Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Year Ago This Month

I was looking back at the blog and realized it was a year ago this month that I began to document our adoption journey for Kenny. I remember sitting down at the desk, messing around, trying to figure out how to create one...and then wondering who in the heck would ever read it other than our families. I really was trying to create an online, real time "lifebook" for Kenny in addition to coming up with a way our moms could keep track of us when we eventually traveled.

Here we are, one year later, Kenny is home and the blog has had over 17,500 hits...and the amazing thing is that we are still averaging over 40 hits a day with 70+ hits on some days. Incredible! I assumed that the few people who might stumble upon it would drop right off after we returned home with Kenny, and yet here we are 5 months later getting so many hits every day from folks who have now become familiar, even if only by seeing their city and state on the blog counter.

Writing the blog has been a real "heart thing" for me, a way of exploring my own deeper thoughts about adoption and parenting. It has been an unexpected pleasure to discover how much I actually enjoy blogging, and to make new virtual friends who have taken the time to write private emails and comments directly on the blog.

There are times when I wonder how much longer I will continue to share our family with the world, when the time will come that I have nothing more to say (Mom...stop laughing at that one!!! I was nicknamed "motor mouth" as a kid!) or when there is no one else who wants to read what is written. For the moment though, there are still many more firsts for Kenny that might help others as they consider adopting an older child, so until I feel "done" I guess I will continue.

I also wonder if there is another adventure around the corner, one that we don't anticipate but might surprise us...and all of you...when it surfaces. My life may be less than thrilling to most, but it has never been boring and there has always been something interesting just over the horizon waiting for us. Le's see, in the past 10 years we have left long term jobs behind and moved to Colorado, bought our first home, started not one, not two, but three businesses, and adopted three children internationally. I have NO IDEA what might come next! I know we have often considered hosting a foreign exchange student and will almost surely do it in the next year or two, which would offer up it's own unique and interesting observations, no doubt.

But overall, this is blog is personal, it is about my family and how adoption has shaped it, what experiences we have been through, and how we have managed the different circumstances that arise. I hope that the effort to be honest and forthright has proven valuable to some as they carefully consider walking in our path. I am certain too, that there are those who read and sit back in judgment, thinking of how they would handle something better than I...and if so then that means that in another way the blog has been instructional and helpful.

Surely there are those who also say "I enjoy reading the blog, but I would never put my children on display in such a way for the entire world to read about and see...". To that I would only say that I know of at least 2 children who have been adopted as a direct result of this blog (Not Turat and Askar...that was due strictly to prayer). Perhaps some other family has been encouraged to consider adoption or had fears quelled by reading that indeed, things can come up and they are hard...but it is worth it and workable. If so, then that means that other children just like mine have a chance to have what every child deserves, the deep and abiding love and comfort that comes only from being part of a loving family. Knowing that makes it infinitely worthwhile to open up our home and hearts to the world, because in some small way we might just be making a difference. I know in those months prior to comitting to adopt we searched and searched to learn more, grasping at all we could find that might slay the demons that haunted us...demons with names like Reactive Attachment Disorder, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Unethical Coordinators, etc. So much to fear, and so much courage to muster up. Having safely reached the other shore 3 times now, I feel a sense of responsiblity to do what I can to help those who were in our shoes a few years ago.

Last night, as I watched a very short video of "my girls" taken by a friend about a month ago, I had my heart in my throat as I realized all of this, the world of adoption and how our children find us, is so much larger than ourselves. There are SO MANY children who need and I... and so many who will remain left behind, and yet so much we can do if we will only step up and say "Here I am Lord, use me in whatever way you want...". For some that may be adoption, for others it is mission trips, for yet others it is sponsoring a child and making a difference in that way, and believe me from first hand experience even sponsorship can truly change a life.

So here's to one year of blogging! Thanks for faithfully following along, for throwing in your 2 cents worth, for offering encouragement when you sensed I needed it, for the tears so many of you have said you have shed while reading, and for your prayers for our family this past year. Together, we will see what this next year brings!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Pumpkin Time

Today we carved our pumpkins, and Kenny really got into the spirit of it. At first it was all giggles and goofing around, and then once the insides were gutted it was time to get serious. With great intensity all three boys worked on their own pumpkins, with Matthew and Kenny each carving their own with no help other than to cut the top open. Joshua had a little kit designed for the younger set which allowed him to hammer in pegs that light up rather than actually carving it. Everyone was quite proud with their finished product, and mom even managed to get a couple of nicer photos of Matthew and Kenny!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

72 Hours in the Life of Cindy

Here is a rundown of the past 72 hours:

1) Ran to 4 different schools to drop off and pick up kids
2) Oversaw decorating and managed a church Halloween Party with 35+ in attendance
3) Helped a friend plan travel for a mission trip for 20 people
4) Had 8 kids sleeping in my house last night
5) Took 7 kids Geochaching today
6) Went to parent-teacher conferences
7) Had a grand total of 15 kids in my house at various times baking cookies and making mud pies
8) Battled Walmart for grocery shopping
9) Answered approximately 50 emails (conservatively), a couple being detailed answers to specfic adoption related questions
10) Swept the kitchen floor at LEAST 12 times
11) Typed notes for the past two Church Council meetings
12) Ordered Cub Scout supplies
13) Created a blog for our Cub Scout Pack
14) Made meals for 8 (as well as chili for the Halloween party at church!)
15) Had more laughs than I could begin to count

Whew!! Holy Moly, no wonder I am a little tired! Hahaha! While life isn't usually this busy, it often comes pretty close. As I re-read the list myself it is hard not to it doesn't even include laundry, dishes, boo boo kisses, referreeing, etc.

What a gift it is, this life of mine. It is a life I never really dared picture for myself and incredibly almost missed. Yes, my life was neater and far more organized as a DINK (double income, no kids), but it was quieter, much less happier, and far more serious. The addition of a third child has really helped me get my priorities more in order, and the last vestiges of DINKhood have fallen by the wayside. No longer do I worry if the socks are paired with the exact match or if the soup and canned milk in the pantry is aligned in neat, straight rows. The toy room floor is seen about once a week rather than the legos and books and train sets are piled high. The van...well...let's just agree not to go there and hope that one day I can actually locate the mail from 2 weeks ago that is buried between the seats. Behind me sits the laundry hamper with the underwear still not having progressed to the drawers and the kids coming in the past two mornings digging through it looking for clean socks. With all that being said, believe it or not our house is relatively pretty clean 90% of the time...maybe not every room all at once, as that is asking too much but the areas we live in most are picked up daily and the other areas weekly, and the underwear usually does eventually make it into it's proper drawer just as the next load is due to be washed.

What a privilege it is to be in my shoes! I know, to many folks it would be enough to cause them to pull out every hair on their head. For me, it means that the vision I once had of long, quiet, empty years ahead with nothing more important to do than plan our next vacation or while away the hours on craft projects for which I showed no real aptitude has been banished forever. Instead it is replaced by scrapbooking supplies sitting untouched in the hall closet waiting to be brought out when I have a spare moment, and 2 sets of Leap Frog letters scattered across every available space on our fridge. Instead of adventurous vacations we have a living room floor filled to capacity with sleeping bodies burrowed under blanket tents and giggles lasting long into the night.

I have had tons of hugs and smiles this past 72 hours, intimate conversations with subjects being tentatively explored and used as opportunities to share our faith and beliefs. I have had graciously offered thank yous and been begged for bedtime stories by kids from ages 4 to 15. My hair has been spiked and turned into horns with hair gel, I've had a 13 year old young friend tell me "I love coming to your house, I always have fun here even if we don't do anything!", and held hands around the dinner table as we listened to the prayers of each of the children in our midst thanking God for their friends and family, for our presence in their lives.

Now tell me...really...despite the hassles and the chaos, the work and the dirt...who wouldn't want to be me?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fall Fun and Fears

What a wonderful weekend we had, with a trip to the pumpkin patch (the first for Kenny), fun times with our friends, and just hanging out together before we gear up for our busy winter season. It is already pretty cold here in Colorado and we had our first snow of the year, just a dusting that we excitedly woke up to Sunday morning but enough to break out the sweaters and get in the mood for the coming months.

There is a wonderful pumpkin patch in our area where, for the purchase price of a pumpkin, you get a tractor pulled hay wagon ride as well as marshmallows to roast over a campfire, a mountain built out of hay bales to climb on, and hot apple cider as well! As cold as it was, we really needed that hot cider. We took a car load of kids up with us in addition to our own and had a blast, even the older ones who I thought might be bored with it all enjoyed themselves, but then they are very sweet and tender kids who get a kick out of just about anything anyway.

Dominick and I are planning to get away for a few days next week by ourselves, something we haven't done in years and we are really looking forward to our little "mini-honeymoon". I will have a houseful of kids this week while our friends are gone on a trip, and then our friends will have a houseful in reciprocation next week! We still have not settled on a place to go ourselves yet, but we sure have had a lot of fun checking things out on the internet! It won't be anything fancy as we can't afford a real trip with airfare and the whole 9 yards, but we are going to load up the cooler and end up exploring someplace new in our state...if we ever make a decision!

It was while I was explaining to the boys that they would be having a sleepover at our friends house for a couple of nights that the truth came out, and Kenny came back in our room and asked what would happen to them if Dominick and I got in an accident while we were gone. I could see this was not just a casual question, and I pulled him onto my lap where he snuggled in deeply, all elbows and knees still, and we had a long talk. It seems one of the reasons he is having a hard time sleeping at night is because he worries about something happening to us, and his wonderful new life being taken away from him. He said "I not want mommy and daddy to..." and then he makes the slash across his throat and the sound of us kicking the bucket! He added "When I go to bed I think about something happen to mommy and daddy and I scared."

I had never thought about this being one of the reasons he has such a hard time sleeping, I just assumed it was over stimulation from his day and needing to process it all during some down time. He said that he thinks about it a lot, which indicates to me in a very poignant way that he loves his new family and doesn't want to return to the life he once had.

As we sat there with him in my arms, smelling fresh and clean from a bath minutes before and feeling oh-so-vulnerable I explained to him that we had made arrangements even before he came home that our friends, who like us loved him before he even arrived, would be his new parents if something ever happened to us, that he would NEVER go back to the Detsky Dom. I also tried to reassure him that it was likely nothing would ever happen to us until he was old himself, but I didn't want to make promises that I am in no position to keep. He asked a lot of questions and shared his fears as we sat there speaking in lowered tones. He burrowed into me so deeply that it was as if he wanted to jump inside my skin to ensure I would never leave him. I think this was the first time since Kenny has entered our lives that I realized just how much he loves us, and just what his adoption has meant to him. In many ways it has been so easy that you wonder if those deeper emotions are there, but they sure are, and daily I am seeing the tender son that lies beneath the brash and sometimes overconfident exterior.

This conversation also brought me to prayer, asking God to please allow me to be here for my kids well into adulthood, to be able to parent them as long as they need it. After our long road with Josh I have often thought to myself "All that hard work, and what would happen if someday I was no longer here? What would the long term affects of that be on Joshie?". I can not imagine what devastation would occur in Josh's psyche if yet another mommy, whom he finally trusted, left him. It is something that has often drifted in and out of my mind and now I have yet another child for whom these fears are very real. Although I know in my heart that God has taken care of each of my sons thus far and would continue to do so, I sure would hate for them to have to suffer yet another loss in their young lives and hope that this is a moot point for each of them.

It poses an interesting question, doesn't it? Yet another way in which adopted families are different than biological families. It is much harder to reassure your child that you will never leave them when indeed, one set of parents already has.

On another note, things are going better at school for Kenny, he seems to have settled down a bit after our rougher period the week before. It is funny because we have one of those "Special Plates" for each of the boys that we use to celebrate big and little events. Joshie got to use his a couple of weeks ago when he was finally able to unbuckle his own car seat, and Kenny asked me in the hall at school at the end of last week "Momma...2 days good...special plate tonight?".

I also was touched as I drove home yesterday and watched Kenny and Matthew in the back seat of the van as Matthew was helping Kenny figure out his math homework. Watching them in the rear view mirror, seeing only the sheen of their dark hair as their heads almost touch one another while they scrutinize the homework problems together, I was filled with love for my often overlooked older-but-not-older-by-age son who has such a kind heart, one that often reveals itself at quieter less showy moments.

Mommy got to be "filled up" too this week, as I had an awesome time with our church choir. We have a very small choir, averaging around 15 people, and while some have much better voices than others (that does NOT include me, by the way) it is in no way professional. However, we have a very gifted Choir Director who does a terrific job with the talent she has in front of her, and with very little rehearsal time as well. This weekend we had a choir workshop with the a guest conductor from the Colorado Springs Chorale, Don Jenkins. Wow! We learned so much and enjoyed trying out new pieces. There are so many times when life has me feeling a bit challenged and a little low, and I will go to choir practice and be lifted up. Our Choir Director has this ability to play piano with such feeling and emotion behind it, that honestly sometimes with just the first 3 or 4 introductory measures my heart starts to know that feeling when something moves you and you can't describe it? That is what I get from choir. Hearing the blending of the voices when we hit a particularly pretty chord is enough to do it for me every time and suddenly everything else fades to the background and life seems so beautiful and precious because of the gift of song. I was a mediocre musician in my youth (much as I am now in choir), playing the clarinet for most of my school years. But I played all throughout my school years, in marching band and orchestra and while I enjoyed the social aspects of it all, it was the music that kept me coming back year after year. Making music with others is a way of touching your soul, of feeling very much a part of something bigger than yourself...and it translates into an understanding that the sum of the whole is far more expressive than the individual parts themselves. It's kind of a good parable for life itself, the story of a choir with parts blending together in harmony to create something much broader than the narrow sound of a tenor line or a booming bass part. Finding music again in my adult years has brought this long forgotten pleasure back into my life and it means even more now than it ever did when I was young.

All in all, fall is proving once again to be a gentle and introspective time for our entire family, a time of settling in and appreciating all we have, a time of cocooning and sitting around the table in the evening laughing and playing, working on homework and snuggling with stories in front of the fire. Life is good.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Two Different Worlds

Yesterday on the way to school, from the back seat a question is asked of me...
"Momma, in winter, shower?". I wasn't quite getting it so I asked for clarification and Kenny rephrased it "In Kyrgyzstan no shower winter, too America, shower?".

What must it be like to go all winter and not be able to shower often because the water is not heated? We talked more about it and he said sometimes, but not often, they would shower, but mostly they would wash up quickly in the sink as best they could. I reassured him that we take a shower every day even in the winter, and that our water would be warm.

He then went on to offer this observation..

"Kyrgyzstan all so very, very America everything easy. Water, food, be warm, all easy."

Again, it is thrust in my face how much I take for granted, and just how much Kenny's life has changed. He has literally been dropped into the lap of luxury compared to his life pre-adoption. How often do all of us middle-classers complain about not having the best of everything, myself included? It is so easy to forget the mental images those of us who have traveled have stored in our memory banks of people walking with wagons trailing behind them with large containers so they can haul their water home. Homes with crude outhouses next to them, no conveniences like washers and dryers, warm running water anytime we want it, full cupboards and fridges. Multiple pairs of shoes have been appreciated by Kenny, 2 kinds of jackets, and snacks whenever he feels like it are all things that he takes pleasure in now.

But the thing that he needed most, and seems to outsiders to get the greatest pleasure in, is us...his family. We had his first IEP at school this week and while there was much to discuss that was practical and of course, less than perfect with his behavior, every staff person involved commented that he is such a genuinely happy little boy, and that he obviously loves his family very, very much.

I think that there are times when I forget he has only been in our lives 5 months, only had 5 months to adapt to this very new life he is experiencing. Perhaps the ease with which he joined us and the immediate comfort level we had with him has caused me to have unrealistic expectations at moments. It is easy to forget when he reverts to some of the grabbing and pushy behavior, and I casually think to myself "Stop that! We didn't raise you to act like that!"...and then OOOPS! I have to remind myself that we DIDN'T raise him! And then I am ashamed of myself for not having more common sense.

And then there are other moments when I am ashamed, as I read the comments from others regarding my last post and I see the wisdom in one comment that perhaps this time in my life when insecurity seems to be creeping in is God's way of letting me slip into Kenny's shoes for a bit, to help me have more compassion and understanding. I recognize that we all feel like we don't fit in at times, when we wonder if we are heading down the right path, setting the right example for our children, being the kind of wife and mother we should be...and yet still wondering if we ar fulfilling God's plan for our lives.

There are times lately, maybe because of our adoption experiences, when I honestly question if our staid and calm little life here is what we should be pursuing, or if God has a bigger plan for our family that we are electing not to follow. Does that make sense? Are we afraid of giving up the status quo to do something really valuable and serving to others for fear of what we would leave behind? What is in all of us that keeps our feet firmly planted in the life we have rather than trying to do be more... I see people throwing it all away to go do something big to help others and leading a life that is, for them, very rewarding. I think to myself "We could do that someday!" and yet I know we are likely never going to to do anything much different than what we are doing right now, trying to scramble and gain some measure of security for our future.

But then there are comments on the blog that help me to see that our scope of "service" to others doesn't always have to be so obviously self-sacrificing to be successful. I am very humbled to read that this blog has meant so much to others, that it has helped them to explore their own fears, and perhaps assuage a few along the way. I also draw strength from those who express their own feelings of insecurity, their lack of "togetherness" and their hearts desire to just do the best they can even if it doesn't live up to others' visions of who they should be. Thank you all for sharing with me, for making this blog more than a one way "blabfest".

I was standing at the kitchen sink this morning, putting a stew together and looking out the window at all 4 of my boys (Yes, Dominick included)as they worked outside getting ready to put our yard to sleep for the winter, and though the melancholy hasn't quite left me yet, there is always this sense of peace as I see my family working together, laughing together, helping one another accomplish a task...and watching my boys as they grow and learn to be more and more like their Daddy every day. I am grateful that each child in front of me has had the chance to be a part of a family, and I recognize with honest introspection that with God's help, we made that happen, and maybe that IS the Big Thing my life should be about.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It's Been Awhile

Sorry for the delay in posting, we have had a busy and at times very frustrating couple of weeks. Although nothing at all serious, Kenny has gone through another round of testing us, making sure we really mean what we say and has spent many an afternoon sitting on his bed rather than playing. I think most of his behavioral issues stem from boredom in the classroom when language tasks are above his head, and he doesn't have the self-regulation yet to control his behaviors. Things like coloring in school books, erasing things on the board that shouldn't be touched, and the ever-present need to control situations and grab things from people's hands on the pretences of "helping" them are what we are dealing with on a day to day basis. Like I said, nothing at all serious really, but it can be exhausting to constantly correct and be tested on an hourly basis.

Surprisingly, despite his take charge attitude, he has many friends at school now, both boys and girls alike, and they all seem to genuinely like him a lot. As I have said in the past, he has a very dynamic personality and is also a kind little guy, so I think some of the social graces that are not always practiced are often overlooked as the kids seem to be able to see the goodness within. He really is a sweetheart, and rarely makes judgments about others. For example, today I asked him which one of the teachers he worked with was his favorite and he told me "Oh mom, I not pick one, I like them all...all are very, very nice.".

School is motoring right along for him, and he is doing very well considering we are starting at ground zero. We had his first IEP meeting yesterday with the staff who works with him, and while I am disappointed with the amount of time that he is able to get speech therapy at school (1 hour and they are increasing to an hour and a half a week)I am not at all concerned with the quality of work being done with him. While I can understand about 95% of what he says, his speech is very, very poor and there are many sounds he simply can not reproduce at all, mainly those at the front of the mouth. Everyone is compassionate and understanding of his background, firm yet tolerant when necessary, and he is making real strides. So far he knows almost all the names for the letters of the alphabet and he knows the sounds of 4 of them. His math is testing right where it should be for second grade, which is great, and is one area where we can have success.

As Halloween fast approaches we are learning about costumes and pumpkins, and we visited a corn maze where he had a great time. We visit the pumpkin patch this Sunday and then will carve pumpkins, which he seems to understand by showing him pictures. We already have costumes purchased with a Power Ranger, a Superman, and a Pilot...guess which child is which?

Soccer season is behind us with Matthew being on his first winning team. In December he will move on to trying out Tae Kwon Do, which he is very excited about. It is nice to have evenings to settle in as the weather cools and life slows down. I love these cozy fall evenings together, curled up on the couch watching an old episode of The Walton's together or reading a book.

Joshie had a Big Day this week when he FINALLY was able to unbuckle himself from his car seat all by himself, and I felt just a wee bit melancholy at the thought of one more stage now past us. No more babies in our house as day by day Josh becomes more and more independent. I don't really yearn for another baby, but don;t we all have those moments when we wish we could jump back a few years, if only for a little while? But with Josh's new found maturity comes this very special relationship that he and I are developing which grows sweeter by the day. He is a much different little guy when we are alone than when we have big brothers around and this is a very precious time for us together this I am not sure I ever want to give up. He is very nurturing of me when we are out about town and alone together, opening doors for me, wanting to carry things to show how grown up he is, and trying to protect me by stopping me from walking in front of perceived danger from cars, etc. My Little Old Soul and I have some very grown up day to day conversations, often causing me to forget he is only 4.

And then there is, myself and I. I have been kind of up and down lately. Not really depressed or anything, just feeling a little out of sorts I guess. Recently Josh and I went to this pre-school gathering at a pumpkin patch with a group of other moms, and I felt SO out of place it wasn't even funny. We live in a rural area that has grown a lot in the last few years and has gradually become more affluent, and we simply can not keep up with that. Don't get me wrong, I don't envy these other folks at all, I don't have huge desires for more money or material things. But I am a totally classless jeans and T-Shirt kind of mom, I am nothing like the matching designer sweat suit, perfectly coiffed and made up, worrying about getting my kid in the right preschool kind of mom. I don't do Starbuck's, I don't do aerobics, I don't do crafts, and I don't play golf. There are moments when I am feeling insecure and sitting in a room with moms like this that I wish I was more polished, more "together", but the fact is I don't even know how to be like that. It is then that I wonder if my kids are being let down by not having a more ladylike, prim and proper, makeup wearing kind of mom.

Then there is a new writing group which has formed at our church, which I thought I would perhaps give a try. It sounded like fun, and I enjoy writing, so why not? I attended my first meeting last week, and was too intimidated to even share anything I have written. I mean, what I do here on the blog or in Yahoo groups is blab...but this...this was Writing. The first story that was shared blew me away, it was so incredibly well written, so intelligently created...and then others that were equally professional level were read and I shrunk lower and lower into my seat and eventually slunk out the door feeling like a complete idiot, despite the urgings of my friends who were there. It's not that I would be uncomfortable with someone critiquing that I have done, it is that my "work" is more of a joke in comparison to this stuff and has a juvenile quality to it when laid side by side. I was encouraged by a couple of them to submit something and give it a try, which I went ahead and did for next month but I really feel very, very uncomfortable and out of my league and am not sure if I will continue or not.

So I guess I am feeling insecure as of late, and some of it I am sure relates to my own feelings of occasional incompetence in parenting Kenny, questioning myself daily about how to create that balance of discipline and encouragement, trying to push past my own stupid and selfish worries about being perceived by others as a bad parent when he misbehaves or gets too pushy or "in your face". This is a time of growth for me, a time when I am beginning to look towards the future and replace the image I have of myself as a mother of little children with the image of a mother of growing boys...and trying to figure out what kind of life I want for myself as Josh entering school barrels down at me. It is also a time when I am learning to have more patience and allow time to work its magic with Kenny and his maturity as he gradually slips into his new life as one would shrug into a new coat that is cut differently than any other style you have worn. Eventually that new coat begins to feel soft and worn, fitting you like a glove while the memory of the old coat recedes into the distant past. And like that old coat, gradually Kenny's old behaviors and habits will vanish as the new, more mature, more settled Kenny emerges.

And for just a moment, I wonder what kind of Cindy will emerge during the coming months?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Adoptive Mommies and Attachment

There was a question left under "comments" about my last post and I thought I'd address it here where Amanda might be sure to see my response:

"I have a question and you might have answered it before. Did you have a difficult time attaching as well or was it just Josh's attaching to you?

Boy Amanda, what a loaded and terrific question. I read your comment this morning and have thought about it all day long, trying to gain some perspective by revisiting that time a bit in my mind. The more I thought about it, the more it hit me on a gut level that this required real and total honesty, and that once I sat down to write I might not like what came out or what kind of light it placed me in. When I began this blog and saw the number of hits I was getting, it became much more than a way to record Kenny's adoption for our family. I have vowed to be as truthful as I can be about our experiences, in the hopes it might help others who are adopting or have already adopted, and I remembered how alone, afraid and flat out awful I felt during those first terrible months (heck, who am I kidding it was two years!!) when we struggled with Josh's Reactive Attachment Disorder. So here goes, and if I come across as an awful mommy, please forgive me.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have never been one of those sobbing, overly emotional adoptive moms whose tears flow easily when they first meet their new child. Curiosity and a sort of distanced adoration were the over-riding emotions at the time. I obviously felt something very deep upon accepting the referral of each of our sons, but I have never called it "love", as they were complete strangers to me and I have never understood how anyone can think they are in "love" with their new baby whom they have never held or met before, nor do they even know what their personality is like. I am not cold or unemotional about it, perhaps practical is a good term for how I have always approached this first meeting with our new sons. Weeks later, after travel was completed and we were all settled back at home, there have been moments when "it" happened, and I looked into the eyes of my child and realized that another chunk of my heart now had a new name embroidered upon it.

I have never see this as having trouble attaching, but frankly as being more normal and natural than those I have described who speak of deep abiding love for a child they have yet to meet. Now mind you, this is just "normal" for me, and I understand that each of us has our own way of approaching adoption and work at attaching in their own ways, so I am not saying any way is "wrong" per se, but that it would be wrong for me to pretend I felt emotions that I really didn't feel.

With Josh, it was an entirely different ball game. I remember visiting him without Dominick the second day, and leaving the orphanage after spending a very uncomfortable hour with him squirming and screaming. Boy, did the tears spill then! When I left the orphanage that evening, sitting there in the back seat of the car with that incessant Russian techno-dance music blaring it was all I could do to not break out in gut wrenching sobs. I immediately recognized signs of attachment disorder but it was far too soon to label it that due to the newness of everything for him. But deep in my heart, I knew we had some serious things ahead of us to work through. I was so scared, and so filled with sorrow that saying my heart was heavy is far too much of an understatement. It felt as if someone had injected lead into my chest. The thing that was without doubt through all of this was...

We were committed.

Leaving the orphanage with Josh did nothing to allay those fears, as his tiny little body bucked and sweat poured from his face as he screamed non-stop for hours. The following days spent traveling to Almaty and finally home were challenging, at best. His inability to sleep much at all, our inability to offer him any comfort through cuddling or snuggling all made this a very trying trip, and did nothing at all to help the bonding process begin for me. His distress was so extreme, his cries so constant that Russian maids in our hotel in Almaty burst into our room, no doubt thinking this child was being abused. And yet...

We were committed.

We came home, and this time that was supposed to be so special was marred by exhaustion, challenging behavior, food fights, and unending crying and discontent. When I held him, he cried. When I put him down, he cried, arms reaching upwards as if begging me to hold him only to have him immediately and violently push me away. He simply could not stand human touch, it was foreign and created a relationship that he was not at all ready to step into willingly. He never looked into my eyes and in hilarious fashion almost spun his head around as if a character in a "B" rated horror movie to avoid eye contact. Did I love him? Nope, not even close. That is as honest as I can be. I didn't have the chance to relax and love him. This was the hardest I had ever worked in my life at anything, and love hadn't even entered into it yet. I felt deep compassion for this little child, this son of mine whose heart had been so terribly stomped on that he couldn't seem to break down the ice walls surrounding it and allow me in. And still...

We remained committed.

Time drug on, week after exhausted week, night after nightmarish night. We tried Holding Therapy with a specialist, EMDR with another specialist, I made countless phone calls begging someone to help...then I gave up for awhile thinking I would just muddle along and see what we could do ourselves. 4,5 6 months later and still I had a child who was no closer to letting me in than I was the first week we were home. If anything his behavior was more over the top, more defiant and in truth he was more scared than ever of letting go and loving this new mommy who was constantly in his face and wouldn't back down. He was terrified of being hurt again, of being let down by yet another adult in his life. Did I love him yet? No...I did not, at least not in the way I knew a mother should love her child. But...

I remained committed.

You see, one of the hardest things about attachment disorder, and probably the least understood about it is that it is really all about "MOM". RAD kids have been hurt by mom or have an inability to connect with and trust a primary caretaker. Their basic needs for nurturing have not been met and they learn early on that they can not count on adults to keep them safe. These children can be so charming around others, so adorable and even well behaved with those with whom there is no risk of having a close relationship, that people do not have a clue what is going on behind closed doors. They don't see the hostility vented, the anger thrust at the new mother figure in their lives, and no one believes it when mom finally opens up and shares it! "Come on, this cute little guy? No Way!" was the general response received when I finally summoned up the courage to share. And imagine how it feels to have the big build up to an adoption and then the end result is...well..not what you had dreamed of...and then you have to paste on that smile that you dredge up from somewhere and when asked how things are going you quickly recognize that your less-than-enthusiastic response sounds so hollow to your own ears.

To hold a child in your arms who is now yours forever and yet physically pushes you away repeatedly day after day, who often does not acknowledge your presence and yet giggles and smiles for complete strangers is beyond heartbreaking. It hurts in a way nothing else can. I had Matchbox cars thrown at me from the back seat while driving, and food fights with him for months. When we tried to bring him to bed with us he hated my touch so much that even in his sleep (when he slept) he would automatically crawl to the very end of the bed to escape being physically close to me. When pushed too strongly to get close emotionally Josh would become dissociative for hours afterwards, "zoning out" and becoming unresponsive.

All of this occurs before you have ever had the chance to develop a real relationship or to create any wonderful memories that you can cling to when the going gets rough. You are immediately thrust into the fire with a complete stranger, one who is not nice at all, not warm and cuddly but instead is cold and prickly and acts as if he hates you! Not at all the kinds of experiences that are conducive to building a loving relationship. And just when I felt as if it is the last straw...

I remained committed.

Mother's Day 2004 should have been an occasion filled with great laughter and joy, our second son was home! Hurray! Instead it was a day filled with a sense of finality, a day when I recognized that if we didn't get help soon, we were not going to make it. I spent the day crying, wallowing in misery and dread of what the future held. I could see myself living for 18 years with someone who was still a stranger to me, someone who never connected emotionally and eventually turned out to be another serial killer. No, I am not at all do you think the Ted Bundy's and the Jeffery Dahmer's of the world are created? RAD kids when older are the monsters you read about who stick cats in the microwave, who set fire to the tails of dogs, who come at their parents with butcher knives in their sleep. My dreams of a happy and loving home were long gone, replaced instead with the hollow sense of passing by my own son in our halls every day hoping our shoulders didn't touch because I was repulsed by him. I was not there yet, not by a long shot, but I had this imaginary crystal ball in front of me and could clearly see where we were headed.

If I am being 100% honest here, on that day I could also see that in time my patience would be used up, my tolerance limit well surpassed, and that I had the potential to hurt my child because all pretences of loving him would be gone. I was deathly afraid of my heart slowly hardening to the point where it would never thaw towards him, that I would give up and resign myself to it all and then I would be the kind of mother no child deserves. I was not there yet, but it was easily within the realm of possibility and I finally let myself admit it.

How many times can a person step back in the ring with someone who is hitting you repeatedly with the emotional equivalent of powerful left hooks? How long can you continue to keep from reacting when your soul wants to scream at the top of your lungs "Will you just knock it off? I only want to hug you!!!"? What does it take to push a mother over the edge? And making things that much more difficult was having no one believe what you were saying about the kinds of challenging behaviors you were experiencing at home. Night after night of having him wake up screaming from nightmares at least 6 or 7 times and often 10+ times a night was wearing me out physically, and being rejected repeatedly was wearing me out emotionally. Love? You want me to actually love this kid too???

But I remained committed.

We eventually found help, and I came to an understanding that much of this was going to be a test of wills, his against mine. I had to outlast him, to be more stubborn, to continue to act in a loving manner despite his determined efforts to push me away. He had to be given enough time to realize that this time, finally, he could let go and trust that a mommy would stick around and would be there for the long haul. I needed the help from outside to give me the courage to hang in there, to listen to me and reassure me that I was not headed to the Funny Farm but that the private behavior in our home was not imaginary and was understood by someone.

Time heals all wounds is not always accurate, but in this case it sure helped. Slowly, ever so slowly, Joshua began to unlock the door to his heart and let me slip in occasionally. His anger began to recede and a smile would be cracked here and there. I remember the first time I really heard him laugh, the first time he called me momma 7 months after coming home. As his heart was softening, so too was mine, and gradually I didn't have to force myself to "be in character" and pretend to be a loving mom, because I found that I did love this little boy, this resilient, courageous toddler who had the guts to give love a try just one more time. Heaven forbid what would have happened to him had this relationship left him once again feeling bereft. I shudder to think of it.

Fast forward 3 1/2 years, and today Josh and I have an incredible relationship. It is not artificial, it is real, it is deep, it is all I could have dreamed of and yet never dared hoped we would achieve. In many ways, he and I have both visited the abyss and helped lift one another out. I have been blessed with close relationships thus far with each of my sons, even Kenny and I are developing a wonderful mommy-son connection but my relationship with Josh is special, it was hard earned and we each have battle scars to prove it. While I can't say that I love him more than Matthew or Kenny, I love him differently, and his daily hugs and kisses and desire to nurture me too at moments are beyond sweet. My appreciation for his affectionate qualities is greater, as I can easily see what could have been the ultimate outcome.

So in answer to Amanda's question, yes it was very hard to bond with Joshua...the struggle originated with his inability to connect, but it came close to creating the same in me. Had that happened I would have been a very different mother to Matthew and likely never would have adopted Kenny either.

The key to this, for me, was faith. I never, ever would have been able to stay the course or show love when I certainly felt emotions ranging from ambivalence to anger if I hadn't felt beyond all doubt that this was the child that God intended for us to parent. The one constant throughout it all was that I knew God had something to teach me and that He had not steered us towards Josh to sit back and have a good belly laugh, but because I need to delve deeper and learn more than I ever had in my life. I held firm to the belief that God would not have placed Josh with us if He hadn't thought we had the strength to handle it. So during those bleak early morning hours when I was sobbing as I tried to rock Mr. Don't Touch Me to sleep, when I begged him to look in my eyes just once hoping that by some miracle he would see the potential for love there just waiting for him to grab hold, I reassured myself over and over that God has plans we are not always privy to, and I had to wait for it to be revealed to me. I also often thought of God's love for me, of the times I had rejected Him in my life and how He must have felt when I turned my back. I used His love for us as a role model for myself and Joshie, telling myself that God hung in there with me so I could hang in there with Josh, hoping that like myself coming back to God, Joshua would one day come to me with open arms.

I see it now, I learned so much about love and dedication and emotional pain during that long period of my life. I learned that I had the moxie to do the hard stuff, that I was being tested in some ways and I was passing the exam by simply not giving up. With hindsight I now see that Josh was also sent to prepare my heart to accept an older child without reservation or fear. I am 100% certain that Kenny would not be in our home today if Josh hadn't walked me through Hell for awhile. After all, we had already seen much of the worst that could be thrown at us and succeeded...what could Kenny possibly throw at us that we couldn't handle? I think that one reason we feel Kenny's adoption has been so overwhelmingly successful is that we are not at all disturbed by the little things that might have really proven to be difficult for us otherwise. RAD was really a series of building blocks for where we are now, and believe it or not I am grateful for that time with Josh, and I am ever more grateful for the young boy who stands before me today whom I never would have imagined was living inside that angry, resentful infant we brought home. His tenderness today is in large part because he has known pain, he has hurt inside in ways that you and I can never fully understand, and yet he showed more courage than most adults ever would in similar circumstances. I have great respect for my 4 year old son. And it was all because even when I didn't feel love, I remained...


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Parenting Other People's Children

A couple of days ago I replied to a post on an adoption forum that discussed a new book that is out titled "Parenting Other People's Children: Understanding and Repairing Reactive Attachment Disorder". The discussion centered around the displeasure about the title, and how some adotive parents really do not like to think of themselves in that light. I replied, and I received many positive private email responses to my posting, so I thought I'd share my posting here:

"As a parent to 3 children, two from Kazakhstan and one from Kyrgyzstan...and one whom we continue to struggle with from time to time with the residual effects of RAD, I am actually not at all offended by the title and find it very realistic. Sure, I view my sons as "my kids", but frankly, if I don't acknowledge the fact that they WERE someone else's children I can't help them work through the emotions of their own adoption experience. I didn't create the RAD in my child, his life experiences did that were brought on by the parenting choices of someone else...his first parents. I need only pass by a mirror with a son in tow and it is quite obvious that I am parenting someone else's child...and it is equally as obvious to my Asian sons. If I deny that simple fact, how can I help them accept our family's differences as well?

No matter how hard we try, we can not rewrite our children's history to make us the "real" parents, perhaps that is why I am never offended when someone uses that politically incorrect term. To me, it simply doesn't matter...I have the here and now, I have the joy and the "real" parents, whomever they may be have missed out on so much. I don't feel the need to strip them of that title as well. It matters not a whit to me, my sons and I all know who their mom is, who is there for them and who cares for them daily. But I also recognize the fact of biology that I AM parenting someone else's child.

One thing I found when in the throes of the worst of the RAD issues with our now 4 year old son, was that it was initially quite easy to think of myself as a poor mother, to feel so inadequate at helping my son handle his feelings and to encourage him to develop attachments that were loving and appropriate. I remember on a teary phone cal with my own mother when she reminded me "Cindy, don't ever forget that you didn't cause this problem, you are simply the one who is now going to have to do what you can to help him.". Perhaps there are mothers who are more reluctant to get help or to fully recognize RAD, and it is possible that for them, thinking of themselves as parenting someone else's child de-personalizes the experience for them and allows them to reach out for help recognizing they too did not cause it but are following behind someone else trying to pick up the pieces. After all, believe me, it is terribly difficult to admit to someone after a much longed for child comes home that your new son or daughter doesn't seem to care much for you, or worse seems to hate your presence and touch.

I also work hard at helping our sons to see our family's uniqueness as an asset rather than a negative. We laugh often and are seldom offended at being stared at or questioned with poor terminology used. If I let my back bristle up every time someone stared at us or asked if my kids were adopted, then what message does that send to my sons? That they should walk around just laying in wait for someone to offend them by saying something or asking an innocent question? I want our family to celebrate it's wonderful background, not to take offense to every little comment regardless of how poorly worded it may be. We are LaJoy's! We are awesome, we are Kazakh and Kyrgyz and American, we are Asian and Caucasian...but most of all, we are loved and cherished in the eyes of each other. And I could care less if I AM parenting someone else's child, it is I who am having all the fun and the hugs and the half-dead dandelion's thrust at me in a child's version of a beautiful bouquet. The titles aren't what matters, the love is."

So what do you think? Do you who are reading this and are adoptive parents see yourselves as parenting someone else's child? Do you think often about the biological parents of your children? Are you offended if someone asks questions and talks about your kids' "real parents"? Maybe I am the oddball (OK, I admit that I probably AM an oddball!) in that this kind of stuff just doesn't seem important enough to stress over. I am curious about what others think on this topic.