High School Reunion

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I attended my High School reunion last Saturday. Yes, I wore Stitch Fix. No, not the Moto Jacket. (Too warm). It’s taken me four days to process the experience and I’m still not sure what to say, other than that it was so incredibly good and I’m really glad I went. But I haven’t blogged since May (sorry!) I figured I’d dive in and post something in the hopes that some thoughts will make sense as I go.

I grew up in a small town in Maine where we went to school in the same yellow building from Kindergarten through 8th grade. After that we moved up to the High School, where we merged with kids from the town next to us. By senior year, our graduating class was about 150 people. Everyone knew everyone else, and almost everything about each other.

This was the first reunion I’ve been able to make since we graduated. I’m in awe of what it felt like to be back together in the same room with people with whom I share so much of history…and yet in most cases, we knew next to nothing about each other’s current lives. I was surprised how NICE that was. Sure we did some updating. I have friends with grandkids, and friends with newborns. We’ve had moves and career changes, big wins and hard hits. But mostly we reminisced about what it was like to grow up in our little corner of the universe, and how differently we see it now.  We were all sort of staring at each other in this happy way, saying things like “this is surreal…” and “I can’t believe you’re here…” interspersed with the most common comment of the night, “WHY did we all have such ridiculous hair???”  It was so much goodness wrapped up in one event.

I realize how protected we were back then. And how privileged. We weren’t wealthy (at least most of us weren’t) and our families weren’t perfect. But the world was manageable, and there was time and space for us to grow into it. And we were just a good group of people. That makes a difference.

I hope to have more thoughts on this at some point. But for now I’ll just say, Kids: go ahead and perm your hair before your senior pictures! It will give you a great icebreaker at your reunions for years to come ;)

 

 

 

Big Chicken News

I hadn’t planned to blog again today. Then this big chicken story broke.

Behold, Big Boss:

As a writer for CNN observed, “It’s like the prologue to a poultry-themed apocalypse novel.”

It demands a response.

First, let me establish my chicken credentials, so Big Boss knows who he is dealing with.

I have a rooster-themed spoon holder.

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And a Chickens Of the World dish towel.

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I welcome chickens from other countries.

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And celebrate differently-abled chickens.

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But Big Boss should notice some commonalities among my favorite chickens. A certain…fixedness. He should know that I am not a fan of chickens in motion.

Now the truth is, if Big Boss is breeding an army, it’s likely that he sees us as a viable target and might be plotting a takeover.

We need a plan, people.  Because even though my local supermarket can rotisserie this guy’s little cousins like nobody’s business…

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They either saved it for me or named it after me. Not sure which.

…and I’ve rumbled with a chicken or two myself

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R.I.P. Wonderful Gift Rooster. 

This may call for something bigger.

But never fear, friends.

We have Beyonce.

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What If My Kids Never Love Me?

Today’s adoption question is from Beth:  How do you deal with the fear and/or reality of the kids not loving/attaching to you, and you to them?

***

Before The Cherubs moved in with us, when we were in the transition phase with visits on Wednesday nights & weekends, our kids declared that they were not going to call us Mom & Dad until the adoption was finalized.

That was fine at first.

But after six months or so,  I was tired of being called Trish & Steve. It didn’t bother me much at home. But when we were out in the world, and people were trying to make sense of who we were to each other because we don’t look alike? It would have been so much easier for the kids to call out across the grocery aisle, “Hey Mom, X is on sale!” than “Hey Trish….”  Plus, when you’re doing all the work of a Mom & Dad, it’s nice to be acknowledged as such. Having them call us Trish & Steve felt way too much like we were just sub-contractors employed to fulfill their parenting needs.

And yet, #2 Cherub asked me almost daily in the weeks prior to our adoption finalization, “Are you SO excited that we’ll call you Mom & Dad after that???” I said that indeed, I surely was.

The day came. It was wonderful.

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When we arrived home, #1 immediately ran across the street to his friend’s house to tell them he’d been adopted. Then asked if we could hang the certificates on the wall in the kitchen, “so everyone can see them.”  (Cue  tears as I hand Steve a hammer and two nails.)

But the kids still called us Trish & Steve for two more months.

It wasn’t until we went to a conference in Syracuse, where our family unit was a distinct entity in a sea of people they didn’t yet know. That’s when called us Mom & Dad for real. It was 15 months from when we first met. Not a long time as I look back at it now. But during those days? It felt like forever.  And it was really hard.

***

One of the big things the Cherubs said when I told them about this blog series was, “Make sure you tell people who might adopt not to be offended if the kids don’t want to call them Mom & Dad right away. It’s not personal. It just takes time.”

That’s the overarching theme of adoption: it just takes time. Human attachment doesn’t happen instantly. Some circumstances (romantic love, childbirth) give you a surge of hormones to kick things off. But adoption is really much more like meeting a new roommate: You hope you’ll get along well and even enjoy hanging out. But there’s no way to tell how long that might take.

Even though I knew this, it doesn’t mean I KNEW it. The picture you create in your mind of our future family is about being a family, right?  Whatever that means at any given moment, it’s always about more than being roommates.

Here’s what I learned about attachment: it’s not about what I thought it was about. I thought it would be about affection, attention, positive interactions and new memories we created together.  I thought that if we did enough of that, love would just bloom and grown in a neat, orderly (rapid) way.

Nope.

Attachment is about reliability.

Attachment is when you become the people your kids look to for answers, approval, and assistance. Attachment is when they trust – not with their minds, but with their instincts – that you will see and meet their needs.

There is very little reciprocity in the early days of adoption, and what there is is probably your kids faking it, trying to guess at who and how you want them to be. It’s all YOU, pouring out everything, meeting all the needs as they come up, and trying not to get discouraged as your kids don’t seem to care.

They totally care. But they are terrified this will go away, or that the other shoe will drop and you’ll turn out to be mean, or a loser, or both. And so they don’t have enough energy to reward your awesome parenting with gold stars of Cherubic appreciation. They’re just trying to get through the day without losing their sh*t.

When you adopt, get over the idea that anything in the first six months will be rewarding.  This isn’t about rewards. This is about building, and building is WORK.

Consider this:

Adoption is a bit like getting your family from IKEA: you start with component parts and vague instructions, along with a vision of what you hope to have at the end. You don’t expect your IKEA building experience to be fun or rewarding. You just hope it won’t wreck your relationship or drain your sanity beyond what you can replenish. These are reasonable, appropriate goals.

Practically speaking, “building” meant in every area of our new family dynamic, we went first. We loved the Cherubs first, in word and action, without any response from them.  We affirmed them over and over again, for all manner of successes (“You made the soccer team? GREAT!” “You cuddled with the dog? WOW!” “Your hangnail healed? WAY TO GO!”) We made school lunches, cooked dinners they didn’t want to eat, kept to a daily routine, and arrived every single place we went at least fifteen minutes early (they HATE being late).  As I shared at the start of this series, love isn’t affection at this point – it’s consistency. That’s what our kids needed most when they first arrived.

So how did we deal with the fear that they might never attach to us? Or the moments when we weren’t sure we could keep up this level of unreciprocated enthusiasm?

We took advantage of small escapes. You have to build in the pressure release valves early in the process, because all that steam needs a way out. I had a weekly night out with a friend that I did not stop when the kids moved in. They HATED this – they were sure I was out doing something shady, and had no trouble expressing their disapproval. Whatever, out I went. (Steve did have a talk with them about how & why he trusted me, which helped a lot.) Now, if I miss a night, it throws them off that I’m not gone.

Steve kept playing hockey twice a week before work, even though we were beyond sleep deprived, and it made our morning routine a little more complicated.

And we gave the kids early bedtimes so we could have some time alone together in the evenings, during which drank more wine & beer than is probably recommended. Don’t get me wrong – we were always sober. But I think we needed a finish line to the day – a reward! And it had to be something where the Cherubs couldn’t say, “Can we have some of that?” Because they had everything else. (Here’s the stark truth:  when you’re in the thick of  pre-attachment parenting, there’s a good chance that the guys at your local beer & wine store will know your adoption story.  BLESS IT.)

Here’s the thing though (and if you’re about to adopt, you should copy, paste & print this paragraph):

This doesn’t last forever. This weird roommate-esque, non-reciprocal relationship? This is not your permanent relationship. Your family will not always be a crooked wonky shelf from IKEA. You have all the parts you need. But the attachment part of adoption? Turns out it’s grown, not built.

Our kids are still not fully attached to us. But we are light years away from where we were even 6 months ago. We function like a family now. We have inside jokes and longstanding debates. We hug and say “I love you,” and they look us in the eye when we talk to them.  They look to us for help, answers, and approval. They watch when they think we can’t see them to see if we notice them, if we know where they are, if we’re paying attention.

And none of this progress comes in an orderly way. Growth shoots up out of nowhere. Like this:

On Saturday night, I was up in our bedroom working on a sermon for Sunday morning. For the first year we knew them, the kids would never come upstairs, and were convinced I was doing something nefarious if I was up here anytime other than to go to sleep. But that’s been changing lately, and now they’ll come up to ask me a question or pet the dog. But Saturday, they both came up, and we all just sort of hung out, laughing about silly things. #2 demonstrated her pushup technique. #1 hid across the room, texting me to see when his sister would notice he was there (too bad I’d left my phone downstairs). Then Steve came up and we all petted THIS DOG, who was lying in the center of the bed, soaking up the love and clearly thinking, “FINALLY you people get this pack thing!”

It was good. And let me tell you, it felt totally beyond us until the moment it happened.

DO NOT GIVE UP, new adoptive parents! Today is not forever in this relationship. Keep building, hang in there, find some (preferably healthier and less causing of weight gain) ways to let out some pressure. You can do this! And it’s worth it.

 

 

It’s Like Puppy Rescue (?!?)

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We have a sweet, smart little girl who comes with her mom to our church Life Group on Wednesday nights.  I’ll call her Awesome Blossom. She is seven, which means that she looks at #2 Cherub (who is twelve) with wide-eyed wonder and longing. The kids usually do their own thing on one side of the room while the grownups talk about the night’s Bible passage on the other. Last week I watched as Awesome Blossom worked up her courage and approached #2 Cherub with all her questions.

We’ve known for a while that Awesome Blossom wonders about our family. We’re confusing. We don’t match, at least on the outside. We leave in different cars because Steve comes to group straight from work. And her mom grew up with Steve, which means they’ve known each other longer than he & I have. It’s all a little confusing.

Last week, Awesome Blossom QUIZZED #2 Cherub. It was adorable. I could hear her part of the conversation, but not my daughter’s.  Later, I asked Reena, “How did you explain things to her?”

“It used to be SO hard talking to little kids about being adopted,” she said. “They have SO MANY questions because it’s so hard to understand. So now I just tell them, It’s like puppy rescue.”  

I’m pretty sure my eyes got HUGE when she said that. If there’s anything the adults in the adoption world do NOT compare this process to, it’s puppy rescue. No one wants kids to think of themselves as abandoned dogs, right?

#2 Cherub corrected my perception, P.D.Q. From a kid’s perspective? NOTHING is better than puppies! Who doesn’t want to rescue all the dogs when you’re a kid???

It’s the ultimate compliment.

And to be honest, it’s sort of the truth.

So there you have it. The key to building a second chance family, summed up by my brilliant, candid daughter: puppy rescue.

If you want to adopt an actual puppy (and you should!), start here.

If you want to adopt a cherub (and you should!), start here and here.

As the saying goes, TODAY could be the first day of your whole new life ;)

Raising our kids in our faith

This is Part 2 of the answer to Donny’s Question: Religion is a big part of your life – how are you raising the kids within a faith-based environment and why is it important to you and Steve?

On Friday I shared a about the why.  Here’s some of the how (the good, the bad, and the Wow, that really backfired…)

***

We knew going in to adoption that our kids would need to detox.

One frequent commonality among kids who have been neglected is that their lives have been rather boundary-less. If they’re older than three, they may have played hours of Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, helped themself to a beer or three, eaten nothing but Doritos and soda for weeks at a time, and stayed up late at night exploring what’s going on on all those grown-up channels. I’m not saying that The Cherubs did all of these things – just that whatever YOU would have explored when you were younger but didn’t because there were adults there to stop you? Imagine if those adults hadn’t been there. Of course, lots of kids live like this and don’t end up in foster care. Things have to get to a whole other level of dangerous before that happens. But let’s just say that there is a ENORMOUS gap between the “everyday normal” of most waiting-to-be-adopted kids and their pre-adoptive parents.

You need a way to bridge this gap.

Our plan is Jesus. (I know that sounds obnoxious, but stay with me. I’ll try to explain…)

Our faith in Jesus (okay, all of God really – Father, Son & Holy Spirit) is the helpful thing Steve & I hold on to when all else fails. You probably can’t imagine it now, but if you adopt, there will come a day where a D in Algebra, a call from the Vice Principal, a bedroom that looks like a hazmat site, or a two month boycott of all foods that don’t contain high-fructose corn syrup will be beyond your capacity to worry about or manage.  You’ll hide in your bedroom telling yourself, “I guess it will just have to be okay if they smell and they can’t do complex equations, because I don’t know how to fix it…” Of course, not all days are like this. Most days are just days. But sometimes, you can only care about one thing, and so you want it to be something that can help.

So no matter what has hit the fan on a particular day…or when a day is SO GOOD that I just want to tiptoe upstairs and revel in the miracle…we bring the Jesus:

We hold hands and pray before meals. Even in restaurants. (Yes, they are mortified.)

We have Prayer/Bible time before bed. We hold hands (you’ll see a theme here. When Mother Holding Child's Handyou first adopt, especially older kids, it’s hard to figure out affection because you’re essentially strangers. So opportunities like this where you can connect in a way that’s safe and not creepy are really helpful) We say the Our Father prayer – the Old English version Steve & I learned in Catholic Sunday School. Something about the THY Kingdom come, THY will be done adds much needed solemnity to the endeavor.  Then each of the kids reads a section of the Bible from Steve’s phone.

Most nights, this is a debacle. The Cherubs argue over who’s turn it is to “host” Prayer time in their room. They jockey for position on the bed. One decides to prove that yes she CAN do a pushup the right way. The other “remembers” that he has three weeks worth of dirty clothes stuffed under the bed and he really should take care of that now. (Sounds normal for kids who are 5 and 7, right? Ours are 12 & 14).  THIS DOG comes in and puts her nose on our clasped hands like she’s joining in the prayer time which makes it impossible to focus on God because… cuteness (Strangely, having the dog there seems to focus us all – it’s like somehow she makes us realize, If Bergie wants to be part of this maybe it really is important…)  But it’s rarely the soft, dreamy stuff of which Christian movies are made.

But if for some reason Steve or I suggest skipping prayer time? THERE IS OUTRIGHT REVOLT. Prayer Time is sacrosanct in tradition, if not execution. It’s what we do, and the Cherubs do not take it well when we deviate from this plan.

We pray for healing. If someone has a head or stomach ache, the first thing I’ll do is put my hand on their forehead and say, “Be healed, in Jesus’ name.” Then I’ll ask when the last time they had some water, if they’ve eaten anything recently, and all the other normal questions. But we start with Jesus, and how he helps when we’re sick. I can’t tell you how often we get through the follow up questions and they feel better. It’s pretty cool. (I should also be clear that we also believe that Jesus works through Tylenol, and doctors, and all sorts of other things. We use prayer in conjunction with human wisdom & effort, not in place of it.)

We also pray for them to do well on tests, and for friends who are struggling with challenges large and small. We pray short prayers all the time about all sorts of things, believing that Jesus is there with us in the middle of it all and is always up for a conversation.

And the most unexpected thing we’ve done…

We planted a Church.

As I shared in a previous post, we had a bit of a Goldilocks experience visiting churches iu-4when we first met the Cherubs (this one was too big, this one was too odd, this one made all the kids get up in front of the congregation and do a PRAISE DANCE to a song my kids had never heard before to teach the rest of us about the Holy Spirit…) The kids hated it. We were off to a bad start.

So we switched gears and did church at home that summer. It was great. We started with the basics – who is Jesus, what does he offer us, how would one pray if one were inclined to try, what can you pray for? We talked about how God gives all of us spiritual gifts that are helpful and cool, and then we experimented with them – asking God to speak to us, encourage us, give us ideas to solve problems. Friends came and joined us some Sundays, which lent credibility: Steve & I weren’t the only people who believed that the stuff in the Bible is real for us today. We took communion every week, using sparkling grape juice because the kids were still in State custody and we couldn’t risk serving them actual wine, even just the small amount dipped on a crust of bread.

The best part was how this relieved the pressure for them to pretend to know things about faith. We hadn’t anticipated how HARD it is to come into Church Youth Group culture at the middle school level. You’re surrounded by kids who have been in this world since birth, who all know the skits, the songs, the dances, the bible stories. If you’re already feeling awkward about being the only black kid AND the only adopted kid, there is just no way you’re going to admit that you don’t know who Joseph is or what the problem was with his brothers. So getting the Cherubs out of that was one of the best things we’ve done.

iu-5Then one afternoon in July, I was in our home office, scrolling through Facebook while the Cherubs played Wii with friends in the next room. A friend of mine had posted a video from the National Conference of the Vineyard – the denomination where Steve & I had each discovered Jesus before we met. It was a talk called something like, “Characteristics of Vineyard Leadership.” The screen shot was a picture of Rich Nathan (a pastor in Columbus, OH) with a Power Point slide behind him that read You Will Be Betrayed.

I’m embarrassed to admit that the snarky side of me hit click before I even gave it a second thought. Being betrayed was such a defining part of how our Vineyard experience ended a few years earlier. I was totally looking for the satisfaction that comes from having your fury vindicated, as someone in a position of power acknowledges, “You’re right, that was MESSED UP…”

Rich may have said that, but if he did, I missed it. Because something else happened. As Rich described the casual, high-faith approach to ministry in the Vineyard, I realized, “This is what we’re teaching our kids every Sunday in the living room!” Soon I was in tears, which was surprising (I was sure I could not cry any more over church losses) and awkward (with four kids in the next room screaming at the Wii). I was overwhelmed with the realization: We’re not alone in this. These are still our people.  I felt like there was a giant family reunion going on and we were missing it. I didn’t want to miss any more, and I wanted the Cherubs to know they were part of this family.

Steve and I reached out to some of the leaders. After several conversations, our area pastors challenged us: would we be willing to move forward with the church plant plan we’d started back in 2011?

We said yes. But that’s a different blog post :)

But I will say that planting a new church – giving the Cherubs the chance to see week in and week out how God brings people together and then works in each of our lives – has been a really cool experience. They realize that the are part of something larger than just us, something dynamic and real, something personal where they are known and loved.

Church isn’t always this way. But when it is? It’s just the best.

That’s what we want for our kids.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Truthful Blogging…and Chickens

I recently learned that there is a woman in my home state of Maine who earns a quarter of a million dollars a year blogging about chickens.

[Go ahead. Read that again. I had to see it a couple of times myself before it sank in.]

chickenHer name is Lisa Steele, and she runs “the largest natural chicken keeping resource on the internet.” I’ve been smiling about this for days, because I just think it’s so incredible. I mean, $250,000 a year to blog about chickens! Who ever said American wasn’t great???

(And no, that’s not a political comment, but rather an expression of awe and wonder that we live in a place where such WEIRD things can happen. I think that’s cool.)

Of course I went immediately to her website, Fresh Eggs Daily. It’s pretty spectacular, even for an avowed chicken-phobe like myself.

Discoveries like this pull me into exploration mode, and soon I was immersed in the online world of farming & homesteading.  This was a bit of a shock. Apparently, chickens are a thing. There are even jokes about how baby chicks are the gateway drug that quickly leads to piglets and milk cows! I kept blinking at my laptop, trying to imagine.

(By way of reference, I just threw away our latest failed attempt to grow chives. Who can’t grow a CHIVE?) The idea that people go out into the lonely countryside – on purpose – to spend their days raising creatures they eventually have to kill? I can’t even fathom. But I am intrigued!

Here’s what I noticed: the sites are pretty. They depict the slow-paced, bucolic rural life one might dream of on a morning commute on a Red Line train that’s stuck, mid-tunnel, deep in the bowels of Cambridge. Because when you’re packed in tight with that much sweaty, stressed humanity, and there’s that smell that tells you at least one rat has been fried on the third rail, a life of farm, flowers & feathers seems like the perfect antidote to all that is wrong with your world.

Lisa’s site even has a picture showing that her bird enclosure has a SWING (scroll down about halfway).  Do chickens swing??? (I guess I mean that in all sorts of ways…it just raises so many questions!)  So yes, there was a brief moment where I wondered what it would be like to have swinging birds in my own backyard???

Awful. That’s what it would be.

We have HAWKS in our neighborhood, along with at least two outdoor cats who make the local bunnies scream with terror late at night. The circle of life is not always bucolic or serene. It’s not even consistently better than life on the Red Line. I’m sure there are moments of peace, joy & miracles, of course. And for anyone who loves chickens the way Lisa seems to, that’s living the dream. I think that’s what makes her site so great – it seems real, even when she’s doing a product placement for giant bags of bird feed. But this life we live is complicated, no matter where you live it. So the secret is to figure out what battles YOU’RE equipped to fight (and win) and find your place in the world, rather than envying and trying to copy someone else’s…particularly if your only window into that world is through your computer screen.

(Lisa mentions in that chicken swing post her sadness over losing a favorite duck. I for one am glad she didn’t post pictures of what that particular loss entailed.)

So, no chickens for me.

Why am I writing all this instead of answering your questions about adoption?

Because I’m wrestling with this dilemma:

I know that if I tell you about the incredible moments we have as a new family – like the snowball fight we had in the backyard one night last week after we shoveled out the driveway – you are likely to wonder, at least for a nanosecond,  if adopting a child from foster care might be right for you.  Maybe there’s something you’re missing out on that you can’t get any other way?

You should, and you are, and I hope you will.

But if I just give you the sweet parts, you’ll get hammered when a hawk swoops down and eats your chickens, so to speak. Adoption (along with parenthood and, well…life) isn’t all bucolic and serene.

I want to be honest here on the blog, and give you the whole picture. That way, when YOU adopt awesome kids from foster care, you’ll know that hawks happen…but they don’t define the endeavor, and there are ways to keep them away.

I’ll be back with an actual answer to one of your questions soon. Until then…check out all the CHICKENS!

 

Adoption Questions Answered

Last week, one of the organizations that helped us adopt the Cherubs asked if I’d write a blog post about our experience. I’ll confess that we were having a rather TEXTURED week here at home  (my word for when it feels like things are coming off the rails) and so at first I couldn’t even respond. (You know how there are days where you just have nothing encouraging to say, so the best option is to keep your mouth shut and your fingers away from the keyboard? Yeah. It was like that.)

(I tried to find a picture to illustrate this point, but if you search “mixed race family” ALL the pictures are 100% posed perfect joyousness, because apparently that’s the experience for EVERYONE. Then I searched “mixed race family arguing” and found more happy pictures…and a random shot of Elizabeth Warren. So in lieu of a picture, please enjoy this ocean of words while imagining me, Steve & the Cherubs standing at opposite ends of the kitchen, rolling our eyes at each other.)

So…eventually things smoothed out, and I hit reply and said, “Sure I’ll write a post!” Then I sat down and realized that I could not find the place inside me that remembered what my questions were back when we were new to this world. That place is buried, along with so much of my former life, in the day-to-day of this life now. It’s still in there, but taking the hours to dig it out is not always the wisest use of time.

So instead, I crowd sourced. I went on FaceBook and asked what questions YOU had. And wow, the responses were amazing. They all pointed toward a theme: What are the differences between our expectations and how things played out in real life? I’ll answer that on the M.A.R.E. site once it’s live (link to come). But I decided to answer the more specific questions here. They’re such good questions – both for people who are new to the world of adopting from foster care, and for me. It’s good for me to give some actual thought to my answers.

***

So without further ado, here is the first, picked randomly from the list:

From Emily: “How did you win your kids over, so to speak?”

The short answer is, we haven’t. Not yet, not entirely. One textured aspect adoption is that you live under the question of what might have been. We are not our kids’ first choice. Our kids also adored their foster mom, so we’re not even our kids’ second choice. We’re simply what they’ve got.

Now, before you walk away muttering, Why would anyone ever sign up for that? Take a moment to dig through your own childhood memories: Were YOUR parents always your first choice? Did you ever look at other households – ones where the parents were more easygoing, or around more/less, or always had soda and Hostess cupcakes in the kitchen – and wish you lived in that family? Did you ever tell your parents, in a moment of frustrated fury, that you hated them/wished you lived somewhere else/were going to run away? Pretty normal, right? And survivable.

One of the most important aspects of adoption (but also parenting in general, I suspect) is that your kids don’t exist to affirm you, or to give your life purpose, or even to want to be part of your life. You have to be okay with you, even when they’re not.

Which brings me to the bigger part of my answer.

To the extent that we’ve won over the Cherubs, it’s been by being really good at adult-ing. At the risk of overgeneralizing, most kids who land in foster care have not experienced much stability from the adults raising them. Basic routines we take for granted (things like bills get paid, teeth get brushed, meals happen 3x/day and include nourishment, beds have sheets, socks & underwear get washed from time to time) aren’t lived out, and so are not learned. Each situation is different, of course. But there is always some shock involved when a kid sees a new way of being an adult, and as an adoptive parent it’s our job to ride out these bumpy times and show the value of structure & stability.  I believe we’re the best parents they’ve had, even though we’re not their favorite. And if you asked them (on a good day, at least) they’d probably agree.

We have to be consistent and stable for a long, long (long) time before they’ll trust us. Then maybe they can love us. That’s just how it works.

Steve & I have learned to be incredibly straightforward with the kids. And to connect our choices to tangible desired outcomes. Because they’ve seen other ways to live and we aren’t their first family, the Cherubs know that not everyone does life this way, and (especially with things they don’t like) they are very vocal about their displeasure. I learned early on that I could either be angry all the time about the push back, or I could get really honest about why we do things the way we do.

For example, the Cherubs think we are RIDICULOUS about the types of music we don’t listen to. Of course they think these rules are only for them, created specifically to ruin their lives. “They lyrics aren’t THAT bad,” they argue. “You’re just being a prude, why do you make such a big deal out of everything?” Cue rolled eyes.

But when I asked them, “Do you really want me singing along with lyrics about coming on to some random man?” they were horrified. “NO! OF COURSE NOT! THAT WOULD BE SO RUDE TO DAD!” So then we had the rather tedious conversation (and these life structure conversations are always so tedious) about how I respect Steve by not singing about outside romantic scenarios. And how it’s not helpful to be imagining things that would wreck our relationship. We talked about how being faithful has a lot of different components. Since then, they’ve each asked endless follow up questions about the steps we take in this regard. And both will call me on the carpet if they think I’m doing something that could put the enterprise at risk. It’s not fun, but it keeps me super-clear about my choices, because I’m defending them on a regular basis. (Honestly, NOTHING has improved my leadership skills like parenting the Cherubs.) The hope is that they will see the HOW part of making life work, and that while we don’t control how our lives go, there are choices we can make that might improve our odds of happiness.

And here is where adopting older kids is a HUGE advantage: while it’s true that they’ve seen other lives and miss those people desperately sometimes (and romanticize the past as better than it probably was), at some level they realize that things were NOT better before. They’re looking for new life skills, new approaches to challenges. There are long weeks where my job is far more stable role model than beloved mother. And that’s okay. I think the second flows from the first. And in showing up day after day after day and doing that, I believe we’re winning them over.

Thanks for the great question, Emily!

***

Have a question about foster care or adoption (even if it’s not your thing but you’re just curious?) drop me a line & I’ll answer in a future post.

Can I hire a helicopter parent for the Cherubs?

I’m back to vent about school :)

Let me preface by saying that I ADORE our local schools. The Cherubs’ teachers are wonderful, patient, and devoted to their jobs. The past eighteen months have confirmed that I remember almost none of the specifics of my k-12 education (save for the time we were assigned “festooned” and “garish” as vocabulary words and my friend Matt defined them as “Trish’s outfit today.” ) So I am THRILLED that professionals exist to spend 7-8 hours a day pouring knowledge into my children, not to mention keeping them alive.

The problem is, the school wants to involve me in their education. Not just me, but all the parents. And not just the occasional conference update, or a call about a particularly bad day. Nope. They want to me to log in to their website – regularly – and monitor every assignment my kids do. In every class. Just the other day I received an email from #2’s French teacher, reminding me to “check in to see if there are any missing quizzes, tests or homework!”  WHY WOULD I WANT TO DO THAT?  Isn’t that a conversation you should have with her? Why bring me into it?

Adding to this joy, there are glitches with the system. We’ve been invited to a TRAINING CLASS to learn how to use this complicated, non-intuitive, glitchy program. Or we can WATCH A VIDEO and receive the training that way. Not since my 4th grade Girl Scout leader announced that we’d be camping in her backyard and digging our own outhouse hole have I been less inclined to participate in a new activity.

Here’s why: even if I receive TRAINING, and set about faithfully monitoring the sixteen or so different classes my kids take, on the unlikely chance that my eyes uncross enough to notice that something is missing, then I have to have THIS conversation:

Me:  What happened to the worksheet on nuclear physics from last Tuesday?

Cherub: Oh I turned that it.

Me: It didn’t get recorded. It’s marked as missing.

Cherub: But I turned it in. 

Me: You should talk to your teacher. Because right now you’re not getting credit for it.

Cherub: But I TURNED IT IN. (Intense look revealing frustration that I’m still not getting it.)

And what we need as we enter the churning waters of tween/teendom is a new reason to argue our way to a hopeless impasse.

I understand that there are parents out there who want to know all these things. Men and women whose idea of partnering with teachers is a little more involved than mine. And to them I say, Enjoy the training!

Steve & I have our hands more than full trying to cover every other area of life on this accelerated schedule. In the few years between meeting the Cherubs & launching them  triumphantly into real life, we have to cover EVERYTHING: relationships; money; choices; morals; screen time; work ethic; nutrition; sex; spirituality; the debacle that is the Kardashians; communication; appropriate use of alcohol; how pot makes you look and smell a bit skunky even if it is legal; identity development; reconciling the past/ maximizing the present/envisioning the future;  going after what you want; recovering from setbacks, heartbreaks, and my refusal to buy you a Vineyard Vines sweatshirt… the list goes on and on. And we have to do all of this in a way that is lived rather than lectured,  because no one remembers parental lectures unless they involve unexpected and uniquely creative use of swear words. I’m not above that. But if there’s a missing verb conjugation assignment floating around out there, could it please not be my problem?

Or better yet, could I hire you, fine helicopter parent, to add my kids to your hover pattern? Just a thought… 

Thanks for reading. I feel better now :)

 

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! And happy first post since last September!

Yeah, I slacked a bit. I got tangled in the quandary of how to share our adoption story (both the lead up and the present day) while protecting our kids’ privacy, and ended up I blogging nothing at all. Sorry about that. (Sorry both that I disappeared, and that I don’t have a record of all that happened.) Because Holy Guacamole, 2016 was a year.

Perhaps the best metaphor (simile? comparison? Who cares.) for this past year is the Geico commercial with the figure skating sumo wrestler.  It’s entirely strange…so very awkward…and yet kind of funny once you just let yourself go with it.

This is how I’ve felt every day of this past year.

We became parents and planted a church. I started writing book #3 again, giving up on a narrative arc and just tossing the whole crazy salad into a collection of essays. (Topics include the winter I was obsessed with Fleetwood Mac, how I still believe praying for a husband is worth it, and how helicopter parents have ruined everything for the rest of us.) I’m also writing a novel because I need something to progress in an orderly fashion where I know it will all turn out okay.

I learned to cook dinner (almost) every night, preach (almost) every Sunday, and delete (all) recruitment emails from the PTA. I’ve filed a 501(c)(3) application and confirmed that I’m not liturgical. I’ve watched #1 Cherub go off to learn golf with my Dad, #2 Cherub paint my Mom’s fingernails in super-sparkle polish that wouldn’t come off for three months, and Steve struggle to keep a straight face (just this morning) when one of them said, “But no one TOLD me not to build a snow slide off the backyard table that went straight into a tree!”

It’s not been dull.

And as much as I’ve slacked on blogging, I’m grateful to be able to share glimpses of all of this. One of my favorite quotes is something Madeleine L’Engle wrote in Walking on Water, about how we should work to live a life that doesn’t make sense unless God is real.

Checkmark on that for 2016 :)

 

Made Well by Jenny Simmons

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Made Well: Finding Wholeness in the Everyday Sacred Moments by Jenny Simmons

This book was a highlight of my summer. It is so honest, real & encouraging. These are the words I wish I’d had five years ago, back when everything collapsed like so many endless dominoes, back when I wondered how on earth I could keep believing in a God who stood by and let so much be ruined. I sat down on the couch to read it, and didn’t move for the next 27 hours. (Okay, that’s not exactly true. But that’s what it felt like. I was immersed in this story, and that eager to get back to these hope-filled pages.)

Jenny Simmons has known some ruin, and her words are that rare mix of honesty, encouragement and knowing. She writes heartache so well…but then she captures the moments when redemption comes: how it’s real and surprising, and how God really can make us okay again, even when okay seems completely out of reach.  She blows past platitudes and easy conclusions, and yet somehow I ended each chapter feeling encouraged, even with stories that didn’t wrap up neatly. This is what Christian books and music need now, and I hope this will be on the cutting edge of a new approach to writing about faith, showing how God is very much alive and at work in the middle of even the biggest loss and devastation. She put words to my experience of God coming through, and I’m so grateful to have experienced this book. (Also, Jenny is really funny. Thank you Lord, for Christians with a sense of humor…)

This is the second book of Jenny’s I’ve had the chance to read – I’ll post to her first book here, too, because after you read Made Well, you’ll want to circle back to The Road to Becomingthe story of how she figured out how to build a new life after her band, Addison Road, stopped touring and recording after 10 years together.  (And if you didn’t know about Addison Road beforehand, you have another treat ahead of you.)

Basically, reading Jenny Simmons has lead to much wonder and delight in my life. I think it will do the same for you. Pre-order Made Well (that helps authors SO MUCH in the publishing world), soak up this wisdom, laugh with her, and ponder the truth: that in the midst of the chaos of life, we are both well made and made well.

Thank you, Jenny Simmons.

(And thank you to Jenny’s publisher, Baker Books, for giving me the opportunity to read Made Well before it’s release date in exchange for an honest review.)