Monday, June 30, 2008

Kenny Takes on Chicago!!

We are finally home after an extraordinarily frustrating day spent at O'Hare Airport as we arrived at 10:00 AM to find ourselves ultimately only able to travel as far as Denver which we reached at 11:00 PM Saturday night. We had 8 gate changes, a replaced engine and 4 flight changes in order to get that far, along with a total of 3 hours and 20 minutes spent standing in lines at United Customer Service counters. By the end of the day I could completely understand why some people totally come unglued at airports. While I somehow managed to remain calm and less frustrated than I was only because at some point during what Kenny has now aptly named "The Very Worst Day" I saw the absurdity in it all and we ended up laughing about a good portion of it all. We did get some airline vouchers out of it for future flights and an overnight stay in a Red Lion Hotel in Denver while we crashed on the bed for the remaining 3 hours we had to sleep in our stinky clothes, so I guess it was worth it. However, I was really hoping to get home as it was our 22nd anniversary and it would have been nice to celebrate it in some way other than via cell phone. But as we said good night to one another we realized that one specific day isn't what makes a marriage or a celebration, and we celebrate in lots of small, unassuming ways all year long.

While in Chicago our friends took us sightseeing, and we got a taste of Chicago! We went to the Navy Pier where we had a picnic lunch and played in the funhouse mirrors which I think Kenny had never seen before. We fed seagulls and ducks and learned the difference between them :-). We rode the train/subway which was a first for Kenny as well. At Millenium Park we played around the big "bubble" and it was such fun to see all the adults clamoring to make faces in it as well, and I felt for the first time that public art can be really cool. I was amazed at the big stage they have there and hope to one day hear a concert there. I was surprised how comfortable downtown Chicago felt, it has a very different feel to it than Los Angeles and I liked it a lot. For myself, I loved seeing the neighborhoods filled with older style brick homes.

Throughout the entire time there and our Groundhog Day at the airport, Kenny was awesome. His behavior was appropriate and mature, and he was a breeze to be with and very helpful. It was a relief after our struggles in California, and I was grateful that he was at his very best during the aggrivation of O'Hare. We actually will find ourselves giggling over it for a long time to come, I think, the beginnings of shared private jokes between Kenny and I as we work on building our personal history together.

This morning we received another surprise blessing. When at Shriners we were assigned a Social Worker who will be with us throughout our process there. John is a neat guy, he is...well...short. I mean, about an inch taller than Kenny. And in 2 minutes you could easily see his heart is huge. He phoned us this morning to inform us that we do not need to pay one more payment on Kenny's first stage of orthodontia, that he had already spoken with our orthodontist and Shriner's would arrange to cover the entire bill!! This was totally unexpected and a huge relief. I continue to be amazed at how Shriner's is helping us be able to have a better future as they not only provide Kenny with exceptional care, but lift some of the financial burdens we have been concerned about since bringing Kenny home to find there was more work involved than we originally thought with his cleft. When I shared the great news with the boys this morning over breakfast, we all broke out into song singing "God is so good, God is so good, God is so good...he's so good to me" which we learned at camp last year.

We have a week of down time before Cub Scout day camp at the end of next week and then church camp for the boys the following week. So far it has been a wonderful summer!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Hardest Question

Kenny and I arrived in Chicago yesterday afternoon after an uneventful flight. His behavior was back to normal and he was a huge help with luggage and listened very well the entire time, much to my relief. We were met at the airport by our dear friends, and man...was it good to see them! Their kids were at home waiting for us, and seeing them rush out to greet us was, well, I felt like I was coming home in a sense. We all love this whole family so much, and one of their daughters had made a sign for us hanging on the mantle welcoming us to Des Plaines (a suburb of Chicago). The only thing missing from all of this was the rest of our crew who were sadly left at home for this adventure.

We BBQ'd dinner, took a tour of their new home, and then after dinner we all went for a long walk around the neighborhood. I really enjoyed seeing the brick homes and unique style of each home rather than the cookie cutter style I was used to in the city in California. It also was interesting to see a little of what Dominick grew up with in his youth out here. We had a bit of magic as Kenny and I saw our first fireflies...what cute little guys they are! The evening ended late as we all watched a movie together lounging around on the couch. We had an early morning to get ready for Shriners.

Today we arrived at Shriners for our appointment at 8:00 AM, and from the moment we stepped foot in the place we were cared for in a way I have never experienced in my interactions with the medical profession over the years. There is not even a Billing Department, as they don't charge you at all so no need for frustrating paperwork during the stress of such visits. It is not a huge facility, feeling more like a small town hospital than a Big City medical center. There is a nice cafeteria that sits beside an indoor basketball court and small indoor playground. There were game tables for the older kids, a "teen lounge", a really nice outdoor playground...everything a child could need. They have put a lot of thought into their facility and they even considered grown up needs like a washer and dryer for parent use for long term stays with recovering kids, a parents suite to sleep in so you can be close at hand, and there is a creative play/therapy room as well to help parents occupy healing kids who are not bed ridden but not ready to go home.

Throughout the place it was child centered, but not overly so...not "cheesy". Just warm, caring and thoughtful in many regards. I REALLY liked the way each person involved on the cleft team addressed both Kenny and I rather than talking over him as if he wasn't there. It showed a lot of respect for his feelings about everything.

So we visited with each of the many specialists on the team, received a lot of information about what to expect in the future and had a lot of concerns addressed in a forthright manner. It was during our visit with the Psychologist just prior to our lunch break when I was blindsided by what turned out the be the single hardest question I have had posed to me as a parent yet.

The Psychologist had done a short evaluation and then turned to Kenny and asked him "So what would you like the doctors to change or fix for you?", Kenny seemed taken aback for a moment and then turned to me and asked "I don't know...Momma, what do you want them to fix? How do you want me to look?".

At that single moment, looking into Kenny's eyes which were so innocently looking back at me waiting for me to provide an answer, I felt my heart skip a beat. How can any mother possibly answer a question like that and not feel as if she is juggling with daggers and no real experience to keep everyone safe?

I could say what part of me thinks is 100% true...that I don't want anything to be changed as I love him just the way he is and don't really see anything wrong with how he looks at all. To me he is my darling, handsome son who ceased to be my "newly adopted cleft son" long ago as he slowly drifted into this relationship and became simply Kenny. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that for the first several days, the cleft stood out to me...I had to grow comfortable with it and the difference it represented. Now, it is no more of a difference to me than the color of his eyes or hair color that make him unique. In fact, I can say that I will have other adjustments as various surgeries are completed and his profile changes subtly each will require an embracing of the new Kenny each and every time.

However, there is a fact that remains that I am Kenny's voice to the world. He is 9 years old, he doesn't have the maturity yet (although many kids might at this age) to express what it is specifically that he doesn't like about his appearance. He can't explain it beyond "I think I am ugly!" or "My face not handsome." which he expresses in a very accepting, almost nonchalant way. It takes work for me to pull things out of him, I have to guide him to a certain degree and to provide descriptions and words for him. I have a responsibility to help him sort these things out, to help him better understand his own feelings.

What tore me apart though, was trying to figure out how I answer that question without answering it...without giving him the impression that I think ANYTHING needs to change about his appearance...that we don't love him exactly the way he is and consider him a perfect being despite what others might see as less than attractive. I could see in his eyes and hear in his voice that my answer was of utmost important to him, and I knew in my heart that he would carry my words with him for a long time to come, that he would hear them in his head as he looked in the mirror every morning. This was not an imagined defining moment, I could tell by the great interest with which the Psychologist was listening that she too recognized it as such.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, or perhaps more accurately between love and responsibility.

I gently tried to take another path, I tried to guide him about what practical things needed to be improved...repairs so his speech is better and so his eating is easier...wanting to use a straw...things like that. But that had nothing to do with his appearance and he and I both knew we were at an impasse, both of us needing a little time to think. I suggested we talk about it over lunch and we could get back with them about it afterwards. I know, it was a cop out and I grabbed on to it if only to buy me a little more time to consider how best to approach this.

After getting our food at the cafeteria and barely sitting down, Kenny turned and asked me "So mommy, are we going to talk about this some more?". I put my napkin and fork down and turned to him and said "Kenny, you always tell me you are ugly...when you look in the mirror, what do you see that makes you think you are ugly?". Looking away from me, he softly said "I don't know momma, I just know I ugly." then he said "I need your help mommy, you always have good ideas...I need your ideas to tell them.".

What to do...what to do....I decided to put the ball firmly in his court, that whatever I said I could not be the first to say anything or it would forever remain a part of him.

I replied "Thanks Kenny! I am glad you think I have great ideas...that is really nice of you to say. But sweet, I love your face, I love the way it looks, I don't think it is ugly at all...but you do and that is very important. I want you to like the way you look, to think you are as handsome as Daddy and I already think you are. So I really can;t give you any ideas on this. You need to think carefully and share what it is that you think is wrong. When you look in the mirror in the morning and the thought comes into your head that you are ugly...what is it that is the first thing you think of when you are staring at yourself?" He thought and thought, twirling his fork around in the air and then said "The lines under my nose are crooked, why are they crooked? Why are they not straight?". We then talked for a bit about his scars and how the repair had been made and that maybe the doctors here could make that look better if it bothered him. He then said "My nose look very funny, not like Matthew or Joshie's and I want to look like them.". We talked about the distinct features of his nose, with me trying to draw out of him specifically what he would like to see be different. Like many cleft kids, he has an indentation at the tip of his nose, and his nostrils are not formed quite correctly but actually I think are quite good for the severity of his cleft.

After a few more minutes of talk we kind of let it drop as we ate, and then as we got up to return he grabbed on to me and gave me a huge bear hug and said "Thanks mommy for helping me to talk to them. I not know what to say and you always help me think good.".

As we walked back, his diminutive body next to mine but his hand firmly gripping my own, I thought about how much courage he has, this son of mine. Outwardly he is my most confident son, facing the world almost fearlessly, easily meeting others and knowing he will somehow make a success of himself in whatever he does. But beneath the veneer of confidence is a very vulnerable little boy, with a spirit that has been damaged not necessarily by negative comments but by a lack of positive reinforcement. It is up to us to shore up that spirit, to help him move beyond those negative thoughts and not internalize them so much.

I lay my head on my pillow tonight asking God for more wisdom as I do my job of mothering, to help me see what I need to say and to find the right words at the right time. I am not at all sure about the outcome of today's heart to heart conversation. I question whether I handled things right, if the way I see a situation is clear enough to show me how to best deal with something. There is no road map, and today is when I sure could have used one.

I have had some hard questions thrown at me over the course of the past few years...questions about why would someone abandon me, why does God let our people eat out of trash cans instead of giving them good food, and "Why did you pick me to bring home?". But today's question was the #1 hardest of all time to answer. I walk away feeling like I should receive a C- on this test, and hoping that next time I am caught off guard I can do a better job.

I will lie here and think about a little boy whose smile lights up a room and whose expressive eyes can speak more than any words can. And that little boy is not ugly, not by a long shot. But I am still stuck with the hardest question of do I convince him of that?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

It's a Love Fest

I had hoped to be in bed by now, but thoughts are swirling around in my head, so it is pointless until I have the chance to spill them out on imaginary paper. I had not realized what a gift the blog would be to me when I began it a year and a half ago. I didn't understand that in addition to creating something lasting for the boys and documenting Kenny's adoption and subsequent adjustment to family life, I too would find the blog a way to help me adjust to this new life that we had created for our family. It helps me clarify for myself what my own positions are on certain subjects and it provides me with a place to spew when I am frustrated.

The past few days were hectic and yet very rewarding. They were filled with intimate times shared with friends around campfires and on couches, there was laughter and tears. We went camping again this weekend but this time it was not just with our family, but with our amazing church family. 8 different families went together to the local State Park and had a weekend camp out together. These 8 families couldn't have been a more eclectic bunch to gather, families with younger kids, older kids and expecting kids, families with no kids, and older folks well beyond kids. The really neat thing about this weekend was that one by one, almost every grouping imaginable happened as we all grew to know one another better. Images that remain in my mind from this weekend were adults waving glow sticks overhead as they recalled old songs from their youth and sang with great gusto around the campfire, watching caring adults from our congregation all leaning over to help kiddos put bait on their hooks at "Huck Finn Days", seeing Joshie cuddled up in an expectant mommy's lap saying he was sitting on her baby, and having 5 little boys joyously rush up to the adults gathered round singing to show off how they broke up glow sticks and squirted the filling all over their clothes so they could glow in the dark. The fear of toxicity and staining quickly gave way to a warm glow as Matthew danced around for joy turning round and round with glowing spots all over his shirt of varying colors declaring gleefully "Look Mommy...I'm a constellation!!!". The slowly dying embers were watched by Dominick and I along with two other companions as the crickets chirped and the moon rose, and we all quietly shared about our experienced with organized religion and how that differed so much from what real faith is supposed to be all about. Then it was time for us party animals to go to sleep, where I heard Kenny and his buddy who came along with us talking sincerely at 1:30 in the morning about how their families each helped the poor, and how hard it is to be a farmer (the other child's daddy's job) and a car wash guy (Kenny's Daddy). The respect and awe in their whispers was what lulled me to sleep, and a better lullaby was never sung.

Today was one filled with shared confidences with new friends, as the boys and I met another mom and two of her children at the local park for lunch. She is another adoptive mommy and one that is very, very "real". We talked a lot about the adjustment of our boys, creative solutions we have come up with for behavioral challenges, and how despite the frustrations we are so happy to have the children we have who needed us as much as we needed them.

Later this evening I met for a meeting at another newer friends house and after the meeting she and I had a long conversation, mostly centered around my life at the moment and it's challenges. While it was mostly a one-sided conversation which made me feel a bit guilty, it was what I needed just when I needed it. I marvel sometimes at how God puts JUST the right person in our lives precisely when we need their wisdom and comfort. The conversation took a turn towards an as-yet-unspoken subject that has perplexed and vexed me and actually kept me up late at night during the past several months, and while I came no closer to resolving anything, I did at least acknowledge something that has been hovering in my soul for quite awhile and distracting me terribly at times.

The conversation I had earlier in the day was one that touched on how "real" friendships are very hard to come by...that phoniness or even a hint of it is enough to turn us both off as our lives are to busy to play games or go for the drama of it all. That may sound harsh and uncaring, and it is not meant to be but is a fact about picking friendships that fit you well. I learned after a friendship gone sour a few years back that being direct is the most important thing, and that friendship prospects can often be lost because of our inability to get to the point with someone. I have since taken to telling someone straight out "Hey, I really like you and think we could have a great friendship. I look forward to getting to know you better.". The idea of flitting around the subject, beating around the bush because we are too fearful to simply what we really feel is annoying to me and makes me wonder how many terrific potential friends have I lost in the past because i never let them know how I felt.

Tomorrow Kenny and I leave for Chicago for his first appointment at Shriners Hospital for his cleft lip and palate assessment. We have been so incredibly blessed to have our best friends there who moved recently. Kenny is so focused on seeing them that he has totally blanked out that we are going to the hospital! This is a good thing as his fears are overpowering and will be our biggest obstacle to his medical care. We'll see how he does on Wednesday when he has his appointment. Having already had the same thing done at Children's Hospital in Denver, it might be easier as he knows they are not going to hurt him yet. While I am happy to get going more on Kenny's medical needs, I am beyond joyful at the thought of seeing our friends again. We have missed them terribly, their absence has been deeply felt and being in the midst of their love once again will be a real gift to me, especially right now as I am sagging under some pressure coming from all directions and feeling like I can't get anything done and looking at my plate and admitting it is simply too full.

As I was packing tonight, Matthew had an almost unheard of meltdown when he hurt his hand by accidentally hitting it on the wall when he walked down it scraping his knuckles. His cries were far too deep for the nature of the injury, and he finally broke down and told me "Mommy, I'm going to miss you SO MUCH when you are gone!" as he hiccuped and gasped between torrential tears. I asked him if he was sad because he was not going to get to go this time to see our friends, but he said no...he was just feeling like he missed me already and didn't want me OR Kenny to go as he was going to miss him too. I held him there in my lap, or at least halfway on my lap as he is so big anymore he barely fits, and I rocked him as he cried. We then talked about how wonderful it was that he had a family he cared about so much, that many kids wouldn;t even care at all if their moms left for 5 days. He then paid me my highest mommy compliment ever by saying "That's because those kids don't have YOU for a mommy!". And then my own tears came.

To complete the love fest this week, Kenny told me just as he was getting in bed that he was so happy that he was going to be all alone with me for 5 days, that he didn't even mind going to the MD if he got to be with me.

Having felt loved by so many, having been held and hugged and helped through conversations this weekend, I leave tomorrow with a happy heart. Please say a quick prayer for Kenny that his fears will not surface this visit, that he can relax and not worry about anything hurting him and trust that I mean that when I say it. Our longest road with Kenny;s adoption is going to be his fear of medical procedures, and our ability to handle it with honesty and information.

Our "Chicago Bureau" will be blogging next, stay tuned!!!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Fine Line

I am having a night of insomnia and have yet to fall asleep, so I figured "Must be time to blog!". After all, no one else is awake to talk to, so I might as well talk to myself...hahahaha!

I have added a new poll to the side of the blog, as I find it interesting to learn what kind of birth parent information adoptive parents have obtained for their kids. There is a growing number of international adoptive families who are trying to locate birth parents, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. We don't have enough to go on for any of the kids, so we feel it would be wasted effort, but I know there are many who have far more information than we have.

I have also added a couple more links as well.

My comments about the book "Choices" drove a lot of people to email me privately, and I had a lot of dialogues about my own feelings...and misperceptions of others about my attitudes concerning our children's birth mothers. Somehow, in the writing of the two blog posts, it was not quite made clear that the majority of my comments were directed at American birth moms who have far more choices than women in other countries, and about the general tone of the stories selected to represent those women. But the comment made on the blog that I was most intrigued by is shown below:

"Your last comment here hit upon the one thing that I kept thinking about as I read your posts... What do we need to do to teach our boys (as well as our girls) to be respectful of sex and its consequences? The one thing you said that I hadn't considered is: "Telling my kids that I wouldn't want them placed in the awful position of having a child they were not ready to parent may come across as a judgment on their birth moms..." What a fine line we have to walk in providing a nonjudgmental moral compass. As always, thanks for your insight and thoughtful writing!!!!"

This comment really leads us all down a very different path, doesn't it? On the one hand, if we present things as viewed through a more black and white lens, we fear that we are somehow going to tarnish the image of our children's birth moms for our kids...that it comes across as passing judgment if we say loud and clear what we expect in terms of sexual behavior from our kids. If we point out that a child could be produced...just like them...who would create chaos in the lives of our sons/daughters and force them to make decisions they might not want to make...just like their own birth moms...we walk a slippery slope.

And then there is the statement about "providing a nonjudgmental moral compass" for our children....hmmmm...I admit that this one I struggle with constantly. How can one present things in a non-judgmental way to our kids, and then expect them to make judgments about their own paths?? Aren't we all constantly in the position of making judgments on a daily basis...judgments about whom to let in our inner circle of friends, judgments about who we will emulate and who we will not, judgments about the character of others which informs and directs us? And yet we don't want our children to grow up to be vocal, judgmental adults in the way that we all know they can become. You know the type, the ones who hold themselves on a pedestal while looking down upon others who are not worthy.

We had a judgmental moment come up just the other night when we were reading a book about adoption at Kenny's request, who is just beginning to process all of this and how adoption can be different in different families (i.e. foster-to-adopt, kinship adoption, domestic, etc.). I read a little, and stopped to talk with the boys bringing each of their own unique circumstances into the dialogue. Joshie asked me point blank "Why did my first mommy do that to me? Why did she leave me?" and Kenny popped off quickly with "Maybe she not love you!"...not at all in a mean spirited way, but in the typical Kenny-frankness way. Josh didn't appear to be hurt by that, but I quickly brought up the many reasons why she might have had to leave Josh, all of which had nothing to do with love. Joshua then asked "But if she loved me, she wouldn't have left me. I know you love me and you tell me you'll never ever leave me.".

And there it is, out there for before God and everyone. Judgment of a 5 year old and a 9 year old. Neither Kenny nor Josh is capable of understanding the subtleties of all of this, they don't yet have the maturity to see the "gray".

Then again, maybe it is in viewing things through the eyes of a child that we see the logic of allowing "harnessed" judgment.

I think the word "judgment" has gotten a bad rap. I mean, how can we teach our kids about moral concepts without expressing a judgment? I will teach my kids that sex outside of marriage is NOT acceptable, I will teach my kids that abortion is NOT a good alternative, I will teach my kids that using drugs or alcohol is NOT a path that leads to a happy life. And by teaching them these things, I guess that automatically places me in the "judgmental" category...and yet I don't know to get certain values across firmly without using real-life examples, without expressing dismay at the sorrow that is wrought in the lives of some who have made poor choices. I want them to avoid that at all costs.

Balancing all of that "judmentalism" can be hard, but I think...or at least it is my fervent hope...that it can be done. For our family it comes from recognizing God's role in all of our lives, that it is He who is to do the judging and not us. Using the experiences of others, both good and bad, allows us to develop good judgment, but treating others differently because of the choices they have made is unacceptable...we are all human, and the good Lord knows that there but for His Grace go I.

Compassion is the balance to judgmentalism. Being judgmental...using good exactly what I think we are all called to teach our kids to do. Sometimes though, it is easy for the compassion to get lost in that teaching. We work hard at making certain our children know all of the "don'ts", but do we work as hard at making sure they understand all of the "do's" in life? DO treat all people with respect regardless of their station in life, their race, their religion, their, mistakes. DO understand that you are imperfect too. DO what you can to help others and to contribute to society in positive ways. DO show active compassion at all times by caring for those who are hurting and not turning your back. DO recognize that regardless of your age, you can make a difference in someones life. DO look for ways daily to show God's love to someone.

For me, if our sons all practice and internalize the "Do's", then in time they will have the compassion to balance the judgment directed at their birth families about their abandonments. If they practice all the "Don'ts" then they will have developed solid judgment skills to help them lead a productive and happy life.

That fine line we walk is often more about keeping it all real. It can be very easy to help our children create a fantasy that revolves around their birth moms, and often we don't realize we are feeding that fantasy with our own innocent comments about "how much she loved you", about how "She never wanted to leave you", etc. We hide the hard parts that might help explain to our children some of their inner feelings while building up an illusion that we don't even know is real. And we tend to place our own undying love for our children in the lap of the birth mom, because we can't imagine ourselves parting with this little person whom we know far better than she ever did or will sadly ever have the chance to. We expect that she would feel the same as we do, and yet there was never the opportunity for her to develop the kind of relationship we have with our adopted children...hers is an unrequited love and it would be easy to build that into our children for an unknown mom as well. Presenting the facts is one thing, presenting fantasy as fact is another.

So we walk that fine line as we parent, a line between fact and fiction, a line between judgment and compassion. In many ways this isn't an adoption issue per se, it is a parenting issue. It is just that as adoptive families we have another ingredient to throw into the mix which gives us reason to pause and think a little more deeply about how certain judgments might be interpreted by our children.

We all do the best we can. Sometimes we fail miserably and other times we are surprised at our successes. That non-judgmental moral compass is a hard one to build!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Camping and Fathers Among Us

Father's Day has come and gone, and it was a relaxing, wonderful day for Dominick. We enjoyed our first camping trip of the season very much even though we had a few trailer issues to work out with hoses, etc. which required a trip or two back to town. But we are now all set up and ready to enjoy many summers of fun with it. We were so happy we made the switch (and not just because we got an incredible bargain!) as we had a lot more room. Our old popup was the smallest they had two double beds and an 8' box and this one feels like a mansion in comparison...we even have room for real pots and pans in it! I am certain it will get tons of use and will be the last "step up" for camping while the kids are with it had better last!

We were in a campground that was sort of downtown in this small little community which is nestled in a narrow canyon, and our terrific private campground had the river running right beside our campsite and it abutted the high canyon walls on the other side. It was perfect, just beautiful...and definitely a place we will return to. A bigger plus is that it is only about an hour away from home, which for us on the Western Slope of Colorado is a mere hop, skip and a jump from home but I know to others may seem quite far.

We spent the weekend in the Hot Springs Pool where they have a water slide that the boys adored...Matthew must have gone down it at least 60 times. Kenny made huge leaps in his swimming skills and is now really close to swimming for real...quite a contrast from last year at church camp when he loudly proclaimed he could swim...and then promptly proceeded to sink to the bottom as mom let him learn a lesson the hard way. It was probably the best thing I could do in a safe environment as my overconfident kiddo had a far greater respect for water afterwards and a driving desire to learn to swim.

We also came back into town to see a children's production of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" which was a first for our family and the best inexpensive entertainment we have had as a family in years. It cost a grand total of $15 for all 5 of us and we enjoyed a very professionally acted play which was perfect in length at a little over an hour. We all agreed we were glad we took the time out of our camping trip to come back for it. Although I would never in a million years pretend that we are a "cultured" family, we have tried to expose the kids to the arts in various ways that they might enjoy by attending concerts, going to museums and comparing what kind of art we like and don't care much for, and the live plays. So far, all 3 of them seem to enjoy it very much with Matthew being the biggest surprise in his love of music of all kinds including classical, pop and jazz...and he now identifies the various styles he hears in music. He is a bit tone deaf, sadly, so I am not sure how successful he might be with music other than to enjoying it but we will try lessons of some sort or another soon with all of them and see where it takes us. I have a feeling Kenny will be our little musician as he seems to have a real gift for it as his music teacher also said.

Two encounters with others on our camping trip led to some interesting and laughter filled conversations. In our campground we met a couple from our town here in Colorado who lived in Simi Valley only a short distance from our old home in California! We spent over an hour yacking about the differences and how blessed we all are to have discovered Montrose and this entire area. It was really funny recall our first days in our version of Paradise here, where people actually always wave at you when you drive by regardless of whether they know you or not, where you don't have to bristle up if a group of teenagers walk behind you in the dark and where they are more likely to say "Excuse me Ma'am" versus saying 4-Letter cuss words, and where the favorite phrases around here more closely mimic Larry the Cable Guy than they do the infamous Valley Girl...a language which I am well acquainted with having grown up in SoCal.

At the pool we also ran into a family who have a daughter in Matthew's school and had a long chat with them...they are raising their granddaughter who is a lovely little girl and I was reminded that adoptive families come in all shapes and sizes.

Once again we struggled with Kenny's behavior after having a really good week last week. I sometimes get a bit down when he regresses over and over again about the same issues...9 times out of 10 it is about control and wanting to do what he wants and blatantly ignoring what we may have said quite literally less than 2 minutes ago. Dominick and I were talking about it, and we recognize that many people wouldn't see some of his antics as a problem at all...that we are fairly strict with the boys and have a certain level of behavior that we expect out of them and strive for in our parenting but that Kenny's little relapses might seem like nothing to some parents. However, maybe it is because of our experience with Josh that we see the control issues as very much bound into the bonding process. Some of it is just Kenny's strong personality, which I truly love about him, and some of it does appear to be attachment/accepting parenting related. It is a subtle difference, but often Kenny is still in the "I can take care of myself" mode rather than the "I have parents who can take care of me" mode. Having a 9 year old with whom you are trying to establish a firm parenting/authority role is that is just when they are beginning to spread their wings a little naturally and want more freedom. I give thanks every day though, that in spite of the struggles at moments they are really minimal and Kenny has a very strong understanding that even though he and Matthew are the same age, they really aren't. We are blessed that he really seems to grasp this and understands his own lack of life experience versus Matthew and there has thus far been no jealousy or anger over Matthew having privileges based upon that fact that Kenny does not yet have. He knows he is older chronologically but not in any other way and he looks to Matthew to be his guide in all of this, while interestingly Matthew turns to Kenny to be his social leader in terms of interaction with others as Matthew tends to be more reticent in public with others and keep more to himself due to shyness.

I also have to remind myself that we are still going through toddler things with Kenny, just in a much larger body. This weekend reminded me of how a toddler will purposely reach out to touch something, all the while staring you down to see if you REALLY meant it when you said not to touch it! Hahahaha! When I think of it like that, the humor in it all comes through but at the moment it is happening and you have that big 9 year old body in front of you all you can be is exasperated :-) But overall, it is that kind of thing that is going on, which really is very minor and not at all a big deal other than knowing you have to set really firm limits and mean it, just like with a toddler. Kenny ended up sitting outside the popup at the picnic table for 30 minutes while we played inside after testing our "no" a couple of times, and I am sure we have more ahead of us this week, which makes me hopeful that he will cycle back to the "listening" mode before I have to leave with him alone for our trip to Chicago to Shriner's Hospital. Traveling through large airports with a young child who thinks they know it all and won't always listen to you is not an experience I relish having.

On a more positive note, Joshie seems to have cycled out of his own nightmare/bedwetting phase, which has us relieved. We have noticed though that he is far more insecure in other ways, such as coming up to hug me (and really check to see if I am still there!) 15 times if we are out in public somewhere and he is playing, or coming all the way down the long hall and around the corner to the back of the house where our bedroom is to go to the bathroom at night versus using his own, just to see if I am there. One thing that seems to have helped is using Skype to talk to our friends who moved. We can see one another and yack, and it is like we are right there in person. It seems to have helped reassure Joshie in a way a phone call would never do. I wish we could take him with us on this visit so he could see them face to face, but we will try to do so before the summer is out. I have this gut feeling that he needs to go through such things a few times to really internalize the fact that just because a person moves or leaves, it doesn't mean they are abandoning you and the friendship can continue...that you WILL see them again. At 5 years old that is a harder concept to "get" as the permanency of a relationship often depends on "being there" for a young child. If, like Josh, they have already had someone walk away and they have never seen them again they tend to compare all experiences by the loss of the first one.

I know...I know....he was only 11 months old! How often I have heard that! But I am NOT saying he could put words to any of this, that he could describe his mom leaving him or even "knew" her in the way we imagine. For Josh, it seems to be magnified into this overwhelming sense of loss of something he can't describe and it relates to people not things. We often don't equate all the studies done about in-utero communication and experiences with children into adoption loss. Josh may have been with his birth mom a mere month or so, but he was also inside her for 9 months, he heard her voice, he felt her presence which suddenly was absent and never returned. For him...and not for all was a profound loss and one which we see exhibited day after day in numerous ways. It is also something I never could have imagined having such a long lasting impact.

But on from there, from mother's we turn to Father's and Father's Day. Just as we don't with Mother's Day we didn't make a big deal about the day...Dominick and I are both of the same mindset on that one that we don't feel Hallmark should mark our special days to make money, but that we ought to have that appreciation of each other in our family every day of the year! We never wait for a date on the calendar to talk about our appreciation of one another in our family...often out of the blue over the dinner table or in the car we will ask everyone "So what is it you like best about Kenny??" or "Name one thing Matthew is good at" and we all have to answer, and it includes the parents as well.
But on Father's Day this year I thought about the many father figures I have had in my life, starting of course with my own Dad. My Dad passed away when I was 25, and I count myself among the very lucky to have had such a loving and involved father. He worked 3 jobs often throughout my growing up years so my mom could remain home with us, and yet he still managed to squeeze in being a softball and baseball coach not only to us, but to hundreds of other kids long after we were no longer playing. Dad always pulled for the underdog and he would happily take the lower level teams of boys, teaching them the basics and helping them see their potential both on and off the field. Dad was my biggest fan, and he is who I try to be to all my three sons...their biggest cheerleader, the one who believes they are capable of doing anything they set their mind to. I married a man much like my own Dad, as girls often do. In my case, my husband is a true reflection of my Dad...a hard working man who loves his family dearly and isn't shy about showing it.

Dominick is a wonderful and involved father, a man who by necessity has to work very hard at a not-so-glamorous job washing cars but who never lets his job get in the way of family time. He takes time off to go on field trips at school, to be a Scout Leader, to be present at soccer games and Tae Kwon Do and music nights. He takes time to play with the boys and often is my 4th son! Hahahaha! He is the leader of joy and laughter in our home.

I have had other father figures in my life, who have set an example or reminded me what is good about men. I had a boss years ago in California who was a cheerleader of mine in a male dominated occupation, and I succeeded and had respect from others due to his prodding me to do more, to be more. I had a band teacher in Junior High who set a marvelous example of diligence and hard work, and all it could accomplish. I had German teacher in High School who unnerved me once by pulling me aside and asking me what was wrong, that he could tell I wasn't doing my best and was wondering what was going on...he unnerved me by showing he cared. I have a male best friend who is an awesome example of caring and compassion and well as enjoying having a good time. There are many men in our church who set fine examples of putting their faith into action, who are kind, thoughtful and caring men who touch our lives on a weekly basis. There are other men, men like John Wright who are at this very moment probably hugging a child who is fatherless, providing the basics for them in the best way he can, who are filling the need. I may have lost my Dad at an age far younger than I would have hoped, but God has placed other good men in my path to continue to guide me and influence me...and as in my husband's case, to love and cherish me. God always provides, doesn't He? We may choose to see what he has taken from us instead of what He has given us...but He always provides.

I look at my three sons, and I wonder...what kind of fathers will they be? Are we doing all we can to raise them to be real men who will stick by their children, raise them with love and devotion? Will they be good husbands who are committed to their wives? Time will tell if we have done the job given to us well, or if we have failed. If they are anything at all like the father provided to them by our Father, they will be the kind of man any mother would want their daughters to date!

Friday, June 13, 2008

First Camping Trip!

We are off today on our first camping trip of the year! Now that the bedrooms are done and a couple of other cleaning projects are under our belt, we thought we should give it a go. We are heading down to Ouray (or up to, if you consider it is South of us but in the mountains) which is about 45 minutes away and where we will hopefully relax, go to the Hot Springs, explore this very old, very tiny town known as the "Switzerland of America", and eat a menu chosen by the kids...hamburgers one night and chili dogs the next...ummm...welll...I guess it could have been worse :-)

The popup is ready to go, and the light sticks were bought at the Dollar Store, so I guess we are ready to rock! We are camping this weekend, and then next weekend with our church at Ridgway Reservoir, which we are really looking forward to. All the boys have their job with the pop up...they put in the bed supports, push out the beds, place the wheel chocks, and crank it down when it is time to go...Daddy has to crank it up because it is too hard to do. Soon though, I imagine sitting back in my lawn chair issuing directives with a Diet Coke in my hand while our little men do the entire thing...and feeling so grown up while they do! I think that might be fair payback for all the tent camping with infants, don't you? hahahaha!

So, time to shut the computer down and get clothes packed...I'll share photos hopefully when we return!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The 9th Year

Today, Matthew turns 9 years old. Although we celebrated his birthday in California with Grandmas, I plan to still make a cake and have one small gift for him today to mark the day. But yesterday, the gift was for us.

Last night I watched as the "little boy" slowly trudged down the street and the young man softly and gently entered. How hard it is to say good bye to that little boy, and yet what wonder there is in getting to know this young man! I have often said how much I truly like each of our sons, how if they were men my age they would be dear, close friends. Alas, instead of being that "friend" I have the privilege of being their mom...and what a privilege that indeed is.

Matthew worked off and on most of the winter cleaning tables at the restaurant, taking out trash, etc. and had saved money...his $2 here and $ .50 there. He planned to spend it in California but when there he bought very little, one of the few things being a wooden cross necklace at the Santa Barbara Mission. Well, this weekend he made an announcement. He wanted to take the entire family to the movies and pay for it himself! His movie of choice was Kung Fu Panda. I asked him later while we were alone if he knew how expensive that would be, that it would take almost all his money. I explained that if he wanted to go see the movie he could ask one of us to take him instead of taking the whole family. He said "Mommy, I know Joshie and Kenny would really like it, and it is what I want to do, please let me."

So we were caught in a tiny quandary, do we let him spend every last penny on one evening of pleasure for all of us as he was insisting and as we feel guilty standing by, do we pay for it and just take the kids, or do I let him have his moment that felt a bit for him like a rite of passage? After talking it over, we opted to let Matthew take us all out, bringing along a little money ourselves to cover it should we see that he was a little mortified or caught off guard by how much it all costs. We decided that this would be a terrific learning experience for him to see just how much "real life" costs when we take the family out once in awhile, in learning how to budget and use money wisely and why we don't do it all that often. We were just working in one of his Cub Scout books this week and discussing family finances, so it fit perfectly with that lesson.

So, I made him call the theater in the neighboring town by himself yesterday afternoon to learn what time it played, and after a light dinner off we went, everyone very excited to be going to a real movie theater which we have only done a couple of times. We were going to the "Egyptian" theater which made it even a tad bit more exciting, as although it is very old it was renovated a few years ago with an Egyptian theme and gold masks are on the walls inside, and the architecture feels very thematic and more special than the drab rectangular boxes most modern theaters are.

As we walked up to the ticket booth, which is outside the front like the old fashioned theaters used to be, Matthew stepped up confidently and asked for two adult and 3 children's tickets, then whipped out his wallet like a pro and carefully selected the right combination of bills to pay for it. It was at that moment when I knew we had made the correct decision, as the look of pride on his face as he handed each of us our tickets was worth a million bucks. Kenny and Josh both giggled with excitement as we walked in, and then Matthew announced he was treating all of us to snacks at the snack bar. We asked him again if he really wanted to spend his money that way and he said he was sure and it was just about the sweetest thing I have ever seen as all three boys huddled and Matthew questioned them carefully about what they wanted to eat and drink, and then as we got to the counter he ordered for everyone...popcorn, drinks, gummy bears, with each item ordered with swift calculation I could see that it was important to him that this was a special night for all of us.

We went in and sat down, and the tub of popcorn was quickly passed back and forth amongst all of us until Matthew in all of his new found maturity gently took the tub from Kenny and said "That's enough for now Kenny, we need to save the rest for the movie.", sounding more and more like the parent with every comment made. It is a testament to the way both Josh and Kenny view Matthew in his quiet leader role amongst them that there was no argument and Kenny happily sat back waiting until it was time for the movie to start. Matthew sat in the middle of the five of us, almost like a wise little Egyptian King on a throne. Finally the movie began and we all found ourselves laughing and really enjoying the antics on screen of the unlikely Panda hero. Munching and slurping our way through, hearing Kenny's high pitched squeal mingling with Matthew's more mellow sounding giggle, I had a greater appreciation for this new stage in our lives, we are out of the baby stage and toddler phase and are on to a more mature phase, one of even more important growing and learning of life with kids that are more "portable" and easier to do things with. Gone are the bottles and diapers and here firmly is the stretching and exploring of the next stage of childhood. Already the letting go begins.

And as Dominick and I sat there grinning at one another as we looked from child to child whose faces were lit up not only by the soft light projected on screen but by the joy of sharing and being together doing something fun, without a word being spoken between us I know we were both thinking the same thing, that the 17 years of watching movies with his arm draped around my shoulder and the tub of popcorn shared with 2 rather than 5 were not nearly as satisfying as sitting a seat apart trying to grab the dregs of popcorn that still remained after 3 other little hands had been pawing through it. Nope, nothing compares to it.

The movie ended and we all walked to the car in the twilight reliving the adventures on screen and singing "Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting" from the 70's. Thank yous were said over and over to Matthew by everyone, all exclaiming what a terrific night it had been and how much they had enjoyed it. Matthew graciously accepted the thanks and showed how much he really IS maturing by not once throughout the evening ever saying anything close to "look what I did for you!" or trying to garner more attention for his act of generosity. That alone spoke more to me than anything else.

9 years old, wow, is that hard to believe. The passage of time is even more swift than my elders had ever said. Matthew, you are remarkable. The depth of your thoughts has always intrigued me, from the time you were 3 and talked about God being like electricity, to the times when you were even younger and talked about my Dad...the grandpa you never if he was sitting right there in the seat next to you. You have shown the ability to adapt as is seldom seen in children your age, and your quiet warmth and kindness are sadly often overlooked as you are not an "in your face" kind of kid, but a more subtle kind of interaction is your gift. I am so blessed that even at 9 years old, you still hold my hand in public, don't wipe away my kisses but rather ask for them, and you still beg me to come visit your classroom and go on field trips. I know many, many moms for whom that all stopped 2 or 3 years ago...and I consider myself one of the lucky few that doesn't have a son who is already pulling away so strongly from family life to independence, who isn't chomping at the bit for premature maturity but is settling into a nice pattern of slow and appropriate growth. As I hug you these days it isn't the slightly built young boy body that I am holding onto, but lately it is the solid strength of an athlete...and the hint of the man-hug I will get someday not too far in the future. How I will miss the little Matthew, but how I love what I am witnessing in you these days!

Happy Birthday, Matthew. My little warrior, my gentleman, my movie provider, my deep thinker. Your 9th year will bring once again many changes for us all, and once again your quiet confidence and easy going nature will set the tone for much of that change. How grateful I am, how grateful your daddy is, to be your parents. As you grow older, the fear factor increases for us, as we know that you are about to enter the phase when the questions become harder to answer, when the lessons learned will be tougher, when it begins that you decide for yourself just who you want to be and how you will handle the pressures of others who push you to be someone other than that. But I hold out every hope that you will remain strong, that you you have already embraced your faith in a profound way as evidenced by a conversation we had this week, and that you are prepared for the "battle" that will inevitably arise in the coming years. Hold on to this last couple of years of young youth, cling to it fiercely, and I promise we will do all we can to protect you and yet slowly turn loose of the reigns.

Much Love,

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More on Choices

I just received a very thought provoking comment on my "Choices" post, and since it is quiet and late at night I thought I'd wander around it a bit and see what comes out. I may not like it when I reread it later as I am a bit sleep deprived at the moment...but it will pass the wee hours of the morning! I really want to thank the commenter for her insightful statements which made me think about things on yet a deeper level.

In part, here is what the comment says:

"Another way of saying women should have choices is that they should be empowered. They are empowered by their education, culture, family, background, and even friends. Many, many girls and women in this country and the world do not have the advantages that you or I have enjoyed in life, the ones that empower us to make really good decisions for ourselves. Even if you feel many girls and women make bad choices, perhaps you can also see that there may be a context for that, something more complicated than "jumping into bed." "

Actually, this is a very good point and one I had not particularly considered. There are reasons that women, young and old alike, make the decision to "jump into bed" with someone. I know that quite honestly, I may not ever really be able to understand those reasons for I have had the good fortune of being raised in a home where a good example was set, where there were certain expectations for my behavior, where I was not neglected or abused or mistreated in any way which might cause me to quickly reach for anyone offering what might be mistaken for love and affection.

But I have two other thoughts on this, one of which is that society itself has this blase attitude about out-of-wedlock pregnancy. There isn't a week that goes by when some movie star or popular singer isn't celebrating their premarital pregnancy on the cover of some gossip magazine. There is hardly an outcry from the public at large these days when children are born into broken or non-existent families, and our young girls are seeing that this is somehow "glamorous"...that their teen idols are pregnant and unmarried is of no concern at all. While I do understand the comment and respect the perspective, there are also those who have no reason at all for creating life which then forces them to make irrevocable choices other than recklessness and irresponsibility...there are kids from good homes, are well educated, are not poverty stricken either in terms of finances or parental love and care. There are simply women, who for whatever reason, elect to forgo the slower path to relationship building and give in to the urges of the moment. And as the commenter also aptly pointed out, I do agree that there are those who due to life experiences (or lack thereof) find themselves unable to make better choices, who find themselves emotionally in need of the connection that sex provides, even if it is with the wrong person.

But here is where I have a problem with it is SO EASY today to obtain and use contraception. It takes little to almost no effort, and is often available free of charge, and that too solves the problem an unwanted pregnancy creates. Why then, when it is easier than it has ever been before in history to keep one's self from getting pregnant, would a woman place herself in a position of risk? Maybe it is judgmental of me to make such a statement, maybe I am showing a remarkable lack of understanding of some from a background different from my own. I don't mean it to be, truly. But not every young woman from a less fortunate background ends up in this circumstance, and I wonder what the difference is between those who do and those who don't. Is it spelled simply "hope"? Hope for a better future for themselves, hope that they will not repeat the pattern perhaps of their own families? Is it self-respect? Is it the ability to deny immediate self-gratification?

It is no doubt a troubling and disconcerting issue, one which as I said in my earlier post I will be ruminating over for a long time. There are many perspectives, many sides, and each story is as unique as the person who lived it to retell. I also don't think that anyone is inherently good or bad who finds themselves making certain "choices". The commenter is totally correct and the context for the decision to "jump into bed" can be varied and not at all simple to define or discern. I guess my point is how do we move young women from making the decision at one stage to making it earlier so that they are not forced to face this moral dilemma? And for those who are not all young, uneducated, unwed and uncertain how do we get them to see the long term consequences of an act? The book was filled with stories of woman from all kinds of backgrounds, and not all were "looking for love in all the wrong places", so to speak...not all came from backgrounds that would have led them to make poor choices. Some made a conscious decision to play roulette, some simply didn't care enough, some see the choice to be involved in an act from which life might spring as not all that important.

I think what bothers me most in all of this, and always has when discussions turn to this topic, is that sex is somehow turned into an act that is for the satisfaction of the two partners involved...often it is carelessly and casually entered into because "we want to". While I certainly acknowledge the cases where bad choices are made due to any number of factors, often it really is a choice born not of lack of advantages or poverty or education but instead is a selfish choice of "I want to feel good right now" with no thought given to the child that might be created at that moment. And then, a "problem" that so easily could have been averted...regardless of ones background or lack of advantages...has to be handled, causing the woman even more anguish and heartbreak, perhaps for a lifetime.

I guess, for me in my admitted ignorance, the problem is a problem that really doesn't have to exist at all if someone says "no". And I make this statement with all honesty about my lack of worldly experience. I mean, when you have dated one man from the time you are 15 and married him, when you have never been pregnant yourself, when you do come from relative privilege versus so many can I begin to put myself in someone elses shoes? I have lived a very sheltered life, I had choices and made different decisions than others would if they were in my shoes and I know that is true.

I will never back down from the basic premise that real choice...real empowerment...for women comes from making a decision that is best for themselves before rather than after a child has been created. We can acknowledge that there will always be those who are unable to make good, solid decisions for themselves, and that goes well beyond the decision to sleep with someone. We can't, unfortunately, "fix" all that causes some to make poor choices.

But I think we can stop glorifying those choices, and by doing so we might be able to influence a few young women to think before they act.

With freedom and choice comes responsibility, and maybe that is all I am trying to say. I think maybe that has come out sounding condescending and judgmental, and that is not my intent at all. Just like the women about which we write tonight, I am a product of all that life has presented to me, and I can do no more about that than others can do about their backgrounds. Maybe it is just a wish though that my own children could have been raised by their birth families instead of walking around for the rest of their lives with unanswered questions rolling around in their heads. Maybe it is a wish for peace for those who are hurting and spending their life wistfully wondering "What if I had not aborted and given birth, what would my child be like?" or "I wonder if the child I placed for adoption has had a happy life?" or even "What would my life have been like if I had not married him because I got pregnant?".

For our family, the question of what a birth mom might be thinking and feeling is not a "what if" scenario, for us it is a question asked by my then 2 year old...why his birth mommy left him, does she miss him, does he have other brothers or sisters. For us as with so many other adoptive families, it is often us...the adoptive parents...who are left trying to answer questions for which we have no answers. It is we who have to deal with the consequences of poor choices, we who are left trying to offer explanations, we who try to comfort and reassure about abandonment.

And sometimes, in the still of the night, when my sobbing 5 year old is suffering for fear that I too will leave him, it matters not at all why someone may have made a poor choice or why she was not empowered. All that matters then is that he feels alone, and my concern and empathy for the unempowered admittedly flies out the window. I know that is not a compassionate thing to admit, but when it takes two hours to finally lull him back to sleep...5 years post abandonment...the choices of others have a significant impact on our lives and it is hard to always see things from a more charitable side at moments like these. It's not something I care to admit, it is not a gracious or forgiving or "WWJD" moment in my life. But it IS true. And it is not necessarily something of which I am proud.

The waves in the ocean of choice spread far and wide, don't they?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Surprise Encounters

We had a very busy week and one filled with surprise encounters which left us all feeling richer for them. I wonder sometimes if others see things the way I do, or if I am just weird and frivolously "too deep" for I often find deeper meanings in contacts with others, or am touched by the actions and words of others.

Early in the week, a woman from our church called and asked if she could take all our boys to the library for an event they were having there to kick off their summer reading program. This was out of the blue and a totally unexpected little gift of free time for me! Upon their return she and I were able to have an uninterrupted conversation for over an hour, and she shared with me how very much she enjoyed being with our boys and how surprised she was at how easy it was to be with them for they were very well behaved. Other than the compliments, we shared time talking about other subjects related to her life and it allowed me to get to know someone better whom I have always cared about and enjoyed being with myself. Yesterday at church I overheard her again complimenting our sons to others, and it gave me a little boost of mommy pride at a time when it was much needed. There have been moments lately when I have questioned our parenting and whether we are doing the right thing in being a little stricter and having expectations that are perhaps different that what others might have. I was so happy to have this subtle validation that we are on the right track after all.

A second unexpected and very joyful encounter this week came in the form of overnight visitors. On the spur of the moment, we ended up with a special woman and her daughter with us on Thursday night. It was the woman who lived and worked in Kyrgyzstan as a Missionary and provided us with photos of Kenny when he was young. We don't know one another well, having only met in person twice before for brief periods, but the comfort level between us surprised us both and I think had we all had more time we would have sat around the table and chatted for days on end! It was only as she was helping wash dishes (which always makes someone an appreciated guest! Hahaha!) and she was looking at the height chart we have penciled in on our pantry cupboard that we realized that the next day was the 1 year anniversary of Kenny's arrival home. What a total God thing that he would have her there to share that with us, that He arranged in a rather unorthodox way for her to have her own faith validated as she watched Kenny playing with his brothers, hugged by his parents, and tucked into bed as he wallowed in being in a family. This woman had printed up prayer cards with Kenny's photo on it back when he was a much younger boy...back when he was still Toktogul Mursaev...and handed them out to many others to place on their fridge to pray for him. Long before she ever imagined international adoptions from Kyrgyzstan becoming what they are today, she held hope that one day this little boy whom she loved would find a forever family. I am sure it never occurred to her that one day years in the future she would be breaking bread with this very family and seeing him in exactly the circumstances she had long hoped for. And again God proved that He can move mountains, that He is the ruler over all...and all of us sitting at the table for dinner that night were merely answering His directives.

It also was a remarkable moment to stand side by side watching as all of our kids were playing in the fort, her daughter definitely holding her own with the boys...and lining them up for a photo. Staring through the viewfinder at the beautiful faces contained therein, imagining our lives without them and their lives without us was a sincere moment of reflection for two moms who just love their kids...nothing more, nothing less. We have between the 4 children true survivors, great intellect, a compassion beyond the normal child's ability to express it. It was a gathering of 4 "old souls" in a sense, for each one is insightful beyond their years due in large part to their life experiences which have helped them grow into the little people they are today.

Another unexpected encounter came when we sold our popup trailer to some new friends as we upgraded to another used one that is bigger and can better accommodate us. Camping will be about the only vacations we can manage in the years to come, I am sure! The couple who purchased our old one are special people, and I have every expectation that our friendship will continue to grow. The female half of this couple has offered great encouragement to me over the past year as there is an understanding of some of what is going on inside my heart, and I am grateful for our connection with one another. It is funny, isn't it? How we meet people and sometimes it is just "a fit" for one reason or another, and we don't even understand why. The whole "Trailer Swap" happened quite suddenly and unexpectedly...and it fell into place perfectly within a few hours so it was quite surprising. We have what perfectly met our needs and now our friends do too!

The last surprise encounter we had took so many connections the middle of an aisle in Target. We were bumming around there this weekend while the boys looked for ways to spend Matthew's birthday giftcards, and we ran into a soon-to-be-mommy who is adopting from Kyrgyzstan and is waiting to travel, as so many others are right now with the slow down. I have liked this very woman from our first email conversation, and she and her mother whom I also instantly liked were there doing some final baby shopping. We stood there, as women are wont to do, yacking for a long time and I was struck by the sense of peace she has about this delay and we talked about God's timing in it all. What maturity she showed about everything!! I thought to myself "What a wonderful mom she will be.". Although of course disappointed in the delay, there was no blame or anger cast around, just acceptance that their time will come and a quite confidence that so impressed me...I guess her Faith was obvious and seeing it was refreshing to me.

As we were getting ready to part, the subject of this blog came up and her mom paid me one of the highest compliments I have ever been paid, explaining how much she has learned from reading it and how it was "worth it" to stay up until 1:00 AM to find the time to catch up on the posts! What a blessing it was to know that I have somehow helped extended family understand what this is all like, what it feels like, to help them anticipate the ways in which they could be supportive. I never gave much thought at all to future grandma's (or anyone else, really!) finding this blog interesting. But international adoption really is a different way to become a parent, it has it's own twists and turns, it's own celebratory milestones which others might not recognize as such, it's own set of concerns and emotions. If expressing those things here in writing helps not only my children understand all we have gone through but has helped others as well, then it is well worth my time to write it...even if for the life of me I can't understand why anything I have to say is all that interesting!!!

So a week of surprise encounters, a week of smiles and joy, a week of hugs and reflection. In addition to staying up late, sleeping in, playing all day...summer has really arrived!!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Are You Called?

Adopting a child from an orphanage is a life changing experience for most of us. The "Save the Children" ads on TV become far more meaningful, for you have looked into the eyes of the unwanted, the unloved, the underfed and understimulated. It is no longer some sort of vague knowing, it is something you carry around with you.

There are many ways to remember the children left behind, there are several ways to step up to the plate and do something rather than remain passive observers.

Several families who have adopted from Kazakhstan have done just that...they have decided to become actively engaged in making a difference. An old internet adoption buddy, Cyndi Keilin, contacted me this week to share information about a new organization called "Two Hearts for Hope". They are collecting items to be sent to orphanages in Kazakhstan, and each month they focus on meeting a different month it is school supplies, another hygiene items, etc. These items will then be carried over by other families traveling and will be delivered directly to orphanages. You can check them out at .

Not everyone is called to adopt a child, but there are many other ways to touch the life of an orphaned child.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


It is with great risk of being totally slammed that I write this post. I thought about it a lot before writing, and realized I still wanted to despite what might happen in the aftermath. I ask only that if you disagree with anything or feel a need to comment (which I hope you do) that you do so respectfully and thoughtfully.

It must be summer, as I finally have time to sit down and pursue one of my favorite pastimes, reading. I have been an avid and eclectic reader since Kindergarten, and was lucky enough to be given a brain that just "got it" when it came to reading and comprehension...I was reading at a college level by 3rd grade, I read Alex Haley's "Roots" in 4th grade and it was one of the most profoundly moving and maturing experiences of my childhood as I felt in some ways that the reading of that family's story somehow opened my eyes to the larger world, a world I my innocence...never really imagined. I also had a mom who, thankfully, recognized that I was ready for far more adult content and didn't see a need to hide me from it, but to gently allow me to explore it. By "adult content" I don't mean anything obviously profane or pornographic, but she in all her wisdom easily recognized that if she didn't allow me to develop my mind at the rate that God intended, I would be forced back into the more childish world (and by then quite dull) of "Nancy Drew", "Trixie Belden" and Judy Blume which I was really quite beyond at that time. I have been forever grateful for my mom's understanding of what I needed in many ways...socially with allowing me to have much older friends, educationally by allowing me to pursue the things that interested me, and intellectually by having long conversations with me and never shying away from any topic even if at moments I know from her background it must have mortified her. My early maturity was going to happen whether or not she wanted it to, so she quickly realized she could fight it or guide it. I hope that all these years later she felt she made the right choice in guiding it. I lost none of my innocence and gained all of my insight through her carefully made choices.

And that leads me to the book I just finished, "Choice". It is a series of 24 essays compiled and edited by Karen E. Bender and Nina de Gramont. The essays revolve around the true stories surrounding birth, adoption, contraception, abortion and parenting choices to be single or married. I am going to take a lot longer to digest this book, these opinions from some fine writers. There were some very moving experiences shared, and the idea of choice about procreation and it's myriad outcomes was a terrific topic for a book.

I came away from reading this though with many conflicting thoughts. My first thought...and perhaps the one that would be the most unpopular with a lot of people...was that this book was a tome about selfishness. It was in large part about women making the choice that was right for them, which I applaud, but I also can not get past the self-centered tone of it all. There was, as there often is in many women's conversations today, a sense of the man being pushed to the sideline, of him being a necessary but not necessarily integral part of the process. There was no thought given in most of the essays to the man's rights where his children were concerned, most of the stories showed men at their least if all men are insensitive buffoons and should have no say in anything. It generally portrayed men as drifters, as uncommitted, as uncaring. I am all for women's rights, to me it feels as if we have swung so far the other way that men's rights are often completely ignored when it comes to conception. And I also wonder if a woman's "choice" was to build a relationship with a different kind of man, would she then be in the position to make other kinds of choices that are less conflicting.

I also thought that so many of these reproductive choices were not at all "options" for the birth mothers of our children. Often, choice is the privilege of the wealthy...and compared to so many other women throughout the world, I know I am wealthy. For many mothers in other countries, choice means deciding between feeding the children they already have versus adding another which would mean further slipping into poverty for the entire family. For many other mothers, choice means having to make the gut wrenching "choice" to give up a child with a medical condition there is no way they could ever afford to care for. For some of our children's birth mothers, their choice was to give up a child or carry it to term and have their entire family ostracized because of the shame brought on the family by an out-of-wedlock child. is all relative to where you live and what your life circumstances are. The choices for some women are extremely narrow and limited, while others sit back in their comfortable existences and have choices that are unimaginable to others...and they have the time to write about them, contemplate them (just as I do with this blog), debate them. For others, choice really comes down to survival or death.

I found this book, overall, to be very"do what I want" with very little consideration given the "fetus", which for me is a child. I know this may not be true for everyone, and I honestly have a great deal of respect for that. I am pro-choice only for the reason that I understand that for many, many does not begin at conception, it begins at birth. For them, it is a medical procedure just like any other. It is not mine to tell others when life begins, but mine to hold true to my own values and not do something that for me, would be tantamount to murder.

I remember the very moment when my mind clamped down on this firmly. I was in 11th grade and in a Family Life Class. I had already started dating Dominick, my husband to be, and could already envision the family we might one day have for I knew with all certainty that my path had been altered the night of our first date when I was 15years old. There, I had the unusual opportunity to hold in my hands, in little glass jars, children whose lives had been lost due to miscarriages. They were at various stages of development, these little ones floating in a sea of formaldehyde, forever suspended in a liquid artificial womb. I could see little fingernails, the formation of facial features, the fully recognizable form of a human. I thought to myself "This is what women are choosing to rid themselves of, this is what they think is not a human being.", and right then and there...for me...I realized that my decision should I ever find myself in the position of having an unwanted pregnancy would be to validate the humanity inside me and give birth. For others in that same room, the impact of holding these fetuses was very different and for them, it appeared to be nothing more than incompletely formed tissue, and I came to a quick understanding what the crux of the whole Roe versus Wade argument was about...some see it as life and others don't. You can't really change that core belief in someone, and for those who don't see it as life I don't feel I have the right to tell them otherwise, for I am not "All Knowing". I just know what is right for me.

And, I guess, the Victorian prude in me...or for others the Child of God that I am...dictates that "Choice"...real "choice"...comes before you jump into bed with someone, not afterward. It is a much simpler, much less heartbreaking choice to make.

Another thing I felt from reading all these essays was how very unhappy so many women are, how unfulfilled many of their lives appear to be...and often admitted within the essays. I am NOT saying that the only fulfilling life is one like mine, so please don't misunderstand me. I know for a fact that there are lots of different paths to joy and happiness, and for many that does not include marriage or family. But I was struck by how many of the women wandered aimlessly in their lives, either in reality or many of them came across as feeling so lost at times, so much yearning for things they couldn't put their finger on, so much time spent chasing the "dream" of what they thought their life should be or of running away from a less-than perfect past. I felt grateful as I read over and over this depressing theme that I had not had a life like that. I have had my share of sorrow and searching, but not to this degree and not for as long as so many have. I wonder what the difference is between these women and I, what is it that makes me feel happy with a husband and children, what has kept me from the desperate yearning so many expressed in this book as they struggled with infertility or went to extremes.

What bothered me the most though, was the one story in there that delved deeply into international adoption and was about a family who adopted a little girl from Guatemala. This adoption ultimately led to birth mother contact through a string of events, and the grief this mother obviously felt at having to relinquish her child. I quote a line from this essay "If someone had told me that a fraction of the $30,000 we spent on the adoption would have allowed a poor Guatemalan mother to keep her child, I would have felt guilty, but my decision wouldn't have changed.". What bothers me about this statement? It is the thought process that shows flawed thinking and generalizations about international adoption. While I recognize this fact with Guatemalan adoptions that are different than Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, it leaves one thinking that if we only throw money at the problem, there will be no unwanted children, no sorrow-filled birth moms, etc. What about the millions of children...and yes it really is millions...who are languishing in orphanages all over the world for whom a few hundred bucks given to the birth mom would have made no difference. What about kids like my own sons whose parents made the choice to relinquish long before we entered the picture and for whom no cash payment could be received...should I be filled with angst at knowing that perhaps if I had just donated money to them, they would have been able to keep their children and raise them? Then how does one resolve that with the hundreds of thousands of kids being raised in foster care right here in the US, where Social Services provides a safety net of sorts, where millions of dollars are pumped into the system annually and where Medicaid and Welfare are available...and yet there are still parents who are unable to properly parent. Is money a solution? Sure, in some cases it can be...but it doesn't remove the stigma still present in many places of an an unmarried mother, it doesn't remove the burden of a family with multiple children who feel they simply don't have the energy for yet one more child. This single representation in this book of my..and of many of experience was included for the sole purpose of showing one side of adoption, one filled with guilt and remorse on behalf of both moms...adoptive and birth.

I guess I should have expected to be disturbed by a novel filled with essays that were gathered to reflect a particular perspective which I do not completely hold myself...that we should have every choice available to us so we can live the life we want without regard to the effect it has on others. It bothered me tremendously to read of so many women who saw abortion as a solution to a problem, and perhaps that is because I parent children who were a problem for someone and yet their moms chose another give them life. It skews my thought processes on this issue, and I know that. I can't look at any one of the boys and imagine our life without them, can't imagine the world without the light they shine on it. So perhaps I can be forgiven for being more closed minded about all of this, my own personal life experience speaks to the opposite side of the argument.

I think what I most took away from the reading of this book was I was so happy I had the "choice" I had, to adopt, to parent other people's children, to have a life filled with laughter and messes and chaos. My "Choice" was to embrace a child whose blood flows with none of my own intermingled and look them in the eye and call them my own.

I guess I agree with all this "choice" business after all.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

All's Well in "Kennyville"

Previously I wrote about our minor behavioral struggles with Kenny while on our trip to California. Wouldn't you know that now that we are settled back home, all is moving along smoothly? I had a comment from someone that made a light bulb go on, that we were at the year anniversary of Kenny's adoption and often adopted children will backslide a bit when these time markers occur. I am not sure if that was the case, or if it was just part of his regular "test and grow" cycle as he continues on the path to maturity. However, it is a distinct possibility that the anniversary had something to do with it, as every year thus far with Joshie we have an obvious downturn in emotions as he struggles with his feelings during a time of year that brings back unpleasant memories.

We had to be quite stern with Kenny while we were gone, as he was really pushing it, testing us in many ways with control. For us, it really wasn't all that bad as we are used to it by now, know it is short long as we stick to our guns...and our more relaxed and trusting Kenny will return soon. For others though, who don't always understand the bigger picture, it can seem as if we are too firm, too unbending, too strict. Some do not see discipline as love, which for us is what it is. They see it somehow as a sign of mistreatment, of a lack of kindness, of not caring. Nothing could be further from the truth.

You see, what most people who have not adopted an older institutionalized child do not understand, is that we are really dealing with a 5 or 6 year old in many regards. Kenny does not have the life experience nor has he had the one on one attention to help him mature to his true age. I can say without reservation that, at least in our case, the standard international adoption adage of "one month delayed for every 3 months institutionalized" is right on the money.

Because this has proven correct in Kenny's case, and I am sure in many others' as well, we are having to go back and relive and retrain as if he were a 4 year old at first, then a 5 year old...and now sometimes a 6 year old, even though he is 9 1/2. We get tantrums once in awhile when we see we are not the center of attention or when things aren't going our way...he plays for sympathy. This occurs rarely anymore, but it still happens once in awhile. He tests us often periodically to see if "no" really does mean "no", just as any toddler or preschooler does. And just like any parent of a toddler, consistency is the key...and not letting him play one parent against another is of utmost importance. He reverts to baby talk often to garner attention, which sometimes is ok but in some circumstances is inappropriate. He plays 100% at the developmental level of a five year old, which is why he and Joshua can play out super hero scenarios by the hours and never get bored...but the average 9 1/2 year old is well beyond that stage of play acting.

Kenny's need to control things stems in part from his inability to trust that the caring adults in his life (i.e. his parents) can take care of him, are indeed capable of handing things for him. Why should he trust adults when for most of his life it was up to him to make sure he was ok? Sure, there were caretakers around but that is NOT the same as the one on one undivided attention a parent can provide...and it is not at all the same thing as having an infant who cries and mom shows up at the crib to take care of your needs immediately. With Josh we saw what the end result of that can be on the far end of the scale, with Kenny we are seeing the more subtle signs of it.

It is easy for others to misunderstand without the benefit of hours and hours of adoption training, or the thousands of hours of reading the stories of other families and learning what works and what doesn't, what might speed up the process of assimilation into a family and what might hinder it. Just as some of you have shared with me that you have gained some sense of understanding from reading our blog, so too have I gained much from the internet list postings of the hundreds of parents who have willingly shared their experiences over the past 8+ years. I literally could not count the number of hours I have spent in adoption research, nor the number of emails I have answered...or more importantly the number of emailed questions others have answered for me.

One thing that is often overlooked, that is swept under the carpet because it marks us as "different" than "real" parents is that the fact is, we have to parent differently, we have to think outside the box at times, we have to be diligent and aware of issues that a biological parent would never even think of...things like seasons triggering bereft feelings which can't be named, food issues which are caused by a lack of a full tummy early on, behaviors that are caused by years of institutionalization and neglect...and those behaviors themselves are seen as "weird" to outsiders, then throw in race issues, special need issues, abandonment issues...and you begin to see that parenting an adopted child is different, no matter how much we want to see it as the same. We simply can not parent Kenny the same as we would a biological 9 year old...and not even the same as Matthew at almost 9 years old who has been with us since infancy. As do so many adoptive parents, we have to create an "IPP" rather than the usual school "IEP"...we need to create an "Individualized Parenting Plan" for each child dependent upon their background and their reaction to it. And those who don't understand will see you parenting each child differently and think that you love one child more than another, because there are necessary differences in the way you handle each child.

Often, it is not this more aware style of parenting that is the problem, it is the judgment of others who don't understand that undermines our confidence. How easy it is to say "You are doing this all wrong" when you have never faced the parenting challenges that so many of us face on a daily basis.

The fact remains, love really isn't enough. It's really, really not. For those of you who are in the process right now and think you can "love" your child out of whatever issues they may have, please replace that thought process with "commitment" is enough, because it is that commitment that will keep you standing back up in the ring to face another round when the love has taken a back seat to momentary frustration and aggravation.

This is not to say that the love still doesn't exist despite the daily struggles. It does, and it runs strong and is that love that drives us to be the best parents we can be to our "outside the box" is the desire to see them become all that they can be against all odds and all predictions of dire futures. We see in them all they can become, while others have only pity for the "poor orphaned child". Pity is a pretty useless emotion, it gets nothing accomplished, it makes those who are being pitied see themselves as victims rather than victors. It provides a ready-made excuse for settling for less than the best.

In my opinion, and as I have often said my opinion is worth exactly what you pay for it...nothing...holding tightly onto our children's "orphan" status in our own minds limits them, it narrows their world, it places them in a role that is so hard to break out of. They begin to see it as "the" defining experience in their life rather than "a" defining experience just like other non-adopted people have in their lives...experiences that do shape and form them but don't singly define who they are forever. Our children were orphaned, perhaps for some not so pleasant reasons. That is fact. Some will have a need to explore that in a deeper way than others. But they are not orphans for their entire life unless we allow them to define themselves that way. I am not saying we don't acknowledge it and help them explore it, I am saying we help them move forward through it, to use it as a building block in their life and not as the brick that is missing in the foundation. Does any of this rambling make sense at all? Maybe not, and I am sorry if that is so.

To me, Kenny is a perfect example of this explanation. Kenny is an incredible little boy in so many ways, but the way in which he has most impressed me from day one is his acceptance of all that has been, and his embracing of all that can be. We spoke this evening about the tough week we had together last week, why he was acting up, what he thought about it all, if he understood our need to be strict with him. He told me "You have to learn me lot of things Momma, I not with you since I a baby like Matthew and Joshie...I not know things. That's your job. I know you love me, I know God loves me and he give me you to learn me so I grow up good.". He then said "I sorry I not act right sometimes, but I try and sometime I not do wrong things anymore.". He sees his own progress, he is smart enough (believe me he is smart enough!!!) to know when he is not doing what he needs to do, he may not always be able to correct it due to his immaturity, but that will come in time. The fact is, just as with any other child...adopted or want limits, they need them. And not placing those limits reasonably on our kids does them a disservice, it feeds the "pity party" born of their background. I know how easy it is to look at our kids and say "I want them to have everything they ever wanted and couldn't have...I want them to love me...I want them to feel loved..." and to mistake discipline as a lack of love. It is not, it is the surest sign of love.

And if privately you weep over all that life has unfairly thrown at them, at all they have to overcome, that too is fine...and it is love as well.

I remember Kenny's first days at school this year when things were so rough, when he was acting oddly due to his overstimulation and he was being teased...and how I wanted to do nothing more than yank him out of there and take him home to cradle him. It was hard on my heart to send him back to the lion's den day after day, knowing what he was enduring. But pity wouldn't have helped him, our continued confidence in his abilities to overcome was far more helpful to his psyche. Just as treating him with kid gloves now would do no good in the area of his only would serve to delay the inevitable discipline that will have to come into play eventually.

And Kenny knows how dearly he is loved, he understands more than most adults all that we have to make up for. We are blessed with three very astute kids, and Kenny has a depth and level of understanding that surpasses anything I ever would have expected. He also has a quiet strength about him that, if harnessed and taken out of the "control" box and placed in the "leadership" box, will take him very far in this world. Walking that tightrope of wrestling with his need to control every single thing around him and not squelching the confidence within is a tough place to be...nurturing the good and ridding him of the unnecessary. I would love nothing more than for him to wake up one morning and know within his heart that Mommy and Daddy can be trusted to make all the right decisions, and he can relax and enjoy his childhood. Maybe we'll get there one day, and maybe we will struggle with this issue his entire life. Regardless, it is our job to do our best daily to parent he and his brothers the best way we know how, with love and kindness and discipline...even if to others that discipline at times appears unkind.

But regardless of what others might think, regardless of how wrong they think we are...the only Judge that matters is up above. He knows our hearts, we don't need to justify anything with Him.

And Kenny laughing tonight and saying "Of COURSE I know you love me!!" says it all. Yes, all is well in "Kennyville", and the growth we are seeing is beyond comprehension. We have a long way to go together, and though the road may truly be less traveled, it is a reasonably well marked road for those who have studied enough to read the signs. For those who don't read the language well enough, just trust those of us who do...we are doing our best...really. That is not to say we are always right, for we are not...that is a given. But we have the road map written by those who have gone before us, and they made mistakes we are learning from...they made some wrong turns too. But they eventually made it, and so will we.