I have a houseful of "lovelies", as my pastor occasionally calls them. Five extraordinary, incredibly kind, bright, terrific kids, each as different from one another as if they, well, as if they came from different
mothersA! Haha! We are a struggling, uniquely happy family who has it better than most in the relationship department, I think. 6 years down the road from our last adoption, from the outside it appears we are settled and well past the turmoil of initial adjustment, past the difficulty of learning English and being able to communicate well, past the challenge of trying to live into the hope God has for all families ...that each would be stable, loving presence in the lives of each member.
From the outside, all looks easier now, and in many respects it is. Anyone who knows us would attest to the fact that we are one solid unit, bound to one another by shared experiences and deep love for one another.
From the inside, I don't know if it is harder, or just a different kind of hard. Grief has arrived like a lightning strike, for all kinds of reasons, some anticipated, some sneaking up and surprising us. You see, adoption is processed and re-processed at each developmental level. A soul abandoned, even if found by another, still remains a soul abandoned in the dark recess of the heart. There are some things an adoptive mom can only be present for, and is powerless to help heal from conscious or even subconscious memory. All we can do is listen and cradle, affirm and nod, and gently guide troubled young souls toward the light.
In the process, our own heart gets rent over, and over, and over again. Often it is barely knit together from the prior onslaught, the scar fresh and pink, and perhaps not yet fully encasing the wounded organ protectively before another incident causes it to be lacerated once again. Moms hearts that have been privy to the evils that have been done to their children are never, ever the same. People see the wounds of the children, but the wounds of the Healing Mother are not even imaginable, and they go unseen, multiplying exponentially with each additional hurting child.
Fall stirs Josh's demons, it always has, as predictable as the tide, it flows in around late October, and remains until the joy of mid-December. Though the toddler years were filled with anger and lashing out, from pre-school on it has been more of an anxious, aching heart sort of thing, a period of about 6 weeks or so of inexplicable unease and distress. The change of seasons and the rustling of the kaleidoscope of leaves is a time of year my Southern California upbringing denied me, and it bathes my soul in a sense of security, and an anticipation of hibernation. It is that very sense of security that eludes my son, as he anxiously runs around our home every few minutes looking for people and animals he thinks have left him, as his sleep is disturbed and even at this very moment he is wrapped up in a blanket on the hearth before me, unable to rest at 6:00 am because those thoughts and those emotions that are so hard to name are filling him with dread.
And what his spirit is really aching
for is a birth mom who left him, and an answer to his questions.
For some children, healing comes, but memory never fades.
Last night was a Perfect Storm, as Josh and Kenny were with me doing errands, and Josh began to talk about how this time of year leaves him feeling so
panic-striken at moments, and with an inner lack of peace he was able to talk about. Near tears, he spoke of his fears around change, how the end of volleyball season leaves him feeling like the end of church camp with a lump in his throat for days. Speaking of the future, he voiced deep fear about Matt graduating high school in a year and a half, leaving the four to attend to their studies without his steadying presence. How that will break Josh's heart!! It won't matter that it is highly likely Matt will still be home with us, studying on his own, wandering through the kitchen in search of root beer and goldfish crackers. Routine and structure will change, his beloved brother will begin the gradual process of moving forward into a new life, and Josh fears being left behind, abandoned once again.
Oh, I comforted as best I could, just as I do every year. I pointed out that change is inevitable, that we are at a stage where we will be experiencing change every year as the kids mature, yadda yadda. None of it helps, and I know it, though it feels it must be said. The only thing that helps is that I continue to be present. Period. That I never leave him, that I listen to his difficult to express pain from an experience prior to his ability to recall. 11 months old when we adopted him, no one ever, ever understands the imprint of loss on infant brains.
And my heart has old scar tissue ripped open. Tears threaten as I hear his quavering voice. God, how I love this kid.
Kenny, quiet in the back seat, years of wisdom packed into that young man who knows when it is time to slip into the background as others work through things, offers his own pain up to join Josh's. He explains to Josh that he knows how he feels, that right now his own life feels so very uncertain, how he feels like it is hard to explain the loss he feels as he contemplates a future that is hindered and likely not to allow for the kind of independence that every teen yearns for. I could hear it in his voice, the grief so deep, as he said he just can't seem to wrap his mind around what a
looks like for himself, and will he ever have a family of his own if he can't even take care of his own needs. This comes off an incredibly difficult couple of weeks that were stark reminders for him of his limitations. At Shriner's he couldn't recall his own birth date or answer other basic questions, and then when he did he got it wrong. He has forgotten his iPad 3 different times and almost lost it. He forgot the Sunday School materials at future even . He has forgotten to work on an entire unit for school, though he had it written down, because he forgot to check his list. He fears a life of dependence, a life of loneliness, a life unfulfilled of dreams of ministry, of marriage, of parenting. church
And the jagged edges around the Kenny portion of my heart truly never heal, for I fear the very same things for him, and though I will do everything in my power to see to it that at least those dreams that are possible are
lived into, there is only so much either of us can do with a broken brain.
I came home to find Angie on the couch, and we had a conversation that lasted the two hours until I had to go pick up Josh at
gun club. What began as a discussion about school and fitting in activities quickly devolved into deep sobs as grief literally poured out of this beautiful spirit that is my longed for daughter. Being 17 years old and in 9th grade is hard, mixed maturity affects every one of our kids and is something that is hard to explain to others. Ages don't fit grade levels, desires don't fit cultural norms of when they ought to be doing what, and it feels judgmental when people inquire, when in truth it is really curiosity and nothing more. But every single one of us in our family, at one time or another, grows weary of being the "weird ones" who everyone thinks they have the right to ask intrusive questions of, or make painful comments about. Questions about dating, college or career, or where your family is when they are standing right next to you but are of a different race become painful over time, a reminder of how you don't fit in.
Angela is also struggling with school work, as it is becoming clearer that she, sadly, did not escape the likely effects of alcohol either. Olesya, at 16, is still working through whole numbers in math, has yet to be able to comprehend decimals easily, and fractions are even more elusive. Thankfully, that is the only manifestation of a childhood and certain in utero exposure to alcohol. Memory seems to be where Angela is experiencing it, and as her work load for school has increased and is growing more challenging as she has entered
9th grade, she is finally really seeing what I have seen for awhile but been unable to put my finger on, and it causes her great concern. Vocabulary words I have explained in depth, when encountered later the written assignment, are completely lost, and even as their definitions are looked up it is as if she has never seen them before. for
"I don't always want to be the foreign girl", she also grieved deeply, her beautiful accent causing everyone to question where she is from, also casting doubt upon her assertions that yes, I am her mom and not her foreign exchange host. Though an innocent and logical question, it is for our family a way of delegitimizing us. Explaining every single time you are out who you are and how you belong together is not easy, and I
can not count the number of times we have had to answer foreign exchange student questions.
It is more than the accent and being
questioned though, and through her tears she spoke of how questions such as those bring her wretched and very painful past immediately to the forefront of her mind, and she feels like she can never, ever let it go because the world won't let her. She has a new life in which she is cherished beyond all measure, but she is sometimes haunted by a past that was horrific, and she knows she can never forget all that came before, despite being so very grateful for where she is now. I also am certain that survivor's guilt exists below the surface around all of this as well, for this is the year most of her orphanage mates will be dumped on the street, no future, no hope, no loving family there for support.
And what can I do to ease the pain of a lost and very broken childhood? What can I do to help her work through anxiety about very real truths, very real suffering? And what others can't possibly understand is the mixed maturity in our home that convolutes everything, and leaves me doubting every single move I make. 17 year olds who have really only had 5 years of childhood and desperately want more, and yet a culture that tells them they ought to be acting like 25 year olds. 16 year olds who are mature acting, but whose hearts and minds are really only about 13 or 14, yet the world sees atypically responsible,
unteenage like behavior and assumes they are far more mature than they are. Angela was asked by a mom several times if she wanted to go to a barn dance last weekend with the homeschool high schoolers, and each time she politely declined, much to that mom's surprise. Angela looked at me and just said, "Maybe next year, I am just not ready for that sort of thing yet." showing a wisdom that makes me incredibly proud of her. Our kids have not always had all the experiences necessary that allows them to respond as their age related peers do, but they "look" normal, and that causes confusion for some. The only thing I could think of to share with Angela as she expressed concerns about being older and not fitting in, and being uncertain about her future, was that we talk about being present to the moment at church a lot, and maybe the single best thing for her to do right now was to just be present to the Spirit and her spirit in each and every moment, to simply be in 9th grade, take in all the love around her, and when the future or the past lures her, to call herself back to a safe and known present.
Sometimes, the only thing I feel I can do
is fiercely protect my childrens' right to be the developmental age they are and not let the world push them forward before they are ready. Every kid feels it when it is time to spread their wings, and so will ours. So I try to shield them a little from the barrage of well meaning questions about driving, dating, and futures. To those closest I have explained, "Imagine you have only had real love, safety and security in the form of a family for 5 years, then imagine everyone telling you how you have to begin to pull away from them." Most of our loving friends understand once explained. It is growing harder as they grow older, innocent questions open cans of emotional worms that wiggle out and spill all over the place, unbeknownst to the inquisitor.
And all I can do is grab those worms, respect their existence, and gently place them back in the can and snap the lid on tight.
I write these blogs for myself, because sometimes it is what needs to happen for me. I need a place to set it all, and then sometimes, on good days, I can walk away from it having dropped a heavy load elsewhere. But I also blog for the thousands of other parents out there who read this blog, who are hurting and parenting the hurting. As I told Angela with great vehemence tonight, there is NO SHAME and NO EMBARASSMENT over any of this. We are all
victors, we adoptive parents and children, dealing with brokenness in the best ways we can, trying to emerge whole at the end. Things were done TO our loved ones, and we all carry very heavy weights around as we do what feels so darned impossible ...heal cracked hearts, discern hidden disabilities, teach connectedness and the need for relationship after years of no one to lean on. Our parental silence hints at shame, at lack in ourselves, and it sends a message that this is something to hide, these very real painful experiences.
I guess my writing and our family's willingness to allow me to share openly is our attempt to take the cover off and come out of hiding. Other parents need to know they are not alone, other parents need to know they are doing the best they can and that others feel as impotent in the face of their child's grief as they do. My children have nothing to be ashamed of, not a single thing. They are out of the norm, true, but what IS normal? We are learning healthy ways to express emotions, we talk about our feelings openly, and together we heal and move forward into new life. There will be scars, some that will hinder futures, but all will still move forward in some fashion. And as I shared with Angela, those scars can be reminders of not just a terrible past, but can bring a smile to our face when we think of how far we have come, and how very loved we are now.
But sometimes, my own tears and scars are just too much. The weight of things right now feels at moments unbearable, the past couple of years
have been incredibly hard in ways I haven't shared, because doubt, insecurity, and struggle can only be shared so often before they cease to matter. Perhaps if we weren't homeschooling, my heart would lighten, but not a single day goes by without doubts assailing, as I question if I am doing enough, am I doing too much, and wonder what in the heck is my yardstick because not a single person I know is in my position and there isn't anyone to turn to and ask, "Am I doing ok? What am I missing? Am I meeting everyone's needs in the best possible way? Am I ruining them for life?" When there is so much healing work in the mix, it is hard to have confidence. I share this only so that other moms, homeschooling, adoptive, or otherwise, will know they aren't alone ...and the issues continue well into the future. When you think it is "over", it really isn't.
I know there is no need to compare, but the world does it for us, doesn't it? Then we are left with a frightening concern that we are not enough, we hide our scars as if we caused them ourself. Not me, though others may not understand why I share, not me. I am proud of this difficult road we walk, I am proud we have made it this far intact, I am proud to be called "mom" to the most beautiful hearts in all the world.
I may be proud, but damn it hurts sometimes.