Category Archives: adoption

The Boy Who Would Belong

“He’s a lucky boy” they say. As if we were doing you a favour by adopting you. What they don’t know… What we didn’t know… Is how much we would need you. To brighten our days. To keep us laughing. To soften our hearts and stretch our empathy. To shake us out of ordinary and tweak our priorities, over and over and over again.

You saved me this year. This horrible year of your sister’s cancer diagnosis and long hospital stays. I know this year was hard on you, you’re still uneasy without the whole family together under one roof. And our calm routine was shattered, which made life unpredictable and uncertain. Except for you, I could always count on you to make me smile. It’s impossible to despair with your little body wrapped around my neck, and squeals of “I missed you so so SO much mommy!” and “This is a special, special day!”

You have a nonstop, megawatt, irrepressible grin that spreads joy in your wake. You don’t walk and run through life, you hurl yourself at the world. You have a genuine sweetness, a kindness that most of us can only simulate.

This year you discovered fear, though not always in the best places (for instance, running into the road is supposed to be scary, Mario-kart characters are not). I hate to see you react with terror, though I’m proud you are learning to be brave. Best of all, I’m relieved that you turn to me, to your dad and sisters, even friends and teachers, for comfort so confidently. I promise I will always be your safe place.

You’re just a little boy, even now at five years old, you’re still my baby. I wish I wasn’t such an exhausted, overwhelmed and distracted Mom, but I hope you will never doubt how unshakeable my love for you is.

Parenting isn’t about the getting, but the rewards often come all the same. You are the answer to prayers I never put into words. You are a gift.


Happy birthday!

Love

Mom

And now, a word from your father…

Dear S,

Happy Birthday, Big Guy! 5 is a huge year – you are ready to take kindergarten by storm! (Hope they’re ready for what’s about to come their way!)

What a year it has been for you. We’ve watched you grow by leaps and bounds in front of our eyes. With age has come some wisdom. We were finally able to take down the guards from our second floor deck railings, and I haven’t caught you balancing on top of them yet!

Of course, your default speed is still set to “Go fast, think about the consequences later… or maybe never at all.” As much as it causes me gray hairs (like last summer when you escaped my eye and went missing at the State Fair for 20 minutes), as someone who tends to overthink everything, I think I actually have a little something to learn from you about seizing the moment. (But let’s not get too carried away, okay?)

You may not remember this when you get older, but it’s also been a tremendously difficult year for us, with B getting very sick and spending lots of time in hospital. For way too many nights and days, you were missing Mommy or Daddy as we took turns taking care of your sister. I’m sorry for all the time we weren’t able to spend with you Buddy. But, I’m proud of how you rolled with things, never knowing who might pick you up from preschool on any given day. You did amazingly well with all the chaos. Thanks for pitching in!

Things are going to be a bit different when you go to school. You’ll be spending more time away from home, making friends and starting to build a life of your own. I’m so excited to see where it leads you… and I promise I’ll be right beside you every step of the way.

I love you Buddy! Happy 5th Birthday my son!

Love,

Daddy

So here begins another round of birthday letters… To the world, so they will know how special you are. To the someday future you, so you will never forget.

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Unpacking: Two Years Ago Today

The tag on the back says “12 mos” – a measure of size and not age. I shake out the blue and white checked pants before folding them, tangible proof that our almost two-year-old is much smaller than most his age. Tiny shirts, pants, footie pajamas and an impressive array of cute onesies emerge from cloth shopping bags, filling the mostly empty drawers. I move the size 2 outfits we’d purchased to the closet. The weight and height measurements we had gleaned from medical files did nothing to prepare us for the Lilliputian dimensions of our brand new toddler.

Brand new to us, that is. Up until now he’d been an abstraction, the idea of a son sketched out in black and white via e-mails and social workers’ reports. He had seemed to come to life in daydreams fueled by my own fervent desires and charitable impulses. Caught up in my excitement, his big sisters painted this very room themselves; a sloppy, but affectionate gesture. Jungle green smeared over princess pink walls. Lions, tigers, bears and a miniature Webkinz elephant were rescued from stuffed animal purgatory to serve as both decoration and entertainment.

He came with his own stuffed animals too. Clothes, toys, soothers, a neon mobile that plays nature sounds and lull-a-byes at the press of a button; I’m told he prefers falling asleep to Bach each night (classy). He has a favourite blanket, book, game, food, way of being woken each morning and, no doubt, a thousand other things I didn’t even think to ask about. In real life, we have more questions than answers. I have no idea if he’ll like his room.

When I brought my daughters home, these same drawers were bursting with clothes. From day one I was the acknowledged expert on who they were and what they needed. It wasn’t that complicated; newborn infants are more potential than established personality. But almost two-year-olds don’t fit neatly into the boxes my imagination had constructed. He came with his own things. He came with his own identity.

A worn blue T-shirt, obviously a favourite, clutched in my hand, it finally occurs to me that, in all their wisdom, the Government of Canada, under the auspices of the Ministry of Child and Family Development, has seen fit to give us an actual person.

First steps in the door bringing our new son home forever!

First steps in the door, bringing our new son home forever!

So here’s us, two years after first bringing home boy. We’ve learned a lot and we still have a lot to learn. It’s been a wild ride! It never ceases to amaze me that they gave us a real, live person. For Keeps!

We love, love, love this little guy. Happy FOR KEEPS Day to us!


My Son

Of all the things that surprise me, a whole year after our adoption, the biggest is the undiminished pride I feel when I slip the words “My Son” into a conversation.

Capital letters: MY. SON.

20130715-201634.jpg

And I might… possibly… slip them in more often than is strictly necessary.

Perhaps it is those years when all those typically “boy” things (which my girls disliked no matter how enlightened and gender neutral we tried to be) – the dinosaurs and matchbox cars and hockey gear and train sets – sent a little ping of grief across my heart. All the things I never got to have or do or be with the baby boys I lost.

Perhaps it is the length of time we had to wait for you. Wondering. Imagining. Making plans that ended with “… if we have a new baby by then.”

Perhaps it is the way I feel we earned you. Not like a possession or a prize… but coming home at the end of a hard fought, life changing journey.

And perhaps this is how adoption, and every other scenario where kids don’t come the easy way, is different. Most of the time, having a child requires only a small amount of planning, if any. Two of mine came without any planning at all (surprise!). They are not any less (or more) precious for it, but I took being their Mom for granted.

It just happened. It didn’t require much thought or soul searching. I never felt the need to prove it or defend it. I didn’t have to work hard to get there. Those maternal instincts came pre-assembled.

But you, My Son, we made this Mother-Son thing together. We built it ourselves.

So when I talk about you, I puff up my chest and emphasize the words: MY Son.

So here’s me, an obnoxiously proud Mama. Even more than usual (and I was already pretty obnoxious, according to the oldest kids).


Homecoming Day

A year seems like a long time. 20130618-153034.jpg

I was pretty sure we’d have you ALL figured out by now. You, and adoption, and parenting a boy, and adding number 4 to the mix. Oh, and life. I had planned to have it ALL figured out by now.

It’s not like we’re completely in the dark. I’ve got a few more pearls of wisdom tucked away these days.

Things like…

Keep a Kleenex handy at all times.

A kerchief around the neck is a great “look” (and unobtrusively collects drool).

When the Kleenex runs out, use the inside of a shirt.

Child locks only work for other people.

See also: keeping things up high.

Boys climb – anything, everything, all the time.

Snot trails on a shirt are a badge of honour.

The big sister honeymoon period lasts 3-6 months depending on age and frequency of iPod-chucking-down-the-stairs-incidents.

Keep extra toothbrushes on hand for inevitable toilet/garbage/”helping” scrub the floor moments.

Thomas the Train is quite possibly the stupidest, most mind-numbingly boring children’s show. Ever.

Sesame Street never goes out of style.

A year ago today, we grabbed our brand new diaper bag, a newly installed car seat and every ounce of courage we could muster as we headed down the road to pick up our son and bring him home for good.

The past month had been an emotional whirlwind. A tentative dance toward parenthood – part courtship, part boot camp; strangely wonderful and scary, with gusts to surreal. Of all the different kinds of crazy we’ve been through, this counts as the most overwhelming time of our lives. And we had a good experience – better than most.

We fell in love with you immediately. You fell in love with your new Daddy, and you eventually tolerated me. But even that was a good sign – you were solidly attached to your foster family.

That made this day even harder, though we knew that your healthy bond with them gave you the capacity to build the same with us. But not right away. Not without time and work and a bittersweet goodbye.

I can’t put into words how much we relied on Sally (foster mom) to help us through. This wasn’t her first rodeo. She helped us navigate the handoff.

Keep it short. Keep it simple. Keep it real, but hopeful.

So with teary eyes and brave smiles they said goodbye.

With teary eyes and grateful smiles we said…

Welcome Home!

So here’s us, one year down… fifty to go. Can’t imagine life without our boy!

Memory Box

For Keeps: the Big Day Arrives

My son is 25% boy and 75% snot. Although we were finally getting the hang of sleep at night, all night long, today we are bleary-eyed and grumpy. And slimy (see above re: snot).

It’s not what I pictured when I imagined this day. In my daydreams we are smiley and dressed in our best (and naturally I’m 20 lbs skinnier). We stand before a stern but fatherly judge and solemnly vow to love, honour and cherish our son forever and ever amen. The audience of happy, tearful friends and family cheers wildly. The sky is filled with fireworks and/or flower petals floating in the wind (I can’t decide), as our family walks arm in arm out the front door of a quaint old courthouse.

Choruses of angels sing. A flock of doves bursts into flight. Adoption Finalized!

Roll the credits.

Reality is a lot less like the wrap-up of a sitcom. Today, at 11:41 a.m. on a Tuesday, we get an email from the Social Worker. “Congratulations! It’s official. His new birth certificate is in the mail.”

No fireworks. No cheering audience. No solemn vows. Just a lot of paperwork and waiting and an anti-climatic finish.adoption-Paperwork

“What to Expect When You’re Adopting” has a lot more blank pages than traditional family growth. There’s no standard 9+month timetable. No firmly established rituals as we transition into a new version of us. We make it up as we go along. And I wonder if the rest of the world realizes that it’s every bit as Miraculous, Thrilling, and Magical.

We were “expecting” for almost 3 years. The labour and delivery wasn’t quite as bloody as most, but terribly hard work. We don’t track it in hours or even days, but months. 7 1/2 months since we brought him home. 7 1/2 months of making him our own. 7 1/2 months of making us his own. Until today, at 11:41 a.m. on a Tuesday. Adoption Finalized.

We’ve been a family for a long time. I wondered if this would make any difference at all. Would it calm the last vestiges of irrational “what-ifs” in my mind? Would it matter?

Despite the lack of fanfare, the answer is: absolutely.

Another heart clenching, surreal, overload of emotion as we close this chapter. And I held him extra tight, snot and all, in the middle of our everyday, hustle-bustle life. You might not know it to look at us, but something amazing happened today!

So here’s us, officially, legally, forever a family.


The Why of Adoption

The mother and daughter sat silently at the table rolling out play dough and carefully cutting it into shapes, while I chased my boy. He stole stickers off the craft table and stuck them on the walls, jammed a piece of plastic ham in the mailbox, snatched a ball from the curly-haired toddler, tried to climb the gate and bounced around the room shrieking with happiness. The quiet Mom caught my eye and asked, “Why?”

She was asking what most people think, but few actually ask. Especially when they hear that he has three older sisters. Why another? Why adoption?

why

Why DID we adopt the boy?
Because he needed us.

We are so blessed. We want to give back. We want to make a difference. We believe we were put on this earth to make it better.

Parenting is one of the most meaningful things we do. We enjoy it. We’re not perfect, but we’re not Springer material most days. We have a special skill set as parents of a special needs child. We experience a level of chaos and neediness in our home that is not going away anytime soon. Why not add another one to the mix?

There are so many children who need stable, loving homes.

We have a stable, loving home.

Why did we adopt the boy?
Because we needed him.

We had always planned to have more children, but after B I wasn’t able to. That agreement we made in high school to have 4-5 kids certainly wasn’t binding, but I had a deep longing for another child; Glen had a deep longing to keep me happy.

We had discussed adoption since Glen’s first visit to a Russian orphanage. I have several cousins who are adopted through foster care. It was always an option for us. It had intrigued us from the beginning.

No matter how many times we tried to scuttle this crazy adoption dream, it wouldn’t go away. Our family didn’t seem finished.

We were missing someone.

Why did we adopt the boy?

Because we wanted to.

Because we had room.

Because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I flipped through my mental rolladex, trying to come up with the right answer for Playgroup Mom. I’m pretty sure I stuttered out some combination of all the above. Because the answer that popped into my head right away would have made little sense to her.

We adopted him

Because he’s our son.

All the reasons we had to start out with are still valid, but on this side of adoption they seem too small. It isn’t just about us. It isn’t just about him. He is ours, because it was meant to be.

It was God’s plan.

This is a phrase that has been so often misused and misunderstood that it makes my skin crawl to write it. But there’s no better way to express the strange sense of “rightness” we feel.

We didn’t receive any signs from above. We didn’t have a mystical experience. We could have, and almost did, walk away from the process. We stuck it out, with all our uncertainty, until we read about THIS toddler. Then we knew. By the time we brought our boy home, we knew he had been ours all along.

When he was conceived, we were just finishing up our application for social services.

When he was developing in the womb, we were sitting in parent education classes.

When he was born, we were renovating our house to make room.

When he was being rocked by foster mom for the first time, we were waiting for our social worker to call.

When he was celebrating his first birthday, we were sweating our way through home study visits.

When he was pulling himself up to stand for the first time, we were disappointed with another adoption lead that went nowhere, and beginning to wonder if there was a child for us at all.

When he was taking his first step, we were reading an email about a little boy with a big smile and energy to spare, who seemed like just the right fit.

Grandma found these PJ's for the boy: our "Best Gift Ever!"

Grandma found these PJ’s for the boy:
our “Best Gift Ever!”

Mary Hopkins-Best studied hundreds of adoptive families for Toddler Adoption: The Weaver’s Craft. She found that one of the clearest factors associated with a highly satisfied adoptive family is the “intuitive belief in the rightness of their adoption.” This held true regardless of how difficult the process or how challenging the transition or how extensive the needs of the child. Whether families trust in God or fate or instinct, believing that this is the best decision you have ever made makes all the difference.

So here’s me, where hindsight gives a new perspective. Adoption is about giving. Adoption is about getting. But more than that, somehow, mysteriously, adoption is about finding each other.


The Language of Belonging

It’s called “claiming behavior.” It’s a big part of adoption, especially with an older child. Intentional actions to physically demonstrate belonging, not just for the child, but for our whole family.

We put pictures of him on the wall, alongside our other children.

We made sure his room was ready for him.

We put his old toys from foster family alongside his new toys on the shelf.

We talk about “our family” a lot and include him in all our traditions.

We got him a health card with his new name on it.

We insisted that the hospital change the name on his file, even if they weren’t willing to change the number “until it is final.”

Last week, I bought him a stocking that matches all the rest.

Nothing tentative. Nothing temporary. This is home and he’s here to stay. Of course, he’s only 2, so I’m not sure how much of that translates. But his sisters heard it loud and clear. And we did too.

The first six months of an adoption placement are viewed by some as a trial period; a see-how-it-goes-and-if-this-thing-takes time. But we’re not wired that way. You can’t practice commitment. And parenting requires commitment.

You never know what you are going to get (not with adoptive or birth children), but parents weather the storm. And even when things take a turn for the worst, even if you can’t be everything they need, even if they have to live elsewhere or are out of your control or screw everything up in the scariest ways… you don’t bail. You scramble and fumble and give tough love and soft love and why-isn’t-this-enough-to-fix-you love, until the end. The parents I see in the most painful situations with the most at risk kids are ones I admire most. Not because they are perfect or do everything right, but because they are there. Parenting requires commitment.

This is the part where it would be so easy for me to devolve into a rant about adoption dissolution. Remember the mother who put her young son on a plane to Russia, returning him to his country of origin like he was a malfunctioning toaster? I was gratified to hear she was charged with child neglect and abandonment. This type of thing is a sadly common story, and that is probably the reason for six months of custody before finalization of an adoption.

Heaping trauma onto an already hurting child seems unconscionable, no matter how difficult they may be. Yet, I can’t sit here, with my happily-ever-after story, and judge these overwhelmed parents. I don’t know what it is like for them or why their families fell apart. I just know it’s devastating all around.

When we brought our boy home, we brought him home for good. I’ve had my moments of paranoia and anxiety: that unhappy birth family may contest the placement, that social workers may decide they’ve found a better match, that aliens would steal our bodies and replace our consciousness with their own… None of them likely scenarios. Still, it is haunting when we have made an absolute commitment to parenting, but aren’t legally his parents yet.

Right now, we share custody with the ministry. Officially, he is a ward of the state. We are required to inform them of any major changes in situation or health problems. They have to sign off on significant paperwork. We do not have a birth certificate or identification for him. Obviously, they hold this lightly; they WANT us to step up and parent and leave them out of it all.

But I will breathe easier when we are officially the sole guardians of our son. It’s more than just a piece of paper. It will give us all the rights and responsibilities of any parent, exactly the same as our other children. And it is on the way.

Today it is six months since we brought our son home. Today our social worker is applying to finalize (which usually takes 2-3 months). Today we begin the last leg of our journey, and when it is over we are going to have a HUGE party! Today we celebrate 183 days of rough and tumble, snuggly and sweet, loud and crazy!

What better way than with this modern-day ritual – another claiming behaviour for all the world to see.

stickfam

So here’s us, in cheesy stick family format on the back of our mini van.


Normal isn’t ALWAYS a Bad Word

santaSo, I’m not a big fan of Normal. I usually think being just like everybody else is pretty lame. BUT, there are times when it is a victory.

Normal, chatting about how big kids are getting and Christmas plans and rainy weather.

Normal, passing the baby around and squishing those chubby, chubby cheeks and reminding toddler hands to give “gentle touches.”

Normal, brothers jumping from tile to tile down the hallway and exchanging high-fives.

Normal, crying at the sight of Santa and reaching for Mama and scowling for the picture.

And if that normal comes to a meeting of birth family and foster parents and adoptive parents (and a social worker in a pear tree), when normal comes then, it’s called: SUCCESS.

Our first meeting around a conference table in a strange government office was tense and awkward, with gusts to civil. So I expected the same with this first Brothers Meeting.

I know that it wasn’t easy for any of us. Nana’s hands, and voice, shook as she explained who I was to her oldest grandson, again. “Your brother’s new mommy. He has two now.” Poppa shows up briefly, but quickly retreats. I think this is harder than he imagined.

Birth Mom was sweet and calm, just like I remembered. Seeing her side by side with our son, I can see the resemblance more than ever. It endears her to me. She is important. I guess I’m more secure than I thought.

I knew the baby would win me over (who can resist a chubby 1-year-old?), but it is the 4-year-old who steals my heart. He has that same energy and sweetness that makes our boy so charming.

It seems like many of my blog posts are filled with angst-y, ramble-y complaints and worries. The next day I rethink my emotional exhibitionism. Does the whole world need to know what a neurotic whiner I am?

It’s not that life is unceasingly hard; quite the opposite: our life is a happy, full one. But normal rarely drives me to write.

Yesterday was normal. When I hoped and prayed for civil, I got pleasant. What a nice surprise!

So here’s us, surprisingly content with our new normal: openness with birth family.


Staking a Claim

He learned a new word. A word MOST parents of toddlers dread. But when he pressed his drooly little finger to my breastbone and said it, my heart grew 10 sizes.

“MINE!”

He also applied it vociferously to apple slices, a fuzzy blue blankie, Daddy’s iPad and every item he likes during a two day period. Then it slipped away, as most new words do these days. It makes infrequent appearances now while he channels his energy towards the newest, greatest, most exciting word. Yesterday it was “cookie.”

mineI know it probably wasn’t the profound statement I am making it out to be. He is trying on new vocabulary. He is possessive in the way of all 2-year-olds. He is the youngest of four and prefers to remain the center of attention at all times.

But I need these moments. I hold onto them with both hands. They are a gift of proof. Reassurance that the future we hoped for is reality and our faith is not in vain. This was meant to be. He is our son. He is MINE. And I am HIS.

This same week, while at Mother Goose singing time, some unknown element triggered a bout of grief. Whether it was the colour of shirt she was wearing or the way she had done her hair or the smell of her perfume, S latched onto one of the other Moms with a frantic grip. He screamed, “Mama! Mama!” and would not let her go. Lately he calls everyone “Mama,” so that part didn’t hurt, but the anguished cries as I pried him off of the poor woman… that stung. It happened several times until we finally left.

We have spent time with her before and since then. He doesn’t pay her much attention at all. Obviously, that day, he was reliving something. And I played it cool and acted like it wasn’t a big deal. I mentally rehearsed all that I knew about unpredictable grief and trauma, and reminded myself that this is not really about me at all.

Rejection is hard to take. Rejection from your own child is especially brutal.

So, when he reaches for me, when he fusses about me leaving the room, when he checks to makes sure I’m still there, when he makes strange, when he snuggles into a hug… I need it just as much as he does.

The greatest surprise of this adoption (apart from my pitiful stamina in the going-without-sleep-marathon) is how insecure I feel. In my mind I know that things are going well; that attachment is a process and although messy and overwhelmed much of the time, our family is thriving. But my heart is not so confident.

Tomorrow we are getting together with birth family. It will be our first outing with S’ two brothers. The three boys are being raised in different homes by different people, and none with birth mom. Hopefully they will sit on Santa’s lap so she can have the picture she wants so badly. Hopefully they will play nicely with each other. Hopefully the adults will play nice too.

So here’s me, once again, not as calm and mature about the whole thing as I thought I would be. Losing My Cool is becoming a theme. But I also hope that birth mom gets a good visit with the boys. She must already feel rejected and replaced. I’ve had only a small taste and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.


Cutting the Adoption Strings

I left the boy in Sunday School for the first time this week.

He was fine. He gave me a kiss goodbye and was immediately distracted by cars and friends and buckets of toys to be dumped out. He played with trains and babbled happily to the teacher. He put stickers on a page and sat in the circle for story time.

I should have been happy. It was the first service I sat through in months. A rare chance for Glen and I to be WITHOUT the littles: holding hands, sitting with the grownups, listening without distraction, without drama or tantrums or grabby, sticky hands on my face.

But I cried at the door. I lingered behind all the other parents. I felt sick going down the stairs. And I choked on the songs we sang.

Doesn’t he need me? What if he does need me and I’m not there? Is it too soon? Am I compromising attachment? Have I been hovering too much? Will they really call at the first sign of sadness? What is wrong with me?

I don’t stress about my other kids this way. Not even B with her special needs and behavioural issues and one-on-one helper and pull-ups at age 8. I know them. I know what they can handle; what to expect from them and for them. I trust my instincts.

But the boy is new. I love him every bit as much as my other kids. But I don’t know him the way I know his sisters. The four months we’ve had together have made a huge difference. But I haven’t been raising him these past two years. And the instincts just aren’t there.

Or maybe they are there, but I question too much to hear what they have to say. I wonder about the traumas he’s been through, the adoption itself, his medical issues, his temperament and personality, and what his version of “normal” is supposed to be. When things go wrong, I panic. When things go well, I doubt.

The rule of thumb for adoption is: however long you were apart from your child, that is how long it will take to feel that seamless sense of belonging. That means almost two years of adjustment – for me! So much of our focus has been on making HIM feel safe and loved and truly at home with us. But it cuts both ways.

Those first weeks felt like a really long babysitting job. I had to keep reminding myself that I am the Mom. As wonderful and magical and God-ordained as adoption is, it is not a natural situation. My boy is not home-grown, and transplants take time.

We are adjusting and growing together every day: sleepy morning cuddles, dancing to Jukebox oldies in the living room, ‘helping’ me clean the floor… He fits. This IS where he belongs. And someday I won’t even remember life without him.

Until then, parenting isn’t quite the same. My emotions run high and my confidence is low and my big 2-year-old boy gets treated like a baby sometimes.

So here’s me, having a little trouble cutting the apron strings.

Linking up to The Parent Hood for the first time!


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