Monday, November 06, 2006

Why I'm Not Getting a Breadmaker for Christmas

Today as I was skimming through the Sunday newspaper ads I saw several breadmakers listed for pre-holiday sales. For a brief moment I was tempted to pass the ad over to my husband with a note about what he could get me for Christmas. Thankfully the moment passed.

About a year ago I started making bread every week in order to supply our family with our weekly allotment of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, french toast, and dinner rolls. This was a purely financial decision on my end--we needed to trim our budget and I have very high standards for the bread that enters our home--no pasty white cardboard crap here! Since $4-5 bakery loaves were now out of the question, my only choice was to spend Sunday afternoons baking.

I wasn't exactly a novice to bread baking. My mom owned a health food store, and making food from scratch, using whole grains and homegrown foods was a *natural* part of my childhood (haha--I just crack my punny self up sometimes!). In my single-girl, pre-marriage years, I frequently baked to satisy my own tastes for hearty, harvest fresh bread, and yes, I admit it, more than once to entice some eligible young man with my supreme domesticity in the kitchen. It eventually worked--my husband was suitably impressed enough to pop the question.

But as the demands of work, marriage, and especially of three children under the age of three, piled up, bread baking seemed a luxury that wasn't worth the time it took. Until, however, finances deemed otherwise, and the alternative (unnattractive storebought bread) wasn't acceptable.

While I rather reluctantly began my weekly baking schedule, within a few weeks it became a time I treasured in the kitchen. If I had to skip a week I missed it. I kept loaves stashed in the freezer to tide us over, but I came up with excuses not to use them so I could keep my weekly appointment with the mixing bowl.

It was something of a guilty little secret that I never gave much thought to until a few months ago, when my sister and my mom regaled me with the advantages of the breadmaker, how much they loved their bread machines, and what a fantastic addition to the kitchen it would be for me.

I found myself feeling quite protective of my old-fashioned breadmaking time, and disporportionately defensive about sticking to my handmade dough. That seemed silly--I'm not particularly sentimental, especially about kitchen appliances. I love my KitchenAid mixer, I use my slow cooker constantly, I don't know how people lived before food processors. But switching to a breadmaker was somehow threatening to me in an odd, irrational way.

It finally hit me today, when I allowed myself to consider for minute giving in and turning my dough over to a machine.

The thing is, I'm not much of a down-to-earth, back to basics woman at all. I shudder to think of a world without disposable diapers. I rejoice in the time saved by my microwave oven. I don't have a garden, and since I hate getting my hands in the dirt, I may never have a garden in this lifetime. The closest I get to the origins of my food is the occasional trip to the farmer's market. I don't beat my wet clothing out on a rock, I don't even do weekly ironing, prefering permanent press clothing for easy laundering.

There are only a few things in my life that lead to moments of supreme connection for me. Hanging laundry on the clothesline, rocking a baby, and making my own bread are teeny little spaces of perfect belonging in the universe. The rythmic, repetitive, meditative motion seems to put me in touch with millions of other women, past, present, and future, who have shared those motions, touched those same textures of wet cotton, downy soft baby heads, or yeasty, sticky dough. Time is suspended. For a few precious moments I am part of something bigger than my yard, my home, my kitchen. With hands busy, my mind drifts to a thousand places all at once, none of which I could coherently describe a few seconds later. It's a better-smelling, more productive form of yoga to me.

It's such an intensely personal ritual, yet it's all the better for being shared. Laundry is a family affair--we all help carry the big, heavy basket of wet clothes out to the line, then chubby little hands vie to bring me pieces as fast as I can clip them up. It's meditative and relaxing, but it's also communal. Rocking a baby can't take place without, well, the baby. Satisfying for mommy and baby both, it's personal zen time while also being intense bonding time. And bread....dumping ingredients in a machine and pushing some buttons would be so lonely. When I bake bread my girls climb up on stools across the counter to watch with big eyes. They wait for the finished dough to be pronounced ready so they can get the first tastes of pillowy soft dough (yes, what a horrible mother am I to let my kids eat raw bread dough). They clamber up again for the first slices warm from the oven, barely needing butter or jam or any other adornment. They are fascinated by the hand-crank grinder that lets me add a range of freshly ground grains to our weekly bread. They squeal and giggle when they see the loaves take shape and fit perfectly into the long pans. Perhaps best of all, they become part of the moment suspended in time. I learned to bake bread from my mother who learned it from her mother who learned it from her mother who learned it from hers, and all the way back as far as time stretches, and thousands upon thousands of mothers push the dough with their hands and crush the grains and carefully measure the water and oil and form it into loaves and feel the heat of the oven and watch the leavened mounds rise and break the bread to feed their hungry children who then are filled.

Every week the golden loaves lie stacked across my counter. They are warm and fragrant. They are soft and substantial and represent nurturing and sustenance and health and caring--a yeasty, crusty epitome of mother's love in a nine by five pan.

The glorious act of creation on a Sunday afternoon. I see what I have created. And I see that it is good.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

In the Faces of My Children

Earlier today I had a brief phone conversation with a woman who worked for the adoption agency where we adopted our two older girls. She mentioned having seen recent photos of my girls, and then exclaimed, "They look so much like 'V,' don't you think?" 'V' is my daughters' birthmom, and yes, both girls do look very much like her. It's something that I notice frequently, sometimes taking it for granted and sometimes having my breath taken away by a flash of likeness that is so like 'V' I could almost reach out and touch her.

A small comment on her part, but one that I carried around all day long, so warmed by the thought that someone else saw a connection that I see everyday. While we have an open adoption with our daughters' birthmother, she lives several states away, and there aren't many people in my daily world who can say with firsthand knowledge that my girls look so like their birthmom. It made their connection to their birthmom somehow more real, more valid, more acknowledged not only by me but by someone else who is a relative stranger.

Tonight I took the older girls out for the second shift of trick-or-treating. At one of the last houses, Grace turned around as we were leaving to call out a Happy Halloween to our friends. Kim gasped and said, "Oh my goodness, Wendy, Grace looks so much like you! As she turned her head just now I swear that was a mini Wendy I saw!"

Kim's compliment (let's assume it's a compliment--Grace is stunningly beautiful, so I choose to take it as such!) is still warming my heart. Parents of transracially adopted children don't hear much about how their children look like them. My girls obviously don't share my genes, so I don't expect them to look like me. I love to catch glimpses of their birthparents in their faces, their mannerisms, their expressions. I also love the (rare) times when someone notices a similarity to me or my husband in the faces of our children.

We're certainly not alone--every time a new baby is born one of the first responses is to start figuring out who he looks like. Being physically like our biological families may be a blessing, it may be a curse, but it always reinforces a primal connection, an intrinsic understanding that the mysterious bonds of family can be physically visible at times. Something in this connection seems to transcend mere biology and border on the divine. Certainly Jesus Christ expressed something similar when He said, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9, KJV). Maybe it's the inward made outward, our hearts visible on our sleeves (or faces, for a less poetic simile).

Whatever it is, I love the miracle of it. I love the fact that being raised in a different family, thousands of miles and a world away from their genetic roots, nothing can change how clearly my children are the obvious offspring of their birthparents. I love the fact that while I clearly don't share the same genes as my children, and in fact look so different from them that most people would see the differences as too extreme for any similarity, there are those who still see a tangible likeness between us.

It's a wonder to me--but then, everything about my children is a miracle, in my eyes.

Monday, October 02, 2006

What it REALLY means to be grown up

Yesterday was hairstyling day at our house. This is generally a traumatic day, because combing out three little 'fros is a time-consuming and often painful process. It's followed by scrubbing up in the tub--also traumatic for those who hate water in their faces--and then by more combing, twisting, braiding, and such.

By the time I got to the last braid on the last girl my arms were aching from six+ hours of working on nappy little heads, and my patience was quickly fading. Grace began a dramatic, overly-exaggerated cry. I snapped at her, "Grace, stop being a baby! If you have a real problem then handle it like a grown-up. If your hair hurts, tell me like a grown up; don't just sit there and do a fake cry."

Silence ensued, and even though I felt guilty for using such a cheap, manipulative, shaming technique, I was also relieved that it seemed to have worked.

I hit one last tangle in the braid and tugged. From her perch in my lap Gracie took a deep breath and shouted out, "OUCH! Dang it, that hurts me! Doggonit!"

She turned around beaming at her very grownup way of handling the pain this time around while I was turning the other way so she didn't see me laughing into the towel. Later that night I heard her explaining to her sister Mia that when you get hurt, you don't need to cry, you can just say "dangit" and then you will be a grownup.

Sometimes the thought that I am her primary teacher and mentor in life scares the pants off me.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Other Woman

Yesterday Grace and Mia were sharing in one of their favorite activities, namely, hanging on Mommy's legs while I put on my makeup.

Suddenly Grace looked up at our bedroom wall as if she'd never seen it before. Looking at our wedding picture, she exclaimed, "Hey! There's Dad with a lady!" I should have let it die right there, but it was early in the day and I still needed more blows to my ego.

"Grace, who is that lady?"

"I dunno. It's just a lady."

"Grace! That's mommy! That's mom and dad when we got married before you were born."

Long pause. Grace looks at me carefully, then back to the picture.

"Nope. It's just a lady. It's Dad getting married with a different lady."

The diet started yesterday.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Giving Up the Bottle

After years of internal debate, I've spent the past year growing out my gray. Last week I had my hair chopped off short so that the only hairs left on my head are the salt and peppers ones--granted, still more pepper than salt!

Growing up, I swore I'd always go gray gracefully. I love the look of beautiful silver hair. My dad's side of the family is full of prematurely gray folks, so I knew odds were good that I'd have a fair sprinkling by the time I hit 30--and I did.

While I was okay with silver hair I was not okay with boring hair, and so I started coloring my hair around age 16, and I didn't stop until last year. Redhead, brunette, and even sort-of, kind-of, if-you-really-stretch-it, Blonde. I've done it all. Hair was just another fashion accesory. Clairol was the way to update my *accessory* wardrobe.

Fate threw a twist in my plans for graceful aging, as the proliferation of gray coincided with finally becoming a parent. After a few too many people congratulated me on my adorable grandchildren, I gave in and went back to the bottle. The final straw was when someone met my husband, came back to our house later that day, and introduced himself by saying that he had met my SON earlier that day. It wouldn't hurt as much except that my darling good husband is actually 12 years older than I am. Did I mention that my family goes gray PREMATURELY? Bad enough to be thought of as my babies' grandparent or my husband's mother, but especially ego-damaging when I'm still in my early thirties. Hey, *early* can be however I define it.

My rationale for backsliding was that it really wasn't fair to my kids. They deserved to grow up with a mom who didn't look like central casting for Little Red Riding Hood's granny. If it were just me, I'd go natural. But I have to think of my kids.

The only thing is, it's so obnoxiously complicated to keep up with dyed hair, especially when those pesky grays keep popping up in the roots, and my schedule is jam-packed with working and being a mom to a handful of rugrats. A year ago I just gave up. It was the experiment--for the first time since age 16, I was going to completely let it go back to my real, authentic, totally natural color. No cheating by weaving in what the stylist thinks might be my natural shades. No waiting 6 months and then getting so sick of roots that I buy a box of dye at the grocery store at midnight and go home to put it on that same night. My resolve nearly broke when I saw my mom for the first time in several months and she said , "Wow--you do have a lot of gray--far more than I do." Great--my mom, my husband-- apparently going off looks alone I now qualify for Social Security.

Last week I went for broke and had the last dregs of previously colored hair cut off. The new haircut is short, kind of sassy, a little more hip and cool--okay, I couldn't even write that without laughing-- I've never in my life been hip and cool; it ain't gonna start now. But I like it. The sprinkling of silver just looks like artful highlights. It's incredibly low maintenance and no fuss and I didn't have to book a return visit to touch up my roots. It also feels fabulously authentic.

As I was waiting in the salon I was flipping through magazines. Every ad, every feature, every article seemed intent on telling me how to look, feel, and act younger. We are youth-worshipping culture and nowhere is that more evident than in women's magazines.

And that emphasis on youth brings out a bit of the gray-haired rebel in me. I wouldn't go back in time, ever. Not for a million bucks. I didn't have a horrible youth--I just really, really like what each successive part of my life has brought. If gray hair and wrinkles and sagging skin come with those experiences, bring them on. I'm getting teeny wrinkles in the corners of my eyes and I hope it's because I spend more time laughing than crying. I joke that the gray hairs truly started multiplying and replenishing my head once I became a mom, but the truth is that I'll gladly take the stress of parenthood over the alternative of missing out on the whole experience. When I look at people a decade or two ahead of me in life's journey I don't think, "Gee, that person is so old!" I find myself thinking of how wonderful and exciting it must be to be at that point in life, to have the richness of experience that the passage of time brings. If my life has been successively better I can only imagine ten, twenty years from now.

I am claiming my hairstyle now as my nod to social activism. I am making the visible statement that maybe aging is not the fate worse than death that women's magazines seem to imply. I thought as a child that gray hair was beautiful. I still do. It represents things that our culture doesn't seem to value very much--depth of experience, surviving life's vagaries, longer perspectives, increased understanding and hopefully compassion, and perhaps even the gaining of wisdom. Those things matter to me. I hope my children value these things more than fashion trends or social fads. They'll certainly have the opportunity to grow up seeing beyond gray hair and wrinkles, because like it or not, their Mommy's got 'em.

If hair color is my fashion accessory, this look is the real deal. I've traded in my colored, costume jewelry for genuine silver. Maybe I'll change my mind next month. But for right now, it feels good.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Well, in that case.....

Mia is quickly perfecting the art of being the ultimate annoying little sister. Her favorite is touching, poking, jabbing, and otherwise tormenting Grace, just enough to elicit a scream but not enough that she risks really getting in trouble.

The other day Grace was laying on the couch trying to drink her nighttime milk. Mia walked up and began poking her in the face with one finger. Eventually Grace yelled. "Mom, Mia's poking me!" Since I was sitting right there and had seen the whole thing, I responded in predictable Mom-fashion, "Mia, stop poking your sister."

Mia glanced at me to acknowledge the warning, then reared back and began headbutting Grace in the face. Much more sharply, I said, "Mia! I told you to stop touching your sister!"

With all the aggravated and injured dignity that a two-year old can muster, she corrected me: "I not touching Grace--I just bonking her."

Oh, well in that case, carry on.

Ah, toddlers.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Mothering, Identity & Loss

This is from a Mother's Day message I posted to an online infertility group.

I want to give a special mother's day note to those who have lost a child in some way, whether through miscarriage, stillbirth, death, failed adoptions or any other way.

As this mother's day has approached I've been pondering how my life has been defined by either my lack of children or by having them. But for children who leave too early, there's like a fuzzy gray spot in my mothering identity. I am their mom, or I was their mom, or something...however it works out, it's real. They are real and I am real and my mothering role for them is real. But I'm aware that when my friends and neighbors and ward members look at me they are seeing me as the mother of my active little girls--they aren't remembering the ones we've lost.

In a sense that's okay--I don't want to wear mourning the rest of my life, and my trust in God's eternal plan is also very real and tangible.But sometimes I wish I could introduce myself as not only the mom to Grace, Mia, and Mercie, but also to the others, named and not-yet-named, because they are as much a part of my mothering heart as the children who have stayed. On the rare occasions when a past loss does come up in conversation, I find myself reluctant to say the names of those children we've lost. It makes it more real. That seems to be uncomfortable for those around me.

If you've been in this place you know that each little spirit you mother, whether carried in your womb or nurtured in your arms or loved in your home--each one permanently and eternally changes something in you. Each child changes your heart and therefore your identity. You always exist as the pre-child mother and the mother who has been forever changed by connecting to that little soul.

On a day when we celebrate and honor our identity as mothers, it can be so very lonely to remember the babies and children who helped create us as mothers, the ones who aren't remembered by others yet will always be deeply missed in our hearts.

So to all of you who have lost a child you loved, I just want to honor your mother heart and affirm your identity as eternal mothers. I know the Lord binds up our broken hearts, but I also believe that He gives us the gift of remembrance, which can be painful at times, yet serves to validate the eternal nature of our precious relationships.

Hugs to all you mommies.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Carrying Stones

It's official. We're committed. Baby number four is on the way home, and he is waiting for us over in China. Yes, I said he. We were so sure the next one was a girl, but surprise--he's not!

Truth be told, we knew back in March that this was our baby. But our entire China adoption efforts have been an uphill battle, and the financial end of things just wasn't working out the way it needed to, and it was just too scary to commit to follow through on bringing this little guy home.

We waited for a miracle, or at least a sign. Some glimmer that the uphill battle would end, and the rest of the road to this little one would be an easy one.

The big ol' miracle we were waiting for never came. It had been almost three months since we first found out about him. I think we were maybe secretly hoping that another family would come forward and then we could be sad but relieved because obviously we were wrong and he wasn't meant for us, and then we could move on. But at three months we knew we needed to make a decision.

So we prayed and fasted and went to the temple. And we realized that this was our baby, pure and simple. That's it. No blinding flash of inspiration telling us how this was all going to work out financially or how to adjust our bedroom situation to add one boy in with three girls, or melting away our concerns about meeting the needs of FOUR very little children. Just that he's ours, so get cracking on the paperwork and get him home!

A few days ago I found a Chinese proverb that I think I will frame and put in every room of our house: "If you want to move mountains you've got to start carrying stones." (How appropriate that it's a CHINESE proverb, huh?).

As we've built our family we've seen mountains moved. We know the Lord's hand is involved in bringing these babies home--no doubt about it. We've seen little teeny pebbles move out of the way and big old mountain ranges stand aside. For almost a year now we've been struggling to carry stones, to do everything we could and exercise all our faith that the Lord would make up the difference. We've already seen so very many miracles. It seems that every small leap of faith we take is rewarded a hundred-fold.

For some reason I think I expected that we'd reach a point where our part was done and we could sit back and watch the Lord do the rest of the work. Hmm....that doesn't work too well when my girls decide they've done enough cleaning in the front room and Mommy can just finish up. On the other hand, I love my girls. I know they are only 3 and 2, and so I gladly, happily do much more for them that they cannot do for themselves yet--washing their clothes, preparing their meals, cleaning up after them, bathing them. And I keep reminding them that they CAN do it as I try to teach them, step by step, how to do what I do.

The paradox of two promises is at work here. Just as Mercie is learning to walk and I can't do it for her no matter how I may want to, Heavenly Father knows perhaps that we can do more than we think we can. He knows, but we must learn that we can do it, too. Yet just as I will always come running when Mercie reaches the end of her rope, when she takes one too many tumbles, and can't try again--well, there's a time to be carried. One of my favorite poets, Carol Lynn Pearson, expressed it this way:

Time for the Gulls

It's time, Father
For the gulls, I think.

My arms shake
From flailing my field.
I sink
Broken as the little stalks
Beneath their devouring burden.

I yield it all to you
Who alone can touch all things.
It's time, Father
For the gulls.

I will be still
And listen for their wings.

(Picture Window: Carol Lynn Pearson Collection, Gold Leaf Press, 1996).

So--we're having a boy! A miracle boy (in more ways than one) who is just meant to be part of our family.

We're praying for mountains to move, to get this little guy home. In the meantime, we're singing happy songs and carrying stones.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Laying Hands on Baby Bug

As part of our religious beliefs, we adhere to the practice of laying on hands for blessings when people are sick or in need of extra divine help. Hands are placed on the recipient's head and a blessing is pronounced. This has not gone unnoticed by our daughters, who began asking for blessings when they were very small.

Our youngest daughter Mercie has big problems with chronic constipation, poor thing. If I don't zealously moniter her fruit juice intake (making sure she gets at least double what the other girls drink), she winds up straining and crying and laboring hard to move anything through down there.

The whole family knows all the signs--Mercie goes into her tell-tale pooping position, her face gets red, her whole body goes tense and she starts shaking, and heart-wrenching wails and crocodile tears appear. It seems to help a little when Mom or Dad hold her, so we try to rub her back and snuggle her till the moment (or the "movement") passes.

Mercie is in such obvious distress that her older sisters come running. They pat her and say, "It's okay, Mercie?" "You pooping, Mercie?" and other sisterly comments. One day Grace was patting Mercie and was obviously becoming quite worried about her. She snuggled her head in right next to Mercie's screaming head, put an arm around her, and began praying that Mercie would be able to poop and "have no more hurting in her bum-bum." Of course we thought it was adorable. Mercie promptly pooped, we thanked and praised Gracie, and a new protocol was established for Mercie's pooping problem.

I should have seen what was coming.

Yesterday the familiar signs began. I gathered Mercie in my arms and started singing in her ear. Grace and Mia gathered on either side of her. Mercie is already learning that her family will support and help her in EVERYTHING--even bowel movements.

Grace's eyes lit up with a flash of three-year old brilliance. " I give her a blessing, Mom!" She put her hands on Mercie's butt, where Mia promptly added her chubby little hands for added benefit. Over Mercie's crying Grace loudly gave her a blessing:

"Dear Heavenly Father, please help Mercie feel better. Please help her poop. Her bum-bum is hurting, poor little baby bug. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

Okay, it's kind of silly and cute. But I'm glad that when Mercie is in a "tight spot" (I promise--no more dumb pooping puns), her sisters are gathered around, going through it with her. And I'm even happy to see them joining their fledgling religious beliefs with profound childlike practicality--after all, if the problem is in your bum-bum, why on earth would you lay hands on your head? And I am oh so glad that my girls are learning already that they can take ANY problem to the Lord, and He will help with anything, even Baby Bug's pooping problems.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

FIghting for Jesus

Tonight we were listening to a song about Jesus as we took our new van through the car wash. I told the girls that Jesus would come back to earth again and we would see Him and be so happy, and He would hold all the children and bless them and hug them.

From her carseat Grace drew this big old scowl on her face and loudly informed me that she "don't like Jesus" and "she don't want to see Him."

Playing good girl to Gracie's *bad*, Mia promptly reassured me very earnestly that "Mia DO like Jesus, Mom."

That started a pint-size debate in the backseat that ended with Grace trying to slap Mia and Mia bashing Grace over the head with her fists.

Ah--the violence that has been done in the name of Jesus over the centuries--and it's now continuing in my car....

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Agony & The Ecstasy

Bringing children into our home didn't come easily to us. Nine months after we were married I sat across from the doctor hearing the first of several infertility diagnoses. Pursuing infertility treatment was half-hearted at best. We'd talked about adopting before we were even married. Neither of us cared very much whether our children shared our genes, and while losing the pregnancy and birth experience was a minor loss, it was just that--minor, when compared with a lifetime of having a child to parent.

So we waited the requisite number of years to prove that our marriage was stable. A few days after our third anniversary we received an approval letter from the adoption agency, officially making us eligible to adopt. Naively we expected a baby to soon follow.

Over the next four years we endured one disappointment after another. We were called about a premature baby girl who had been born several months earlier and would be placed immediately. We were told to be ready to pick her up on Friday. On Friday nothing happened. All weekend no one answered the phone at the agency. On Monday we finally got through, only to be told that the birthmother had changed her mind and decided to place with another family, and the caseworker didn't see a reason to tell us until the following week.

Then there was a little baby boy with Down's syndrome. We fell in love, we KNEW this was our baby. We gave him a name, set up appointments with a pediatrician. The day before placement our caseworker called to let us know that his birthparents had decided to keep him.

As painful as these losses were, they paled in comparison what came next. As we got tired of waiting with this agency, we began the process of licensing for foster adoption through our state. It was rigorous and exhausting, especially on top of dual careers and some health problems my husband was experiencing at the time. When we finally made it through and had our license, we found out that we were the new parents of a sibling group--three active, wonderful boys.

Three months later they were gone, moved to another family, leaving big gaping holes in our hearts, lots of unanswered questions, and no clue what to do next.

Unfortunately that wasn't our last loss. Turning to international adoption, on Christmas Day I flew out to bring home our sweet little boy from Haiti. He was pure sunshine. We fell hard for this little guy. We knew going into it that there were some legal risks in his rather unusual situation. But somehow between the brand new agency and several adoption attorneys from around the country, things didn't get communicated properly, and we were horrified to learn that there was no legal way to complete his adoption in the United States. Three weeks after I brought him home, we made the saddest trip of our lives back to the airport.

At that point I realized that I really knew what it means to have a broken heart. Ex-boyfriends had nothing on saying goodbye to a baby.

Why bring this up now? It's birthday time at our house. All of my girls have spring birthdays, within about 5 weeks of each other. We're celebrating birthdays this year with pony parties and sign language parties and first time one year old parties, and I suppose the passage of time is making me a bit maudlin.

I'm the luckiest mom in the world. My three year old is a little dazzler, a high maintenance girly girl who loves ballerinas and princesses and nail polish and shopping and can't wait to start dance classes in two weeks and is counting down days until she can start preschool in the fall. She is the miracle that finally made me a mom for real, forever, my first *real* baby. She is the practice model, the one who usually bears the brunt of my parenting mistakes. She slavishly copies everything I do, the exact way that I do it. She is incredibly active, always on the go and never still, except when she needs mom. She is the most quiet snuggler I've ever seen. She curls herself up, molded into me, and goes so still that sometimes she falls asleep. For hours and hours she can sit, rocking on my lap. And I hold this little girl, who I love more than my life, more than the world, love so much it scares me to death, and I know that I am the most blessed mom in the world.

After the miracle of our first daughter we thought it would be tempting fate too much to hope or plan for the large family we'd decided on during our engagement. Having one beautiful daughter was enough, so we told ourselves to be content with that, and set about learning how to be a one child family. When she was nine months old the adoption agency called us. Her birthmom was pregnant again, with another little girl, and was hoping we would adopt the baby.

And so we suddenly had two little girls, much closer in age and far more quickly than we'd imagined. My second daughter has a quick temper that flares frequently in her just-turned-two-years-old little body. She is also quick to love and help others. At 12 months old she would toddle around and clean up the front room at night, and she is first on the scene with gentle loves when someone is hurt or sad. She loves to sing, and her sweet breathy toddler voice entertains us throughout the day, draws smiles at the grocery store, and sometimes garners unanticipated attention at church. She is also a pint-size diva, refusing to share duets with anyone, even mommy. She is a chunky little ball of pure muscle, who wraps me up with the most passionate, extra-squeezy tight hugs. Not one for prolonged cuddles, she conveys her affection with enthusiastic and aggressive passion. Out of my girls, she is the hardest to understand, the most unlike me. Yet her gorgeous smile and deep belly laugh and infectious sense of humor pull me in and I cannot imagine life without this perfect, uniquely marvelous, absolutely one of a kind treasured child.

If two was good, three is better. We threw caution to the wind by updating our homestudy after number two came home. When our oldest was not quite two and our *baby* was barely 13 months old, we brought baby number three home. Unsure how this was all going to work, I relied heavily on her birthmom, who had chosen our family out of several others, and promised me that she KNEW this baby belonged in our family--even if we did have two babies already. She assured me that she WANTED these siblings so close in age for her baby, and she had confidence in our ability to parent these three active little tots. She'll never know how much I leaned on her faith in us during those first few months of adjustment to a world of three babies under the age of two.

I spent time wondering if it had really been fair to bring baby number three into this super busy household, where the demands of three babies had to be met, and often had to be delayed while the most critical needs were met first. I wondered if, given the choice, our girls would want to be part of such a crazy, chaotic home. Deep where no one else could see, I wondered if I could really love baby number three as much as the others, in the haze of three years running chronic sleep deprivation and extremely active, demanding older siblings.

It was silly to worry. Our baby could not belong more surely in our family. She is adored by her older sisters. I thought the first two were easy, happy babies, but they were screeching monsters compared to the third. She could write a book on finding your infant zen place. She patiently endures hugs and kisses so aggressive they border on painful. She lights up to see mommy or daddy--no doubt in part because we represent protection from *the loud one and the noisy one*, as my husband calls her two older sisters. She loves to play and be tickled and do peekabo and copy the hand signs she sees the rest of us do. She was sleeping through the night at two months old, 14 hours a night, a fact that has earned me death wishes from some of my friends. When I hold her tight in my arms, her older sisters circling her with toddler hugs and kisses, seeing her incomparable joy at being surrounded by so much love, I think life can't get any better than this.

Several months ago we began the long process of adopting another baby from China. And recently we started the paperwork to do foster care again--not to adopt, but to give another baby a safe place to be while it's needed. Bringing home baby number four is already proving to be far more difficult than we anticipated, with unplanned delays and a series of unexpected frustrations. Doing foster care again means more goodbyes, probably teary and difficult ones.

Some who know our long and tortured path to parenthood thus far think we're crazy. Some think we're saints (which my daughters would most certainly disagree with, especially on days they've dismantled every stick of furniture in their bedrooms and had potty accidents in every room of the house).

I still don't understand why some of the heartbreak had to happen. Most other adoptive families we know haven't had to go through as much loss, as many disappointments, as we have. And here we are, intentionally getting ready to wade through more challenges.

In William Nicholson's play Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis' wife Joy is dying of cancer. When he doesn't want to talk about the future, Joy gently reprimands him, "What I'm trying to say is that pain, then, is part of this happiness, now. That's the deal." Later, after Joy has died, Lewis tries to reach beyond his own grief to help Joy's young son deal with losing his mother. "It doesn't seem fair, does it?" he tells Douglas. "If you want the love, you have to have the pain."

Granted, we could have skipped the pain of infertility and failed adoptive matches and devastating failed placements, and still ended up with three little girls, and I still would have loved them with my heart and soul, and I would have appreciated them and adored them, and my love for them isn't grounded in other losses.

What I would have missed out on were the ways that each of our other children--the ones who didn't stay--changed me. I would have missed the chance to love them and be their mommy, if only for a few months or a few weeks. I would have missed the smiles and hugs and tender moments that came with each child, and left my heart more open, more pure. I would have missed the chance to find out firsthand that I could go through something I didn't think I could survive, and somehow, survive anyway. I would have missed learning firsthand that God is with us not only when the sun is shining, but in the dark nights of the soul.

And so yes, the joy of my little family is intrinsically wrapped up with heartache--the heartache of birthmothers making gutwrenching choices, the disappointments of our inability to have children, the losses suffered on all sides. Somehow, from that fertile ground of suffering, joy takes root. And it flourishes at our house--oh how it flourishes!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Trenches of Mommyhood: An Apology

When I had to title this blog, I mentally sorted through titles with enough over-analysis to do any Type-A personality proud. I knew that dealing with the daily realities of family life would be the overwhelming focus of my posts. "life in the trenches" seems like an accurate summation of my life most days.

Yet the phrase also suggests direct conflict and aggression--a war or battle with high stakes. After all, those in the trenches are the foot soldiers, the trenches are generally the places with the highest casualties in any battle. Trench warfare denotes brutal realities of war--bugs, disease, death, hunger, physical discomfort, and ever-present danger. If I'm in the trenches of motherhood, who and what am I fighting? Although there are times that it feels like every interaction with a two-year old is a battle worthy of any WWII vet, I really don't have an adversarial relationship with my kids.

It didn't seem to apply, yet I couldn't get the phrase out of my mind. Then I realized that I am perfectly justified in using it because I am very much in a war here, and the stakes could not be higher. Along with millions of other parents, I am a foot soldier, and the danger is real and ever-present, and no matter how uncomfortable the battles might be at times, I'm in this for the long haul.

I'm at war with everyone and everything that sees my children as potential sexual objects. Internet predators, child molesters, even hypersexed advertising that tries to entice my babies to grow up faster than they should--it's an all out war and I'll do whatever I can to protect my kids.

I'm at war with anyone who would keep my child back and prevent her from reaching her full potential. While politicians, teacher's unions, pundits, and administrators argue over who should control our children's education and how it should best be achieved and measured, I fight for my kids' right to learn. And not just the right to learn, but I fight to give them education, too. Reading at bedtime, counting peas on a plate, sorting colors in laundry, discussing where butterflies come from--this is a rather enjoyable aspect of foot-soldiering.

I'm at war with aggressive assaults on family time. While there are many worthwhile things in the world that clearly have value to many, I know when all is said and done what is accomplished within our home is the most important achievement in the world. There isn't a whole lot I can do for widespread global suffering and inequity, but I can raise conscientious, thoughtful, engaged citizens who will continue to make a difference in their own worlds. Accomplishing this goal, however, takes time. Time together as a family, not engaged in individual pursuits, not in front of the TV. Like the most zealous sentry in high-stakes battles, I guard my family's time.

I'm at war with those who believe my children are worth less because of external labels. We're a multiracial family, and our children have a variety of stories to tell about how they arrived here. They each have unique challenges and marvelous strengths. It amazes me how many people want to pigeonhole them because of their own prejudices and stupid thinking. I'm at war against racism, sexism, bigotry, and prejudice in any form. Hopefully the world my children inherit will be a more tolerant, more aware one.

I'm at war with confused values that give my kids distorted views of moral reality. I often hear the phrase "family values," and I'm not sure what the heck that means. To me, morality is very simple. Love other people. Forgive them. Serve them. Honor God. Do good things. That is the essence of what I want to instill in my children. Yet all too often *values* becomes a confused label that applies more to political rhetoric or denominational debate.

I'm at war with a super-materialistic culture that leads families into extreme debt and extreme unhappiness. The emphasis on having and getting "things" hurts parents and children both. I'm counterattacking within my domain by striving for simplicity and focusing on what brings TRUE joy in life.

This list could probably go on and on. The enemy is out there. Yep, it's really a war. Welcome to life in the trenches.