Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why Openness?

Why do I believe in open contact even when families are dysfunctional, addicted or even actively participating in criminal acts?

Because I believe it's best for my kids.  I took my son to meet his biological father in a Federal Prison.  Was that easy?  Of course not.  It was scary and overwhelming and slightly nauseating, and that was just for ME, I cannot fathom what he was feeling, but it was still totally the right thing to do. 

Why?  Because my son wanted to.  Because it's his truth and his reality.  Because he has a right to love his parent even if I would rather my kids never talked to anyone who has ever used drugs in their entire lives. 

Because he needed to know with his own ears that he was loved BY THEM. 

My love, my overabundant, over whelming, huge amount of pure love for my kids cannot erase their need and desire to be loved by their original parents. 

And he needed to know it and hear it at five and six and eight and thirteen, not at 18 or 21 or whatever random age the state told him he was allowed to know.   Because he needed to know, for real, that I respected his needs more than I worried about my own insecurities.   Because he needed to see that I LIKED his biological parents good parts in order to truly believe deep down that I loved all of him too.

How could I deny him that?  How could I deny my child ANYTHING he needed even if that means I get really, really uncomfortable.

Is it easy dealing with things that I have absolutely ZERO life experience dealing with?  No.  Honestly, I never thought I would be traipsing to prisons to visit people important to my kids.  I never, ever fathomed that I would EVER have a police officer drop by to retrieve stolen property during a visit with anyone in my life EVER.  I didn't fathom a life where I had to explain to children why the person we are visiting once hurt them, and why it's ok to be angry at someone and then still be ok to love them.  I didn't expect to be comfortable explaining mental illness to a six year old or the effects of sexual promiscuity to a ten year old. 

I have never so much as smoked a cigarette in my life so I never really thought I would have to understand intimately the power of addiction and its affect on my children. 

But you know I really, really love my kids.  And they are really, really amazing kids and they are really, really worth it. 

I understand that some would use any of the ample excuses at my disposal as a reason to close an adoption.   Run-ins with the police, active addiction, inappropriate gifts, uncomfortable situations, angry family members, criminal activities are all reasons we hear for closing up relationships.  My kids first parents live complicated, confusing, difficult lives.  That I do not deny. And I love them. 

I love them because I see in their eyes the beauty that is my children.  I see that with a different life and different choices and different supports they could have and would have and most importantly SHOULD HAVE been safe parents to our children.  I see pain and broken hearts and hurting people.  And I see parents.  Parents who have little to give other than love, and that's ok with me.

These complicated, difficult people who make horrible choices in many areas of their lives treat me, and our family, with respect.  I don't know why they do, but they do.  So I trust them to love their children, our children, my children within the boundaries that are safe.  And they do.  And if ever we are not treated in a why I wish we were, I forget easily, forgive quickly and explain endlessly our boundaries.

Yesterday, after all the craziness of puppies and police, I watched my two year old be snuggled by her other mother.  The woman from whom she inherited her beautiful smile and striking eyes.  The woman from whom she inherited a curiosity that cannot be stated.  The woman who created her.  And that woman, that mother, said over and over again "I love you!  I love you!  I love you".

My two year old who can't sit still longer than 40 seconds may not value those words today, but I know she would one day feel their absence intimately.   She may never know what it costs both of the mothers sitting in that room to forge a relationship together, but she will know she was loved deeply by both of us. 

And that is a good enough reason for me.

Further Chronicles

Imagine for a moment the following scenario ...

You arrive at a visit at your child's biological family home.

Now imagine that without your prior knowledge they have a puppy there that they intend to give your child as a gift.  Imagine that they do this in front of you.

Imagine You say that you CANNOT and WILL NOT keep the puppy.   But you will find it another home.

Now imagine that fifteen minutes later the police arrive at the door of the home demanding said puppy as it was stolen.  And valuable.

And imagine that you tell the police where the puppy is because noone else is volunteering the information.

Then imagine the visit going on for another hour like nothing ever happened.

I have a good imagination.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

They just keep growing up

My baby boy has been away from home for a week visiting his "second home" and spending some precious time with his most favorite people in the world, who happen to be my sister and her family.  It used to be that this little man could not handle being away from his mama for very long at all.  On one visit to my sister's house he blamed his nose bleed on the fact that his heart had broken because he missed me so much.

Yesterday when I tried to talk to him on the phone he made sure to mention I was interrupting his PS3 game with his cousin and in answer to my "I love you kiddo " I got a hurried "yeah me too".  I am saddened that my muchkin is growing up but so happy that he can spend this time with his cousins.  My sister is easing my sadness by sending along pictures of my happy boy.

Thanks Jess.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Aboriginal Day and Homecoming

We drove 6 hours with 3 babies two years old and younger for a round trip to bring the girls to a celebration of culture and history put on by the other First Nation that makes up their history.

Today the girls joined in the celebration of the Shuswap Nation's Homecoming and Reconciliation Ceremony.

It was wonderful.  But the whole 6 hour round trip drive with 3 babies means I am too tired to say much more!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Just call him Dad

Shelby came from a family of four siblings.  The youngest by 6 years, he was the rather spoiled and favored son whose mother was still folding his laundry and making his lunches until the day I married him. 

Before we got married, we discussed children and our future plans.  We knew we would adopt.  I had travelled the world at that point and had spent too much time in too many countries with too many children to be in denial that orphanage life is any life for a child.   It was a non-negotiable point in my marriage criterea.  Marry me, and we will be adopting older children who would otherwise not be raised in a family.  

Apparently he wanted to marry me.

Then we discussed numbers.  Shelby thought anyone with more than two kids was probably insane.  He argued rather adeptly that anyone he knew with four kids spent all their time PARENTING and none being fun grown ups.  You know things like dirt biking and water skiing and sleeping in. 

And so we settled on three children being our ideal number. 

We had Tanner, then adopted Greg and Eric.  Nine months later, and the DAY before Shel was going in to have his vasectomy we found out we were pregnant with Caden.  Apparently we were going to have four.

Shel forever gave up his dream of being that magic parent that still managed to squeeze out a life separate from his parenting duties. We prepared for being parents of four boys ages five and under.


Shel adapted and grew and stretched and loved.  And now, today he just laughs about our large family. Sometimes God knows best.  And BEING a dad is apparently the very best of what life has to offer.

If any man deserves all the toys in the world, it would be my husband.  Without complaint he gives up the luxuries that so many other men around us have.  A nicer dirt bike, a boat that he actually fits in, a vehicle that doesn't have seating for eight.  Because he is a dad to many, a great dad to many. 

Without complaint he sacrifices all his wants and alot of his needs for us, his family.   We love him and appreciate him and all he does and gives up for us.

Thank you Shel. You are loved.  I wish I could give you that bike you want. Hopefully one day soon.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dance Like Noone is Watching

Today we took some time out of our busy end of the school year to honor our girls and their culture at a local powwow.  They wore their jingle dresses and "danced" in the circle.   If was fun.

Well, mostly.
Taya would like you to know it was just too hot, thank you very much, and she wanted to go home and take a nap. 

She let us know this by walking into the center of the dance arena, throwing herself backwards on the ground and wailing at the top of her lungs. 

This forcing her very white mother (me)  to walk in front of a very observant group (everyone else) to the very center of that dance arena to go and retrieve her very cute, but very non compliant child (Taya).

She would not, absolutely not, dance in the beautiful jingle dress that took hours and hours to make.
She wanted juice and a nap.  Cultural awareness be damned it wasn't in HER plan for the day.

Sometimes even the best of intentions can be undone by an overwhelmed two year old.

Parenting is hard.

Its full of mistakes and second guesses and worries and wonders and trying your hardest and still not know the right answer all the time.  

Parenting teenagers is brutal.

Let's say that together.  PARENTING TEENAGERS IS BRUTAL. 

My kids are GOOD kids.  Great kids, and its still B-R-U-T-A-L. 

Did you know there are horrible things in this world that want to destroy MY kids??  Did you know that they are faced with such enormous temptations that I cannot even fathom? 

I know they think I am ruining their lives.  And all I can do is pray that I am not.  I hope one day they understand how very, very, very, very much I love them and only want the very best things for them.

Until then I am going to pray and drink alot of wine.

And not really stress about the future cultural implications of my grouchy, strong willed, totally amazing two year old who didn't want to dance.

Because oh baby did my one year old love every second of it.

And that's what parenting is about. 
You really just never, ever know ANYTHING.

Monday, June 14, 2010


They bring it.  They give it.  They live it.

And soon they will be called it too.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Ever Boring Normal

We wake up.  We have coffee (well the grownups anyways).  We eat breakfast.  We get dressed.  We play outside.  We go to preschool.  We eat lunch.  We have naps (well the kids do).   We play some more.  We eat supper.  We have a bath.  We go to bed. 

My days are the same as they have always been yet I breathe.  I laugh.  I honestly do not know what to do with myself.  With all my free time.  With all my energy.

I do not have to email social workers anymore.

I do not have to write daily notes about what the girls do or who we talk to.

I do not have to lie awake endlessly worrying about the what-ifs. 

I had no idea how much energy stress and worry was robbing from me.  It had been a very, very hard year.  And on May 6th when the girls became "ours" the emotions still rang sharp.  The next day I felt more relaxed.  I felt myself smile a little bit more.  The next day, and every day for the next week this just increased.  Until finally I remembered what normal felt like.

Then I was exhausted because once my body relaxed it needed to recuperate. 

And now?  I am learning to live with normal. 

Well as normal as a stay at home mother of six kids can be! 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Teens, Toddlers and Two Year Olds Part 2

My alternative title for this post is "Letter to a Young Mom".  The things I wish I knew and understood the last time I parented little ones.

Dear Jen,

Enjoy the moment.  This will pass quicker than you can imagine.  I know you hate buckling three car seats every time you need to go out but soon you will be talking about getting their licenses. Car seats are safer.  Tomorrow you will take them to kindergarten and in a blink you will be planning for college.  Cherish this time.

One day they won't want to watch cartoons in your bed and you will miss it.  One day they won't want to sit on your lap when you are trying to read the newspaper, and you will miss it.  You are going to miss those endless minutes of reading the same bedtime story over and over again.  You will still be able to recite the words and he will laugh and remind you he isn't a baby anymore.

One day, very soon, you will look up to your little boy.  He will be stronger than you, taller than you and he will want to protect you.  This will change you as a mother and as a woman.  Treasure the times he wants to tell you about his day because soon you will know nothing. 

RELAX. You are home with your kids, not home with your house.  You will still be doing endless loads of laundry in 10 years and even more in 15.   It's OK to leave it for an hour to finger paint.  Your boys are going to track in mud.  Over and over and over again.  Breathe.  One day you will wish they were there to do it.  There are many, many years for a clean house and those years will come. 

Dance more.  Yell Less.  Forgive yourself for not. There are no perfect mothers.  Those other women you think are perfect are not.  They are as scared as you are.  And if they are not today, they will be one day soon.   Be satisfied with being human and let your kids be human too.  Be satisfied if your kids are not perfect.  Their imperfections are not a reflection on your failures as a mother. You will forget how worried you were about spelling tests. 

You are doing your best and that has to be good enough.   You will yell, you will cry, you will make mistakes.  You will spank when you should hug, and hug when you should have spanked.  Today's crisis will be tomorrow's lesson and it will mean nothing to you in a year because it will be replaced by some new crisis that feels bigger but really isn't.   Your kids will still love you even when they hate you.  You will still love your kids even when you don't like them much at all.  This is the mystery of motherhood. 

Get over yourself.  There is much in life left to learn and you know but a minuscule fraction.  All those things in life you are "sure of" you will one day question.  Judge less.  Listen more.  Some people are experts for a reason so hear what they say.  And then forget what doesn't apply to you or your family.  Remember, you are the expert on your kids but even you can be wrong.  

Take care of yourself because your world can change in a blink.  Life is going to get hard and you are going to crack under the pressure if you don't.  Taking care of YOU will make you a better wife and mother.  You are going to wish for a rewind button so you could know this before 35, but you don't now young Jen, but I wish you did. 

Life with little kids is tedious amidst the wonderful.  I know you feel like these days will never end and you may never again be able to sleep through the night or go through the day without wiping someone else's bum but these are precious moments.  Hug your little ones just a little bit tighter today Jen.  Savor the sound of their little boy voices that will change soon and be lost forever to the recess of your memory.  Dig in the dirt.  Take a silly picture.  Pause.

Mostly my dear young self, remember these are the moments of your life.  You will cling to these memories, even as they fade, so celebrate the moments.   You are blessed beyond measure. 


Your old self.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Busy Mom Means Lazy Blogger

It's summer time.
And Common Sense dictates that we go outside.

And that means the computer gets shut off and Mama goes outside.

And Happy Babies
Make Many Memories

And Mama forgets about blogging for a day or two.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Teens, Tweens and Toddlers Part 1

I was once her.  That young mom with a whole load of toddlers racing to play group while worrying about my gym class and whether or not we would be meeting friends for lunch.  I was 23 when Tanner was born, and 25 when we adopted Greg and Eric.  I look back and wonder how - WHY - did a social worker ever trust us to adopt a sibling group?  But alas, they did and there I was the very young mom of three very young boys. 

Then I was 27 when Caden was born.  A pretty average age to be becoming a mom in the grand scheme of things although the few times the hospital referenced me as being of "advanced maternal age" I wanted to drop kick someone.  It wasn't until I realized I would be sharing my hospital recovery room with 3 other mothers, not one over the age of 17, that I saw my age in a somewhat different light.  Apparently I was mature. Experienced.  Capable.   I was placed in the roll of "mentoring mother" by the hospital during my week of c-section recovery.   Our first act, gently correctly a young father who was trying to buckle his newborn into the car seat upside down. 

I felt like a pro at the whole mothering business.  And pretty much any mother out there that can juggle four pre-school age boys should be given a medal, that I do not dispute, but oh I was PROUD.   We were YOUNG parents.  We were doing things the right way.  Our kids would be gone by our early forties and we would be spending our adult years travelling the world.  Our mantra?  "We might be OLD now but we are going to be YOUNG at 45!" 

I am ashamed to admit that when I, at 28, stood in line next to a 45 year old mother as we waited to pick up our First Graders I actually had the secret thought that quite possibly I would rather be shot than be 45 and have a child in elementary school.  You do realize what comes right after pride right? It will be here that the older, wiser me mentions the naivety of youth and begs your forgiveness.   

If you are reading this you know the end, or at least the middle, of this story.  (by the way this sentence will terrify my husband who now believes that kids just will keep appearing on our doorstep forever  and ever)

I am 34 and 35 years older than the girls.  I suppose, by no means an ancient mother, but certainly not a "young mom" anymore either.  I am older and slightly less perky version of the mother I once was.  I am also calmer and wiser and infinitely more aware of how quickly this phase of life passes. 

I attend those same play groups I attended a dozen years before with the boys.  I am surrounded now by young moms obsessing over the dates of kindergarten registration and what type of diaper works better.  I participate in the conversations but I walk home knowing that what I was so worried about when they were two means nothing at fifteen.  I like that knowing, but it terrifies me far more than it used to that one day, inevitably, my two year old will also be fifteen.

Fifteen is so infinitely harder than two. 

Today I talked drugs and death with my teens, snuggled my tween and tried to prevent my two year old from flushing my dish cloth down the toilet.  Guess which phase is easier?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It's all in a Name

I remember when I got married I felt a brief twinge at losing my maiden name as I took my husband's name as my own.  Was I giving up my identity?  What about that feminist pride I held dear to my heart?  Would I be an equal if I was giving up my name while he gained a wife?  I miss-spelled that name the first time I tried to sign it after our nuptials and wondered quietly if it would ever feel like MINE or would I always feel like an impostor carrying a name that was not my own.

That twinge was forever erased when I stared at the hospital bed that held my newborn son.  Next to his perfect little body was a name tag and that name tag held OUR name.  On that day I became part of a family.  We were a family.  We were THAT family.   That family included my precious first born son and I could not ever imagine holding a name that was different than that of my child.

Naming our adopted sons continued to be important rite of passage for claiming in our family.  Eric's name was not going to be changed except for the addition of our last name but for our oldest, changing his name was crucial to his healing.  He was a "junior".  Named exactly after his abuser, in his mind, at that age, he needed to know that he wasn't the same person.  We kept his first name essentially the same (changing it from Greg to Gregory) and added a new middle name.   Initially we were told that he had no legal middle name, and at 4.5 we let him choose one (with some guidance because Tarzan just wasn't going to be OK with this mommy).  He chose a name we loved and he was thrilled with the princely connotations of his new middle name. 

Home with us three months, he suddenly realized that his new middle name was not the shared middle name of his new daddy and new brother, and he demanded immediate recourse.  "Jon" was added to his name, and that of Eric's name as well.  Jon is a family name.  The middle name of my father, also their great grandfather as well he boys' cousin and of course their dad and both of our biological sons.  At the adoption finalization ceremony the judge literally penciled in Jon as a second middle name to both of the boys and over the last decade, that has been an important part of their claiming our family as their own. 

I have talked to the boys regularly about our decision to change their names.  They are PROUD of their (our) last name, and it does come up often enough in conversation that I know it has meant alot to them as they grow up that they share the same middle name with so many of our extended family.  They have their original birth certificates.  They know what their original name was.  They know why we changed their names, and they know they are forever a part of our family.   They also know they have the legal right to change their name to whatever they want when they turn 19.  But I do believe that being of one name has been an important part of their claiming us, and us claiming them, as family.  A permanent, forever, an ALWAYS family.

And so we face a decision.  A name change is not automatic with the legal procedure that brought our girls to us as daughters but it is a decision we need to make.  We don't make this decision lightly.   We have talked with a psychologist, we have talked to long term foster parents, we have talked to children raised in foster care and we have talked to social workers.  Universally they state that having the same last name is a psychological benefit for children with this life experience.  Naming means permanence and claiming and legitimacy.  It labels us as a family to the entire world we will interact with.  But I question if I am taking something that isn't mine to take, or am I simply giving something that they rightly deserve to have?

Certain images ring clearly in my memory.  There is the 12 year old (foster child) who cried on my shoulder that all she wanted was the same name as her (foster) parents, not that she didn't love her mother, not that she didn't value that connection but just that she wanted to be part of a "normal" family. She didn't want the stigma of every classroom friend, every teacher, ever coach knowing that she didn't "really" belong to the family that was raising her.    There are my facebook friends who also happen to be kids raised in foster care who change their last names to that of their (foster) parents as time goes on.  Taking the name that the system has not bequeathed them, yet life has.   

There are my sons who are adamant that the girls' names must be changed, and changed quickly.  My 14 year old who can't express why but just tells me through watery brown eyes that is is IMPORTANT and he doesn't know how to say it any different than that.  There is my 15 year old who asks if he can change his own name to Xavier 'cause it's SOOOO COOOL  but that he definitely is keeping Jon and as such the girls should get my middle name. 

Alas, that is the angst of our decision.  I will bequeath our last name easily because I do feel that there is strong evidence that being visibly part of our permanent family will benefit the girls.  But my secret heart has always dreamed of a daughter.  A daughter to whom I can give my middle name as my husband gave his.    Joy.  My middle name.  And merely stating the desire makes me feel selfish. 

I do not want to rob my daughters of their heritage, their name as a gift from their other parents, their first parents, but I do ache to give them this connection to me.  My "experts", the adoptees I live with and raise and call my own, unanimously vote I should.  But I know others would believe differently.   And so we debate and discuss and pray. 

What am I missing?  Is it a gift or a theft? 

There are three options we can do  (well four if we don't change anything).  

Birth First Name - Birth Middle Name - My Middle Name - Our Last Name

Birth First Name - Birth Middle Name - Bio Mom's Last Name - Our Last Name

Birth First Name - My Middle Name - Bio Mom's Last Name - Our Last Name

I am looking for input here.