earned over time.

I want to remember this in other areas of my life. I’m not always consistent. But one of my life goals is that whenever people from different areas of my life meet, if my name comes up, they will find that their experience of me has been more or less consistent. I spent a lot of time in my 20s & 30s (and early 40s) like a chameleon, adapting to my surroundings. I thought it was what I was supposed to do. It was pretty lonely, not to mention exhausting. At a certain point about five years ago, I sensed God (and Steve) telling me to stop, to be me, to trust that while no, I wouldn’t fit in everywhere anymore, in the places I did fit in, it would be a better fit.

I am stunned by the way this has shaped our new family. The Cherubs know this about their Round #2 Mom: I’m not that exciting. I wear mostly the same clothes, go to the same places, hang out with the same people. I like things other people might not like (such as writing books and starting a church and throwing retreats where people can connect with God) and don’t like some things others think are great (such as roller coasters and spicy food). I’m a little weird, but I’m consistent. And consistent is better than cool when you’re building a family.