Saturday, April 28, 2012

I thought it would never end...

High school graduation is just around the corner for K1.  Of course, K4 graduated 4 years ago and K6 graduated 3 years ago.  Adopting out of age order really messes with my mind sometimes.  Regardless, K1's graduation has caused me to spend some time reflecting on my 3 oldest children and their achievements.  You see, there were times I thought it would never end, I thought these children would be with me forever.  But life went on...

K4 came to us at age 14.  She was a hurt and angry teenager and that was a lot to take on.  She was in 8th grade and there were days that I was hurting so badly that I thought the day she would graduate and move out of my home would never happen.  But there was also many days that were good, and I couldn't imagine life after she grew up and moved out.  After she graduated, we really started to develop our relationship.  There are many reasons she was resistant (as was I) to bonding and attaching while she lived in our home.  She came to us with fears that I didn't know how to handle, and I am certain that I handled many badly.  But I loved her then and I love her now.  The only difference now is, she loves me too.  She is less afraid of me.  She is less afraid of life.  She moved out, had a horrible experience with a room-mate and moved back in.  In that moment, she realized that our family was truly forever.  She finally understood that family meant more than a place to live until age 18.  She is about to marry now.  A terrific guy that we will be proud to have as a son-in-law.  I look at the confident young woman she has become and I am so glad that we didn't give up on each other - I am proud of the fact that we survived those hard years when she was so angry that her anger threatened to consume her and pushed her into many less than desirable behaviors.  Those high school years were hard, and I thought they would never end...but they did end, the hard parts anyway and now we have something much better.  Trust, strength, love.  I am not saying we have a perfect relationship...but our relationship is developing ... perfectly.  Together, we are putting together her dream wedding...but just a few years ago, she would go days, even weeks, without speaking to me.  Working on a large project like this wedding would have been impossible.  She has grown into a fine woman with a loving heart.

K6 came to us at age 18, and I thought it would never end.  I thought she wanted to be with us forever and I was excited to offer her my home, my family and my love.  But it came to a dramatic end when she decided she needed to be closer to her "people" in her home state.  I was devastated and depressed.  I guess she did what she needed to do, but our relationship suffered for it.  Don't get me wrong, we don't fight or anything.  She is my daughter and I love her...but in many ways she is a stranger to me.  She never stayed around long enough to truly develop a deep relationship.  Although there is now talk of her and her husband moving closer to us - so maybe there is more hope.  Yes, she is married now, to a really nice young man.  I have only met him twice.  The first time was the day of their wedding and the second time was at Christmas that same year.  He was then deployed to Afghanistan and only returned last January.  So really they are both kind of strangers to me, but they are my family and I love them.  K6 recently found out she is pregnant.  So come November, I will become a "Grandma."  This is a strange thought to me since I am currently raising a 6 year old.  When did I get old?

I gave birth to K1 17.5 years ago.  On that day, I looked into his eyes, and I couldn't imagine a day that he would be a man and ready to leave my home.  My heart swells with pride as I think of his accomplishments over the years.  I remember his first steps.  I remember him learning his alphabet on the computer - before he could talk.  I remember him swinging a bat in t-ball and I remember his first crush on a girl.  I remember arguing with him in the car.  I remember trying to stay calm when he was trying on "independence" in the teen years through defiance.  I remember how hard he worked to logically work through our problems once the anger had left us.  He has a wonderful heart, a strong sense of ethics, he is goal oriented and has a wonderful girlfriend (for the last 2 years) that I adore.  He is turning out to be a good man; and one day, he is going to be wonderful husband and father.  But again, I thought it would never end. Ya, ya, ya...he will always be my baby.  Except, he isn't my baby.  He is a fine young man about to embark on the world.  I know I have taught him a lot in life, but there is still so much I should have found the time to teach him.  I just thought I had more time...

I know that my adult kids are still here.  It hasn't really come to end.  But this era of their life as come to an end.  The era in which they need me.  I am sure there are many things I have done wrong with them, but the one thing I did right, was to love them passionately.  Passionately enough to argue with them, to make demands on them and do everything in my power to guide them into adulthood.  Despite all the frustrations that I thought would never end, I am proud of them and I can't wait to see what they achieve in life.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Letting Go...

I recently read a pretty good book called "The Girl in the Italian Bakery" by Kenneth Tingle.   It started off as a cheap book from Amazon for my Kindle (snatched it for .99!!!) ...and ended up having a large impact on me.  The story was the type that I find myself reading a lot of...kid has struggles at home, those struggles bring out negative behaviors, kid ends up in foster care...kid eventually grows up and has to figure out how to be an adult and not let his past dictate his future.  I am drawn to these books, often a true story, trying to find the magical solution to helping my children from foster care overcome their past.  I have attended private and family therapy sessions,  trainings, meetings with school administrators, meetings with social workers.  I have attended, shoot, I have HOSTED, adoption support groups trying to find this elusive solution that will change the world for these children.

For the first time since college, I found myself using a hi-lighter in a book!  Well, a digital hi-lite on my kindle...oh how the times have changed.  But really, there were certain lines that resonated with my observations of children.  Like this insightful little snippet (look!  I even used my digital "hi-lite" - pretty cool!):

I try to teach my children not to stand on the sidelines in life, to get in the game; don't let that little voice of doubt get the best of you.  Give everything your best effort; you may not have that chance again.  Believe in yourself; you are no less important than anyone else on the planet.  Treat other people the way you want to be treated.  Don't look down on anyone.

Wow.  Now, I realize that these are all statements that we have heard from various people over the years, but at the exact moment I read it, my mind was ready to receive it.  I thought about the fact that THIS is what I try to teach my children.  All summed up in one small paragraph.  My children have come to me beat down and so low on self-esteem, that getting in the game is not an option.  They are too busy just trying to survive.  And that little voice of doubt, well, it is not so little.  It is SCREAMING at my children.  It probably sounds a lot like what adults in their life have screamed at them.  How about "you are no less important than anyone else on the planet"?  These kids have been kicked to the curb numerous times, unloved, unwanted.  Battered and abused.  Too me, teaching my kid that they have VALUE and WORTH and are IMPORTANT is the hardest part of my parenting.  Treat other people the way you want to be treated and don't look down on anyone.  The adults in their have have TAUGHT them to be angry and hurt other people. And now, they are only behaving in a way that follows the example they were TAUGHT.  They have been looked down on.  Don't believe me?  Think about the fact that foster kids often wait YEARS to find an adoptive family.  How often is that true of infants?  Why?  Ask your friends their impression of children in foster care.  I bet you hear about their "baggage" and they aren't worth the heartache and trouble.  I could be wrong, but I seriously doubt it.  So how do I combat this devastation and low self-esteem with my children, this negativity that has been shoved down their throats for years?

As emotional as I was pondering all this, I still had more tears to shed.  The many issues I faced raising difficult children, the battles I fought with teachers, the battles with government agencies it all boiled down to a lot of anger inside me.  And the next line from the book, nearly took me out.

I have no anger or hatred left toward anyone.  In the end, it only hurts you, not them. anger is NOT punishing those individuals that have been so difficult?  Reading this line over and over again, I realize that it is so true.  Our anger eats us alive - and the person that we are angry with has moved on and probably couldn't care less.  This anger builds resentment and frustration, it increases our stress level and hinders our ability to bond and attach. And yet, my children live with this day and day out.  They are angry that they were abandoned and abused.  They are angry that they didn't get a "normal" childhood.  They are angry that their case was not managed better or that teachers don't understand why they can't stay organized when their whole LIFE is disorganized.  They are angry that we don't understand why they are so angry!

So here I am again, wondering how to help these children.  And the only magic solution I can find is love.  Plain old, unconditional, whole heart love.  Loving them when they are hitting me.  Loving them when they are screaming at me.  Loving them when they won't do their chores or homework.  Loving them when they are defiant.  Loving them enough to stay calm when they can't.  Let me say that again, loving them enough to stay calm with they CAN'T.   Can' isn't a choice.  Loving them enough to talk, not yell, with them when I am frustrated.  Loving them enough to give them a chance to speak instead of deciding that they must simply comply with what I want.  Sometimes, we need to step back and hear them before we can truly know how to help them.  Love will teach them to let go of their anger and without the anger, many of the behaviors will go too.  I don't always get it right, but when I do, I see the confidence in their eyes.  I feel the love in their arms when we hug each other.  Yes, love is the answer.

I think Kenneth Tingle says it best in his book:

It's all about unconditional love for our children, our wives or husbands, our mothers and fathers, our sisters and brothers.  Where there is love there is always hope.  So we hope someday we'll live in a a world where children don't disappear.  That one day we wake up to a world free of wars, where everyone has enough to eat.  We hope that diseases will be cured and loved ones made whole.  We hope one day we're reunited with our mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters; that somehow our broken families are brought back together.  We hope someone will accept us and love us-no matter how messed up we are.  We hope our children do better than we did.  We hope there is a God, because without Him we know the law of the jungle will eventually prevail.  But most of all, we hope there is a heaven, because then it all makes sense.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Family...a beautiful language.

When we met K5, my husband and I fell in love with her immediately.  She was a little shy at our first meeting, but I quickly asked her if she would like to see some pictures I had put together of what our family was like.  She smiled and nodded her head.  I pulled the photo album out while she cautiously moved away from her foster mother to sit next to me.  We slowly flipped through the pages and K5 tried to soak up information of all the kids that were anxiously waiting back at home with my parents.  I discussed the various memories that the pictures brought up, but of course, it was all new to K5.  She was excited at the idea of having older AND younger siblings.  She asked a few questions about my other children and then asked if she could hold onto the photo album.  It gave me a little chuckle since I had made the book specifically for her, not knowing if her social worker would even match us!  To be honest, we had not expected to hear back from the social worker until after we had returned to Colorado!  But after interviewing several families in one day, K5's social worker called us on our cell phone and said that they decided to do a quick vote after the last interview to get an idea of where the staff stood...and we were unanimously voted as the best match for K5.  They discussed this for a few minutes and decided that since we were still in the state until the following morning, that they would try to let us meet K5 that evening.  After meeting with her and flipping through the photo album, we were allowed to take K5 out for dinner and return her to the foster mother's house by 8 pm.

We sure made the most of those couple of hours!    We played at the park and grabbed dinner at K5's favorite restaurant.  The moment I knew for certain that K5 was meant to be with us was during dinner that very night!  We ran through the buffet and squeezed into the booth to begin eating.  K5 and dad sat on one side and I sat on the other side facing them.  Suddenly, my husband and K5's faces lit up and at the same time they said "I want to show you something!"  They then turned their backs to each other and grabbed their straws.  I sat there watching them completely shocked trying to process what I was watching!  They both tore off half the wrapper and then checked to make sure the remaining paper slid easily up and down the straw.  Like an old fashioned gun fight, they turned face to face and blew through their respective straws and wrappers flew everywhere - although dad was a little faster on the draw.  With stunned looks on both their faces...I lost it and started laughing so hard I thought I would never stop.  Then the two of them had to nerve to look at me with their baby blue eyes as though "I" was the crazy one!!!

The next morning, we picked K5 up from her foster mother's house and took her to breakfast before dropping her off at school.  She introduced us to administration and her peers as her mom and dad...and by lunchtime, she was crying because we had to leave for the airport.  We left her with the school counselor and promised to make arrangements to fly back in couple of weeks with some of her siblings for a visit.  We knew it would take a few months to finalize the paper work to move her to a new state.  ICPC is certainly not efficient - but that is a blog for another day.  It broke our hearts to leave her that day, sobbing in the arms of school staff.

As soon as we arrived home in Colorado, we started making plans to return to K5's home state for a visit. Within a few short weeks we were headed back.  After collecting K5 from the foster mother, we headed to the hotel.  We had K5 all to ourselves for the whole weekend!  K1 adored K5 and, at least for a few months, thought she walked on water.  He spent a lot of time laughing and joking with her in the back of the car and teaching her about video games.

She politely smiled and tried to follow everything he was saying...but sometimes just couldn't keep up.  At one point, K1 was imitating memories of spending time with his siblings watching comical videos he had found online.  He had everybody in the car laughing so hard at the memories that we had tears rolling down our faces...except for K5.  She had a confused look on her face and finally shrugged her little shoulders and said, "I am sorry, I don't speak your language yet."  We all chuckled and K1 took the time to explain the memories.  That night K1 pulled out the laptop and showed her some of the youtube videos he had been imitating.  But her words stuck with me over the next several months as she transitioned into our family.

How hard it must be to suddenly land in a home and be told this is your family.  A family with a history of shared memories and interests - and yet none of them shared with you.  Even when somebody gets married, the couple generally takes months getting to know each other, building memories and falling in love.  When an older child is suddenly placed in your home, everybody is expected to "be in love and be a family."  But, it takes time to build that love, those connections and certainly it takes a lot of time to build shared experiences and inside jokes.  That child is bound to feel like an outsider until you make new family memories.

K5 said it best, "I don't know your language yet."  Family language is unique to each family and it takes time to learn the lingo...and with each child added, we add a bit of new language to our dialect.

Family, what a beautiful language it is.