Thursday, February 2, 2017

My Resolution: Four Years Late

Yes. That IS a toilet in our sunroom.

Four years ago, our youngest son was born. My resolution for the first year of his life was to finally organize our house because ordering our physical space seemed like the first step to creating a calm environment to lower our family stress. This seemed like a perfectly reasonable resolution given our three older sons had begun full-day school two weeks earlier.

We had only been living in our house for a few months.The previous owners had (tastefully and artistically) painted every wall in our house shades of purple, yellow, green, and dark grey (many ceilings and most trim included). With the previous owner’s exquisitely chosen decorations and funky mid-century furniture, the house had a glamorous look.

When we moved our mostly-found-on-the-side-of-the-road stuff in, it had the look of pandemonium. It felt as if a McDonald’s play area from the 1980s vomited all over my living quarters, robbing me of any chance of a quiet heart. (Without the aroma of french fries. Which is unfortunate.)

When our youngest son was six weeks old, my plans began to change.


First, I pulled one son out of school because he needed more time with me.

Before the year was complete, it became clear that another son would be joining our daytime circus as his school was refusing to follow his IEP and he was regressing socially, emotionally, behaviorally, and academically.

I didn’t have a legal battle in me and my child needed space to recover from the bullying and abuse he had endured in school.

So, rather than getting my house in order, I frantically managed piles and prayed I could locate items (such as medical records, school paperwork, and clean underwear) on an as-needed basis and frequently reminded myself that it was a blessing I could spend all this additional time with my sons. (It was.)

Four years later, I’m happy to report we’ve painted everything except for one hallway and a pantry.

And we’ve almost unpacked.

Our adoption journey is teaching me that while I can choose my battles in life, I have a limited ability to choose the amount of urgency that comes along with the battles I must fight. Order is important. Having order will be healthier for every member of our family.

And while my heart aches that I haven’t yet had opportunity to provide that order, I’m aware that for the majority of the past six years I’ve been a warrior fighting necessary battles for my family.

While engaged in combat, I haven’t had opportunity to sort through boxes, organize my children’s books, or remember to pay the water bill before our city’s notice was fixed to our front door with bright orange tape warning us we had twenty-four hours to pay it if we didn’t want to be cut off.

So, it’s taken four years. It isn’t done yet.

And I’m exceedingly grateful.

Can you relate? Join the Conversation, here,

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Adoption: This Mom Six Years Later

Last weekend I went to my favorite hardware store all by myself- which is no small thing. While making my order I noticed that each time I gave the man behind the counter a color name, he immediately jotted down the coordinating paint number.

Without thinking about it, I commented on how impressive that was to me.

He smiled and humbly attempted to explain how memorizing 3500 paint numbers is really no big deal.

The interaction was natural. I used complete sentences. And the Benjamin Moore expert didn’t even think I was busting a move on him!

I returned to my van beaming like an idiot and thinking, “That was the regular me back there.”

For six years, I’ve been looking at a stranger in the mirror. I’ve felt crushed and, much of the time, debilitated by the constant pressure of getting to know my children so I can learn how to love them well. Under this stress, I’ve neglected many of my most basic values, such as;  cooking, showering, and remembering to eat. My worries have been choking me to the point where I’ve had trouble interacting with the world around me. My listening skills have been severely impacted and, at times, my concerns have been shouting at me so loudly, they’ve drowned out friends I’m trying to be present with. I’ve even rudely interrupted friends sharing their deepest feelings without being aware until a week later (at which point my face has flushed with shame and I haven’t known what to do with myself). I’ve gone from feeling as energetic as I was as an eighteen-year-old to feeling lethargic and elderly. During these years, not only have I consistently misread social cues, I’ve also sent unintended messages via my erratic behavior.

Eventually, I learned the best way I could function was to avoid every human interaction I could avoid. Otherwise I knew I would unintentionally hurt somebody or be wounded myself.

A few years ago, one of my sons was regressing significantly in his classroom, but when we did work together at home, he was making natural progress. There was no comparison between his school work and homework.

Since I was confused about his performance, I called a professional- a friend of mine who is brilliant and has a special education background. Her main point will always stick with me:  A child with a trauma history can look brilliant when relaxed and simple-minded when experiencing stress.

Sadly, it took a few more years before my head was clear enough to figure out who was the most stressed out person in our house:  me.  I have been the one appearing dimwitted.

Today, I know better how to love my four children and my husband in the context of our unusual family than I did over the last few years. As a result, I’m less stressed and I feel more like myself.

So, as mundane as it seems, my hardware store story is something I’m celebrating.

And I’m looking forward to recognizing myself again real soon.

Today is Introduction Day at the Adoption Talk Link Up. You can learn more about why I blog here and about the name of my blog here. I’ll look forward to connecting with you and hope you take the time to introduce yourself!


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas Spaghetti

Our children look forward to three things each Christmas morning;  A fire in the fireplace, a stuffed animal peeking out of each of their Christmas stockings, and bacon.

Christmas Dinner isn’t something they spend much time considering. Traditions are significant to our children. The actual food we consume on Christmas isn’t. (Other than the aforementioned bacon, that is.)

So we make it easy on ourselves.

A couple days before Christmas, I make spaghetti sauce. On Christmas afternoon, I move the pot of sauce from our refrigerator to the range and warm it while preparing pasta from a blue box. Matt slices grocery store bread.

Dinner is served.

The tradition of “Christmas Spaghetti” may not be the tradition our kids are looking forward to, but it is a tradition. They do enjoy it and it simplifies our lives. Most importantly, it’s something we can make happen in most any circumstance (barring our stove joining the band of rebel appliances currently waging war against us.)

Our children from hard places cling to traditions. Each time a tradition transpires, their safety is reinforced. Trust is built.

A week before Thanksgiving, one of our sons asked Matt if we would be doing our “Thanksgiving Tradition” this year. Matt was perplexed so he asked our son which tradition he was referring to.

His response:  Taking turns saying what we’re thankful for.

More than he was looking forward to the aroma of turkey, watching football, or pie, our son was anticipating the Thanksgiving tradition he’d come to expect.

This morning, Facebook reminded me of how “brilliant” we are at parenting with the following post from 2015:

Most brilliant parenting move we've made: The tradition of Christmas Spaghetti. If you set the bar low early enough, nobody knows the difference. In fact, we all prefer the freedom that accompanies simplicity.

While making spaghetti doesn’t really qualify as genius, simplicity lowers our family’s stress.

Complexity increases our family’s stress.

Simplicity + Tradition is an unstoppable formula in our family.

When we create complex traditions, we set ourselves up for repeated failure.

We set our children up for insecurity.

While spaghetti isn't their favorite food, there is no worthy substitute for Christmas Spaghetti as far as our children are concerned.

It’s simple.

And it’s our tradition.

I would love to hear about your Christmas traditions here or on Facebook!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Adoption: Learning how to have Family Fun

Yesterday, I enjoyed the rare opportunity of conversing with another adoptive mom. During our chat, I was overwhelmed with gratitude as my children’s shared laughter echoed in the background.

During our early months as family, time together was anything but fun.

Matt and I had pure intentions, but we were lacking in our ability to care for children who had good reason to expect tragedy. We were humbled time and again when a rained out baseball game or a grandparent’s cancelled visit led to violent behaviors from two of our children. We were astounded when news of an upcoming birthday party led one of our children to behave in such a way that made the birthday party impossible for our family to attend.

After explaining these experiences to a therapist, he suggested that our children didn’t need to know about the excitement on the horizon. He asked us what we thought would happen if we just showed up to the birthday party, baseball game, or if the grandparents just arrived on our doorstep with their suitcases.

After some trial and error, we learned our children were much more likely to enjoy themselves if they were surprised by fun. We also noticed that this fun needed to fit into our general, safe rhythm.

We learned to plan our days around meals and sleep schedules and carefully choose to join only activities we thought our children could handle. We began teaching our children that anytime our typical schedule was interrupted, it was interrupted by fun.

Soon, our children stopped anxiously questioning us each time we prepared for an activity because their experience was telling them fun is always a surprise.

Eventually, they began to enjoy each surprise journey and enjoy fun events we carefully chose for them.

We think the reason this approach works for our family is because anything out of the norm has the potential to create unusually high anxiety in our children from hard places. Also, when we don’t signal future fun plans, we can’t fail to deliver. The trust we’re building with our children isn’t compromised. The stakes are high in our family. When an event is cancelled due to a thunderstorm, in our child’s mind, Mom and Dad didn’t follow through. Mom and Dad aren’t trustworthy.

In limiting disappointment for our children, we are not trying to shelter them from the real world.

Due to their early experiences, they are already more acquainted with disappointment and grief than most adults we know. Because we love our children, it’s our desire to create opportunities for them to experience seasons that aren’t defined by loss. It’s our parental responsibility to give them the foundation they need to trust us. It’s our duty to limit their anxiety so we can connect with each other.

When we stopped signaling our plans for fun activities, we began relieving our children of a burden they were never intended to carry. Simultaneously, we were eliminating consistent opportunities for our children to be let down by us. We were giving our children an opportunity to trust us.

Early childhood trauma attempted to rob my children of fun, trusting, and safe relationships. We’re not the first family to struggle on the journey toward fun. I’m not the only parent who has cried tears wondering if Saturday will ever hold any joy in our house. Our solution is far from one-size-fits-all and may not suit any other family.

We weren’t first and we aren’t best.

But what we once thought may be impossible is now happening consistently.

Our entire family laughs and plays together.

Can you relate? Join the Conversation here or 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Our Marriage & Complex Trauma

Matt and I met under serendipitous circumstances. During our first encounter, he awkwardly avoided eye-contact with me while conversing freely with my roommate.

Two months later, he was secretly learning Sign Language from the outdated VHS tapes he repeatedly checked from his local library. He hadn’t yet asked me out, but he knew I worked at a Deaf school and he wanted to be prepared.

He drew a map of my neighborhood and reviewed it with me prior to our first date so he wouldn’t get lost on his way to pick me up.

Twelve months after that first date, we were married.

And we have no regrets.

For the first couple of years after our children came home through adoption, Matt and I even commented that parenting our children with intense needs was bringing us closer to together, rather than driving us apart.

For almost six years now, our entire family has been impacted by the unique needs that accompany complex developmental trauma. Because we now realize our children often communicate through their behavior, we are continual “interpreters” between two of our children and the rest of the world so they are better understood, have opportunities for personal growth, and aren’t criminalized.

Our family’s lifestyle generates stares that remind us the specific supports we provide for each of our individual children are largely misunderstood. Our relationships with each member of our family is dramatically impacted by the needs of each of the other members. Two of our children need intense structure and scaffolding to succeed developmentally and emotionally. The routine we provide them with lowers their stress level so they can enjoy life and learn, and eventually, become more flexible. All the while, we must constantly problem solve so we can give our two biological children the specific attention they need to be nurtured in the wake of childhood trauma, which is no small thing.

Due to very real attachment needs, we are not able to just drop our children off with a trustworthy babysitter during their waking hours. Because two of our children are still learning to trust us and it takes a long time for them to trust other adults, either Matt or I are “on” at all times. Even when they’re sleeping, “hiring a sitter” involves divulging sensitive information for our children’s safety. It’s exhausting to brainstorm whom would be both capable of watching our sleeping children and will not exploit them with the information we must share.

We hear it’s best to put our marriage first.

We just aren’t sure how to put our marriage first... without our family falling apart.

The stakes are so high.

Two of our children go to school. For them, school is their safe place to learn and their most consistent opportunity to build relationships with trustworthy adults other than their parents.

For our two children who are home during school hours, they need to be home with a parent so they can process trauma and have space to enjoy a healthy childhood.

We are privileged to have the opportunity to so specifically care for our four children’s complex needs. Yet, beyond school, we are the only supports they have. We meet needs seen and unseen. Constantly. There aren’t predictable breaks for us. There are no retreats for mom and dad together.

And we acknowledge that if our children’s needs were not so unique and intense, we wouldn’t be desperate for respite. At one point I was homeschooling one of our children who came into our family as an older child. I explained to Matt how overwhelmed I was because I was convinced that if there were ten of me I still wouldn’t have the ability meet his specific needs. All ten of me would be overwhelmed. Matt nodded in agreement. He got it. And we found a way to keep on until he got into a school that was safe for him.

It feels as if Matt and I have been on an aircraft that’s lost cabin pressure for six years and we’ve only had one oxygen mask for the both of us.

After almost six years of struggling for oxygen and waiting our turn to breathe, it’s easy to begin to resent the other’s need for oxygen.

It’s not logical.

It’s not gracious.

We’re beyond logic and grace.

We’re desperate and we need all of our energy to survive.

His need for oxygen is a threat to my very existence.

My need for oxygen is a threat to his.

We love each other.

We belong together.

And we’re barely hanging on.

Can you relate? Join the Conversation, here,
on Facebook, and on Twitter.

FYI: I should have mentioned that Matt and I read this post together and were both excited about me posting it. In fact, processing our experience together has been helpful for us to work through our individual experiences.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Seeking Solitude in the Digital Age

Had I not accepted an unusual challenge during my senior year of college, I doubt I’d be currently aware of how my heart longs for quiet.

The challenge was to choose a spiritual discipline I’d never intentionally practiced before and find a way to observe it for one week.

The list included disciplines I was well acquainted with, such as prayer, fasting, and meditation. As I read on, I began to wonder if there was a spiritual discipline unfamiliar to me. When I read “Solitude” I honestly had to admit I didn’t even know what practicing solitude meant. All I could picture was living in the wilderness, wearing a brown robe cinched with a rope, and making my own butter.

The whole idea seemed highly impractical, but I do love a challenge.

The year was 2001. At the time, I owned a cell phone but for emergencies only. Because it seemed like such a novelty, I constantly told myself it cost $220 per minute to use (which it might have because I was most definitely roaming where I went to school) so it just took up space in my purse. The internet was up and running, but when writing research papers one still needed to cite real books. Email had become a thing, yet my friends and I utilized it to write each other letters. Upon receiving an email, I would print it out and save it in a special shoebox where I also kept my handwritten notes from friends and family. While I owned a television, I didn’t purchase cable, so I could really only use the VCR unless I wanted to watch something badly enough to get the tin foil out and begin problem solving to make our antenna work. AOL Instant Messenger was new and, on occasion, I would chat with a few friends who had it. LOL was the only initialism I recall ever reading, and I never once used it myself.

When I decided to practice solitude I knew I needed to set guidelines for myself. At the time, I lived off campus and had a week where I was staying alone. My classes were scheduled on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I was only taking a few credits as I had already met most of my graduation requirements. With this schedule, I realized I could avoid contact with people five out of seven days. I also chose to eliminate listening to any music, watching any screens, and any use of the phone. Having completed all of my final papers, I had already packed my computer up and sent it home. Therefore, I had no internet. Believe it or not, while I didn’t make a rule for this, I also don’t remember reading nonfiction books.

Given I spent most of my time alone that week, and that I had been struggling with loneliness going into the week, one might wonder what I did with my time.

I still wonder that. I remember reading, journaling, cooking, and cleaning. I remember life becoming peaceful, my heart becoming light, and time passing fast.

Toward the end of the week, I was surprised to realize I was no longer lonely. In fact, I wanted to find a way to extend my week of solitude. My heart had found the very quiet it needed. Which was the quiet I had been robbing myself of out of fear- the quiet I usually spent my hours distracting myself from.

Human connections are imperative for all of us. Yet, when I deny myself of solitude, my relationships suffer. I’m too scattered to listen and respond well.

Social media and email are tools, and in order to use them to enhance connections, I need to set the rules.

I don’t want to live distracted by ads, text notifications, social media, and email.

At this point in my life, a week of solitude seems nearly impossible. Still, I know I need to make some changes to quiet my heart. Last week, I made a social media schedule for myself. According to this schedule, I should not be on social media during one minute I would otherwise be spending with my children. I also purchased an ancient word processor to write on so I’m focused during time I’ve chiseled out for writing.

I took these measures after hearing my three-year-old ask me three times before his words began to register, “Mommy, are you listening to me?”

He shouldn’t have to wonder.

My life is complicated enough. At times I am distracted by weighty matters that seem like threats to my family’s well-being. With or without social media, there will always be times I have difficulty being present for my loved ones.

I do have the power to limit distractions.

When I am brave enough to use that power, I’m free to carve out fragments of quiet I once believed were unobtainable as a parent.

As a result, I’m more present with my loved ones- something our hearts mutually desire.

Can you relate? Join the Conversation, here,
on Facebook, and on Twitter. Also, remember, I’m scheduling posts and responding when I can give you my full attention too!

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