Sunday, December 4, 2011

Boats and adoption

I pondered how to write today's blog.  This is a public forum and so it is doubly important to respect people's privacy.  I also feel it is important to say that yes, we struggled.  Part of the point of this blog is to help other people see that they are not alone.  Please understand that my story will not be filled with the details but that I will attempt to share the emotions behind this time period in my life.

In trying to figure out how to start this blog, Charles Dickens's famous "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" comes to mind.  K4 came to us with some issues.  She had a rough start in life...which was only compounded by her time in foster care.  Her history is her story and I will not share it here.  That is for her to tell.  What I will say, is that for the next four years K4 struggled to trust us.  She struggled to walk away from the bad influences in her life and she struggled to embrace the new values and ethics we were trying to teach her.  We struggled too.  We struggled to stay calm in the face of problems.  Our anger and frustration sometimes consumed us.  There were times I was afraid to come home and even more times that the screaming at night drove me to do middle of the night Wal-mart runs, just to get away. (Thank you Walmart for being open 24 hours)  I wonder how many times I sat in the car drinking a bottle of orange juice and eating chocolate covered donuts?  Well, according to my waist line, it was certainly more than once.

From the day I saw K4's picture, I knew I wanted her to be my daughter.  I then saw her in a video clip on CBS for Wednesday's child.  I knew I had to adopt her.  My husband and I immediately called the county and started the home study process again.  Now, usually home studies tend to take several months.  But our timing was impeccable and we apparently had some luck on our side.  We were able to immediately jump into a training class that was to begin a week later.  After 20 hours of training, a social worker came to our home to visit us.  Within 5 min of sitting on our couch, I had handed her just about everything she needed to complete our home study...things that most people only find out about and START to complete when they meet the social worker for the first time.  Since we had been through this before, we knew what was needed and had a stack of papers ready to go.  Our CPR and 1st aid certification had been updated, additional training hours had been completed online and our certificates printed, our pets vaccine records, our medical records, finger prints, back ground checks, our letters of reference and the large stack of question and answer pages that they had given us at the end of training and been placed in her hands.  Now she only needed to complete the required visits, tour our home and write up the study.  She was a bit flustered and said that she had never had anybody do it this way before.  Guess that is just my Type A personality showing through.  Well, it worked.  =)  We had our home study completed in just 6 weeks, and our new daughter came home.

After a few months, K4's intense fears and anger started to crumble our reserve.  The behaviors were at times overwhelming and I didn't know if we would survive.  She even ran away a few times.  I remember one night sleeping on the cold, hardwood floor blocking the front door so she couldn't leave.  I was terrified something horrible would happen to her.  Around the same time, my husband's family disowned us.  It had nothing to do with us adopting.  We did what we knew what the right thing to do, and not everybody in the family agreed with us.  I don't really care, at least I can look in the mirror everyday and KNOW that I always did what I believed was right.  God never said doing the right thing would make our lives easy, in fact, he specifically says doing what is right will often be painful.  At a time when we were trying to teach our struggling 14 year old about unconditional love and a forever family, she was watching her new family on her dad's side say that not only was love conditional but that it can be ripped away from you based on lies.  This made it difficult to teach K4 that we would always love her and be here for her, that family was forever.  It was a very dark time in our life and I look back and wonder how we survived.  I truly thought that we wouldn't.  To this day we still don't have contact with certain people, and to be honest, I now realize that God knew that those people should NOT be in my children's life.  To put it bluntly, their ethics and values were vastly different than ours and we really didn't need their values interfering with what we were trying to teach our children.

K4 had the courage to keep trying.  I know there were times that she wanted to give up.  I know there were times that I handled her completely wrong.  Robert's EXTREMELY wise grandmother once said to me "when you yell at a child, you change them forever."  Every time I lost it with K4, I would remember grandma's (AKA Saint Elaine's) wise words.

We knew that we needed to do better for K4.  We eventually happened onto a different kind of therapy.  Something that FINALLY understood traumatized children.  We threw ourselves into the training and really tried to change how we looked at parenting.  We PRAYED that being trained in emotional regulation would be our answer.  We realized that THIS is what our original training in California for K3 had been about.  Look beyond the behavior and identify the trigger in order to modify the behavior.  Dr. Brian Post's stress model made so much sense to us.  We bought the books, we attended extremely emotional seminars and we started to put things into practice.  We made a lot of mistakes.  My husband and I still struggled because although we had attended all the same trainings, we somehow got different ideas about the "right" way to implement it.  In the end, we realized that what was important was remaining calm and remembering what our goals were.  1.  Make her laugh everyday, 2.  Help her graduate high school and 3.  Don't let her get pregnant.  We were both headed to the same destination with K4...but needed to take two different paths to get there.  I tended to be the parent that set the firm boundaries, while he tended to be the parent that was more about comforting and working through the problems.  4 years later, K4 graduated high school, had laughed most of the days, and was indeed not pregnant.  In fact, she graduated a semester early!  It would take a couple more years for her to finally accept that we would be her family forever.  She is now in college, holding down a job and engaged to guy we really like.  She joins us for church on Sundays and calls home every few days.  Ya, I would say I was blessed to win the lottery a second time.  She is turning into an exceptional adult.

In 2008, K5 came into the picture.  She was a beautiful 11 year in a different state and she had been waiting for a family for 7 years.  People were shocked that we would consider adopting again.  I can understand why as many of those people had helped carry us through the hardest times and most likely feared that we would need even MORE help.  I am certain they were overwhelmed.  My husband's best friend point blank asked us why, after how hard things had been, would we even consider changing the family dynamics that had only recently begun to settle down into something comfortable.  For us the answer was easy.  We love children...and we love the sound of their laughter in our home.  But it was more than that.  My husband explained it best by asking his friend to imagine being on a leaky boat in the middle of a large lake or even an ocean.  He explained that the boat would float but would need somebody to help bail water out sometimes.  As you are sailing along, imagine seeing somebody floating in the water struggling to stay a float.  They are yelling for help.  Do you stop and pull them aboard or do you sail by?  For us, all people deserved to be loved and given a chance at life.  We choose to haul them aboard.  And so, for the 3rd time, we won the lottery.

Yes, K5 was a challenge at first, but we had become experts on the behaviors she exhibited from parenting K4.  She could be stubborn...well, still can be, but she has a heart of purity and innocence that is not often seen in foster children.  She has been in our home for just over 3 years and honestly, you wouldn't believe the transformation in her!  She is doing well in school, in fact, she even makes honor roll some semesters!  She is active and fun loving.  She is passionate about what she believes and will stand up for those that she loves.  Yes, we are blessed to have her in our family.  Although, we believe she is of German decent, I think somehow some of my Irish temper and need for "everything in its place" was genetically transferred to her.  We'll just say...she and I are alike in many ways and leave it at that!

Wow...5 kids already in this story, and I have 2 more adoptions to tell you about.  Do something special tonight.  Take 15 min with your child.  Don't plan anything in particular.  Just sit with them undistracted  from household chores, work or the phone.  Just follow their lead for 15 minutes of emotionally connected time with your child.  Enjoy the peace you will feel.

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