Adoption Shopping

Yesterday I was going through old Amazon orders and came across a whole section I recognized as my “The Cherubs are coming!” shopping frenzy – items we bought hoping they would make the kids feel loved and welcomed, help us get to know each other, and meet practical needs (like how we had one twin bed and two incoming kids). It reminded me of the intensity of those early, mind-bending days, and how many directions we were looking to for help. Here’s a list of some of the items that delivered. Some of them might come in handy in your non-adoption life (or what I like to think of as your PRE adoption life!), too.

 First, The Thumb Ball.  This humble little ball started our conversation the first time we met The Cherubs. We came to their foster home in the afternoon after school. Their social worker, Janna, was waiting with them and introduced us. We all sat on couches in the living room, looking at each other but trying not to be weird about it. We knew conversation would be awkward (where do you even START?) so I brought this little ball I found online. The concept is simple: you toss it to someone, and wherever their thumb lands when they catch it, that’s the question they answer. “What’s a food  you don’t like?”  Janna didn’t like cinnamon, which gave us something to marvel at together. “What’s a good vacation place?” gave the kids a chance to tell us they’d been to Disney. Perhaps the best part of this, though, was that it was so tactile. When the game was over, #1 Cherub held onto the ball, squeezing it, tossing it in the air. It gave him something to do with all the nervous energy. I think we could have all used one.

On a similar note, Table Topics.  These cards were on our dining room table for months, rescuing  us from dinnertime misery night after night. Here’s why: Dinnertime was AWFUL that first season together. The kids didn’t like our food, we didn’t like their attitudes (and we were stressed about their health) We fought Every. Single. Night. But we had mandatory Table Topics conversations to approximate some semblance of the “value of family dinners” we were grasping for in those ten minute meals that felt like they lasted three hours. And you know what? It worked!  Sometimes you need a question about whether or not you’d travel to Mars if given the chance to get the party started!

A Note for writers: I once spent an entire summer using a box of these for daily writing prompts. Highly recommend.

Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care.  This book FREAKED ME OUT. I was prepared to learn a new world of hair care for my mixed-race daughter, but the author’s personal approach to her child’s hair is a bit extreme. For example, the book suggests that if we went to the beach, afterwards I should use AN AIR COMPRESSOR on my child’s head to remove sand from between the braids. I was like, “The same one that runs the nail gun???”  I cannot tell you how stupid I felt, asking one of my black friends, “Um…do I need an air compressor?”  Thankfully, her answer was No. That said, if you’re looking for a guide for how to care for natural hair, this is great. It has so much helpful information that helped me understand different types of hair, products, etc. and it also has detailed how-tos for different braids and styles. I’ll leave decisions re: the use of power tools up to you.

Patriot Bear.  I think Pillow Pets are brilliant, and wish they were the norm for adult pillows, too. Kids of all ages like soft things. When a child moves in with you, he or she might come with a favorite snuggle toy. But I think it helps with the transition to add something new from you that has meaning and solidifies their life at your house. (If you live outside of New England and aren’t a Pats fan, they have these bears for all the teams.) I covet this bear every night at tuck in time – he’s very cozy.

Black Nativity.  I love this adaptation of the Langston Hughes play. It’s gritty and complicated, and yet shot through with scenes that show God’s presence even in the midst of seemingly hopeless situations. It’s by far my favorite Christmas movie. We first got it from the library, and I was ordering a copy to own before the credits were done at the end.

Black or White.  We watched this one early in our new family relationship and it was HARD. But it was also good. The scene with Kevin Costner’s court testimony where he breaks down what really happened? I tear up just thinking about it. This movie does such a good job of showing how complicated these cases are. Not just because of race, but because of people. This brought up a lot of stuff for all of us (Steve and I had been through something similar with Princess Peach) but I’m so glad we saw it. It’s tempting to try to keep everything happy and easy when you’re just getting to know each other. But the Cherub’s foster mom gave us good advice: Bring it up, she said. It’s gonna come up anyway. She was right.

On a lighter note…a friend recommended this South Shore bedroom set as a frugal solution to our two kids/one bed dilemma. We ordered the bed, headboard shelf & nightstand for #2 Cherub, the price was incredibly reasonable, and they’ve been fantastic. Note: leave some time for assembly pre-Cherub arrival.

And finally, three of my favorites, because they’re so personal:

Out of My Mind. I bought this book before we even met the kids, because #2 Cherub listed it as her favorite book in the adoption flyer her social worker prepared to help recruit for them. This book is so good. I couldn’t wait to meet #2 and talk about it. It gave me hope that she & I might bond through books & writing, and indeed, we have. Our love of books and stories is one of the best things we share, and I’m so grateful to her social worker for including this gem in that flyer.

Kyrie Irving Fathead Graphic. We knew that #1 loved basketball. But we were unprepared for his favorite player being from Cleveland :) Kyrie stands tall over #1’s bed, ready to make a move on the basket. (But yes, we also got him a Celtics Fathead to make it a real game. And we might have put the guy in the green shirt on the wall closest to the net…)

cys-sign  reenas-sign

I found these signs at Marshall’s and got one for each Cherub’s bedroom. I want them to see this every single night, and wake up to it every morning. It’s the truth. You can find something similar here, here, and here. As I look at them now, I kind of want one in every room.

 

 

Fielding Questions About WHY

Today’s adoption question is from Sarah: How do you handle questions your kids have about WHY?

***

We had a really good plan for this. It fell apart immediately upon impact with reality, but I’ll tell you about it anyway.

OUR PLAN was to focus on the positives. Not in a Pollyanna-ish way, but to look for the bright spots in our particular situation and intentionally point to them.

We had some good stuff to work with:

Their biological mother did something awesome when she signed over her parental rights once we were identified as a pre-adoptive family. She saved them from YEARS of legal limbo – trial dates are pushed out months in these matters, continuances granted endlessly, and then appeals can drag on. So she really came through and put the best interest of her kids first in that decision, and we’ve made it clear to the Cherubs that we are grateful for this.

(Let me pause to say that I’m not a fan of the phrase “biological mom.” She’s their Mom, just like I am now, and it helps our family that I’m not threatened or upset about it. Back when one of the kids asked, after the adoption was finalized, “What should we call her now?” I just blurted, “Don’t you still want to call her Mom?” Every adoption situation is different, but in our case, it would be beyond weird for them to start calling her “Lisa” (not her name, but you see where I’m going) after calling her Mom since they were born. For a while, they referred to me as their Round Two Mom, which was kind of funny. I wish that had stuck, because it captures the truth really well. Our roles in their lives are different, but denying reality seems absurd in our case.)

Other bright spots include how they were placed together in foster care (a miracle) in an incredible foster home (another miracle) with a foster mother who knew how to parent with love, how to lead, and how to teach life skills (sadly rare).

And that they were CHOSEN. We hoped that would make them feel special, and that they’d marvel along with us at how God brought the four of us together to make a family.

***

Here’s the reality:

They did not feel lucky.

They did not feel particularly blessed.

They could not possibly care less about being CHOSEN.

Their response to all this was, “If you got to consider all those kids, why didn’t we have any choice about our new parents?”

Ouch.

But such a valid point. This is probably their top frustration – that they were not consulted. The will of strangers was just imposed on them, again and again. And so whenever this topic comes up, they say some version of, “I’m not saying we wouldn’t pick you guys as parents, but it would have been nice to consider other options.”

At first, struggling to respond, I’d talk about facts: how there aren’t enough adoptive parents, and how what you think you want in a parent when you’re a kid may not be what you actually need, blah, blah, blah. But this was unhelpful. They weren’t frustrated by the larger picture of foster care in Massachusetts. They were frustrated by how completely they’d been excluded from decisions that have endless repercussions for their lives.

Here’s something to know about adoptive parenting: You constantly need to put your feelings, and the way your Sparkly Hopeful Generous Love is bruised by these interactions, ON HOLD, so you can recognize the ridiculousness of what you are requiring of these children. These kids were

  • Taken from the only family they’d ever known (losing their school, friends, and most of their belongings)
  • To live with a foster family they’d never met (where they were expected to accept whatever they got, may not have had what they needed, AND had to learn new household rules, traditions, expectations, as well as make their way in a new school.)
  • Then later, seemingly out of the blue, told,”We’ve found your new parents!”and introduced to yet another set of people they’d never met, then required to start all over AGAIN.

Our society expects these kids to do this cheerfully, with a good attitude, while keeping up their behavior and grades in school and not acting out in any way. It is insane.

And yet they pull it off.

If you get a chance to look through the photo listing book of children waiting for adoption, or the MARE website? Look at every one of those faces and recognize: right there is a child without functional parents or a real home, who could be moved to a new stranger’s house without notice at any time, and yet will be expected to pass a test on fractions this morning and to figure out what to do about the mandatory chorus concert tonight, the one that requires a white shirt and black pants he doesn’t have.

These kids are AMAZING, functioning in lives where every facet is outside their control. So if our Cherubs get angry or attitudinal about not having a choice about us as their parents, my job is to agree that that sucks and not take it personally.

I guess that’s our strategy for dealing with questions of WHY: Agree that what happened sucks, resist the urge to cover their disappointment with a shiny veneer, and don’t take ANYTHING personally.

Here’s what’s surprising: As we give them freedom to vent their frustration about all of this, we see this sort of two-tier development happening: they recognize how much they hated the process…and that they love us. They wish they’d never had to go into foster care or be adopted…and also see this new life is pretty good.  They learn to live in tension, which might be the life skill we all need most.

This is why I recommend taking a lot of pictures. As you look back over them, you’ll see: Yeah, they were just sort of tolerating us then. But things feel different now. We’re doing better… It draws you out of the daily stuff and helps you see the progress.

 

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Two weeks after we met: Steve & I were SO EXCITED. The kids were like, “Whatever strange people. Please take us back to our foster home where our real lives are.”

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This past Christmas: We were ALL pretty excited…and smiling for real.

The truth is, none of us know why. But there’s a proverb that says, “Don’t withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help.” That’s what we’re trying to do here, one day at a time.

Thanks, Sarah. Great question :)

 

Part of the Chaos

photo copy 4I spent yesterday pulling giant pink ceramic tile up off of the kitchen floor. It was loud and chunks of stuff everywhere, whacking me in the face and hands and knees…it was total tumult, and yet sooooooo satisfying.  It felt like a metaphor for life: how once you accept the fact that there’s really no neat way to do what needs to be done, you can enjoy the mess for the progress it is.  The order we crave is almost always preceded by chaos.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself :)

The other great thing about demo is that it’s the best workout ever. The next time my jeans get too tight, I plan to cast around for friends with a house they want to remodel. Voila, instant slim down! (Of course, all this hammer swinging, prying & painting is also giving me hands that look like I beat people up for a living, but I’m choosing to focus on how well my jeans will fit in a few weeks!)  Seriously, THE BIGGEST LOSER should do a home renovation edition. Carrying piles of 12 inch tile up & down stairs makes my treadmill workouts look like something I did for leisure.

A couple of nights ago, as Steve and I were figuring out how to remove some fruit-themed tiles from behind the stove (bunches of strawberries, arranged around a giant artichoke), I jokingly said, “Remember that conversation we had about how we should find a new hobby to do together after we move? Looks like we’ve found our hobby!” It’s not sexy (unless you count steamy glances at each other through safety glasses as we photopeer out over our face masks…and you shouldn’t count that because my glasses fog up when I breath because my mask was made for a bigger face, so I can’t really see much of anything) but it’s fun and satisfying and real. I’ll admit: I dreaded doing these parts of the project ourselves…I was afraid we’d become like those couples you sometimes see on HGTV, yelling and swearing at each other and spending 14 hours trying to get up one small section of floor before they call in the professionals to keep the building and/or relationship from collapsing. But thankfully, that’s not us. We might not make good television, but we make good life.

So that’s what’s going on here. Today I have walls to paint Botany Beige and a trip to Lowe’s to buy some photo copy 3sort of device by which one can scrape the dried cement that goes under tile off of the plywood sub-floor. I can see the beauty of that smooth plywood, ready to emerge…It’s my job to set it free :)

She’s Buying Stairway to Heaven

photo-8 copyWe are all moved in and (most) of the boxes are unpacked, ripped, flattened and subdued into orderly piles for the recycling truck that comes next week. Life is approximating some sort of order again, although I don’t yet have a routine for anything except hitting the toggle on the coffee maker before going out for THAT DOG’s morning walk.  But it’s a start!

We love the new house, and our new neighborhood. I’m overwhelmed by waves of thankfulness as I wrestle with thousands of decisions about where things should go. I have no strong opinion about where the can opener or the flashlight should reside, but I’ve learned this week that unless I care a little bit, I have no hope of ever finding them again. Woven through all of this is an awareness that these are mighty fine problems to have, and I’m grateful.

One of the big surprises about this first week in our new house has been how the focus on all of these small decisions, coupled with the physicality of moving (and shoveling snow from Sunday’s storm, and figuring out how to get the lock off of the garage when it’s frozen) has slowed down the constant analysis that usually occupies my mind.

Most of the time, I’m thinking. I love pondering ideas, looking for connections, asking God to show me things about how the world works. (One of my most frequent prayers, when I see something I don’t understand, is “God, what are you doing there?” Often, this will lead to a whole string of new ideas I hadn’t considered.) Being “extra think-y in my brain parts” as my friend Lynette would say – is usually fun. It leads to blog posts and new chapters written, ideas for talks or conversations.  But in seasons when life is extra complicated, it can be exhausting, like a machine I can’t turn off.  That’s how I felt in the days right before we moved.

This week has been just the opposite. I’ve been able to focus on the practicalities without going all “big picture.” My spiritual perspective has been a pretty consistent heartbeat of “Thanks, God!” along with a few prayers of “Could You please show me where we put the extension cord/Kylie’s leash/my deodorant?” It’s been an interesting change to be so very “here” and not very “out there” at all. A needed vacation that left me excited to get back to my “normal,” rejuvenated and refreshed, and ready to blog again.

Other fun discoveries this week, as we undid some of the older boxes that had been shoved away since 2009:

-We packed a bottle of whiskey in with our shower curtain. I don’t know where we got it (We are wine & beer people.) But our bathroom is PARTY READY!

-We own approximately 1,000 wash clothes, used over the years to pack approximately 1,000 fragile items.  Our faces will be endlessly CLEAN. Which will be good I guess, in case we drool after downing all that whiskey.

-When we put our bed up on the frame, it exceeds THAT DOG’s vertical jump by several inches. We are in serious danger of imagesbecoming THOSE PEOPLE who have a stairway for their dog.

And so the Stairway to Heaven jokes begin.

Happy Tuesday :)

Time to Move!

imagesI said goodbye to my library today. The O’Neill branch of the Cambridge Public Library might be the friendliest place I’ve ever experienced. Of all the towns I’ve lived in, this is the only library where the librarians initiate conversations – we’ve talked about books, naturally, but also discussed current events (Gobble Tov!), shared silly jokes, and personal highs and lows. They’ve become friends, and I’ll miss them. I really appreciate the effort they invest to make their small branch such a key part of the neighborhood. It’s been incredible. It is the thing I will miss most as we leave North Cambridge.

Other than that, I’m excited to leave! I’ve spent a surprising amount of my adult life living in cities, but deep inside I’m a suburbs girl. Cambridge is a complicated place, and I’m ready for my life to be a little more straightforward, at least at home.

UnknownI know almost nothing about our new town.  Last week I got lost driving around  and ended up touring three adjacent suburbs before I found my way to where I wanted to be. I suspect it will be awhile before I know where to do things like buy groceries. But that’s okay, because we found out last night at the walk thru that our new house has no refrigerator. (Finally, my choice to focus my cooking skills on meals comprised of boiling water and pasta is paying off!) It’s been awhile since we’ve had the opportunity to assemble a new home life, and I’m excited for the challenge…even if we do need to visit the appliance store RIGHT AWAY.

Our internet turns off at midnight tonight, and I don’t think we’ll have it on again until Friday. No more posts this week. But God willing, I’ll be back here on Monday with funny stories to share.

Here’s to a new chapter :)

On Knowing When to Walk Away (and When to Run :))

16iht-tennis16-bartoli-articleLargeWTA tennis player Marion Bartoli stunned the world last week when she announced her retirement in her first tournament back after winning Wimbledon earlier this summer.

“I’ve been a tennis player for a long time,” she said, “I had a chance to make my biggest dream a reality. I felt I really, really pushed through the ultimate limits to make it happen. But now I just can’t do it anymore.”

I love that she realized this and acted on it.  What stunned the world wasn’t that she had Marion-Bartoliaches and pains and injuries. That’s part of professional sports. The surprise came, I think, from the idea that she could be satisfied with what she’s accomplished, retire graciously, and turn her eyes to something new.  (I love this picture of her to the right – doesn’t she look pretty and happy and relaxed?) Fellow Wimbledon champ Andy Murray said about Marion,   “I think the best compliment you can give someone as an athlete is that I think that she’s reached her potential, and that’s all you can do. She’s got everything out of her game that she can, and it’s great to see. She deserves everything that she gets. She’s a really, really hard worker and she’s a really nice girl.”

It’s tough for most of us to know if we’ve reached our potential.  How awesome would it be if whenever we reached our best accomplishment in some area of life, someone appeared out of nowhere to hand us a big check & a trophy while a sea of cameras took our picture??? Then we’d know it’s okay to consider moving on.

I guess I envy the clear delineation Marion Bartoli sees in her life: she had an impossible dream that inspired her to work through pain and setbacks and frustration and boredom. She pushed and kept going, and then she reached her dream. Of course, she could push for more. That’s what most players do–step up on this new rung on the ladder and use it to reach higher. But she doesn’t want to. So she’s climbing back down, having seen the view from the top, ready to look around for a new dream to inspire her.

That’s heady stuff.

In retort to interviewers who suggested that she’d be back once she’d had a chance to rest, as have so many other players (Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin), she said firmly,  “You know one doesn’t make a decision like this looking at what others do. It’s an extremely personal decision…. I’m not doing this in relation to others.”

How many of us can say the same about our own decisions?

This week, I’ll be thinking about Marion, wondering if it’s time to retire and dream a new dream.  I’m not even sure what I’d retire from, to be honest. But when someone else’s choice captivates me in a way that seems all out of proportion, it’s usually worth considering why, and if God might be trying to tell me something.

How The West Wing is helping me think about another NYTimes article

the-west-wing-cast-708368 Steve and I are in the midst of a two-week West Wing marathon.  I love the writing – plot, pacing, brilliant banter. It helps me think about the mixed reality of human life: how sometimes we win, but just as often we lose, either because we blow it or someone pulls some last minute stunt that changes things, or because our plan didn’t factor in some key element that turned out to be central. It’s kind of a crap shoot out here.

The show does a good job portraying how sometimes other people are wonderful and good and surprise us (I want Ainsely Hayes to move to images-2Cambridge and be my friend), but sometimes brilliance is best experienced from a distance (I don’t think I’d like Toby imagesZeigler, but I’d love to be in the room to watch him he craft a speech with his team.) People can be weirdly passionate about things we don’t understand (we just saw the episode where the “Carteogrophers for Social Equality” wanted to flip over maps to give countries in the southern hemisphere the experience of being on top), and sometimes they’re conniving and ruthless and mean (we’re at the point in Season 2 where the VP is about to make a power move on the Oval Office).

In all of this, I can’t decide if the show makes me long to be back in an office atmosphere – with shared goals, banter, and the tug-of-war that makes up each new day, or if it makes me want to hunker down with my dog because all of this unpredictability and humans colliding so exhausting.

This question in extra-sharp tension this morning because I read an article in the New York TimesThe Opt Out Generation Wants Back In – about how (as one of my Twitter friends put it) women are damed if we do (work) and damned if we don’t.  As I said on FB, my head is spinning.

I didn’t opt out of professional, go-to-an-office/receive a regular paycheck work for children. I opted out to publish books. And like children, my two memoirs were needy and demanding during the first few years, but after awhile they went out into the world to succeed or fail largely on their own, and all that was left was for me to decide: do I want to go back to “real” work (read: reliable, ordered, where there’s a schedule set by someone other than me), or try to produce another?

I have pages written of course. Scores of them. But publishing is in such chaos right now that almost any job looks like a oasis of security, a chance to superimpose some longed-for predictability over my days. But I wonder if this vision of greener grass is real?

I’m thinking about this today. And fending off the lie that office life (or any life) can be carefully scripted, or always filled with smart, funny people like CJ, Josh and Sam, every day spent tossing about witty banter in an atmosphere where it really is possible to save the world. As I look bad over my resume, I don’t recall any job being quite like that.

Have you noticed how in bullish seasons when the economy is on the upswing, news stories focus on how people are longing for more freedom, flexibility, room to explore? But in lean, bearish times the focus shifts to how wonderful it is to have two incomes, money in the bank, the promise of stability? The truth is, we want both. But I don’t think either can deliver everything we’re looking for.

(NOTE: As a Christian, I know that this is the point where I’m supposed to bring up Jesus, and how HE is the answer to everything we need. I know this because last year I met with a pastor I barely knew who told me, with a strange aggressive smile, that NO MATTER WHAT THE QUESTION IS, Jesus is the answer. All I could think was, Really? as I tried this out: What is my bra size? Jesus.  What is the population of St. Louis? Jesus. What do you want on your hot dog? Jesus. While this makes for an easy way to wrap up a blog post (or a counseling session) about life’s tough, confusing realities, Jesus is not “the answer” to every question. But I will say, it helps to have him around.)

Anyway…There are no easy answers. We muddle through. Prayer helps. As I read the Bible each morning I’m surprised again and again by what a kerfluffle life has always been, and how knowing God doesn’t work at all the way we think it will and so few of our definitions of things like “good” or “secure” or “happy” sync up with His. As I said to a friend the other night, “God and life are…interesting.” We just don’t know how anything will turn out.

The West Wing is helping me accept this, and take it one day at a time.

Trish’s Dishes

For the past eight years, I’ve blogged over at Trish’s Dishes. If you’re looking for older posts (a recap of the launch of my first two books, my ongoing battle to keep THAT DOG out of the garbage, the advice I gave college sophomores on how to manage life) you can find them there.

I’m so grateful blogging came along. It’s incredible how many cool people I “know” because the blogsphere introduced us. It’s given me a place to record moments I would have forgotten otherwise.  (Such as this, my VERY FIRST BLOG, about my paralyzing fear of going to the dentist!)

I’ll be blogging here on my website from now on. And even though blogging is no longer the “new thing” all authors must do for book publicity, I believe it’s worth the effort. It never was much about publicity for me. It’s always been more about sharing life’s big, small and absurd moments & connecting with awesome people. I hope you’ll stop by and say hello :)