Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Meditations at 5:00am

One of the crappiest things right now is having this vibrant, beautiful little boy, and lacking sufficient history with him to know how best to soothe him, calm him, anticipate his needs, head off his tantrums, and help him feel better. It just sucks.

My daughter wasn't in a good situation. She has been very slow to warm up to all these changes, but she is definitely warming up. Watching her soak in her new reality that she won't ever be hungry again, that someone will actually respond when she cries, that she can get all the snuggles she wants...Every day we get more smiles, more giggles, a little more of her personality peeking through. We visited her orphanage a couple of days after taking custody of her, and even with only two days, when the aunties passed her around to say hello, she was clambering to get back in my arms.

My son was in a very good orphanage. All of his growth reports note that he was a favorite of all the caregivers there. He is a naturally outgoing, good-natured little boy. He was prepared well for the adoption. He came straight to me, put his arms around me and called me momma, and walked off into the sunset.

It took a couple of days before the first reality check. He went to bed in the hotel room and shortly after I glanced over to see him shaking with silent sobs, tears rolling down his cheeks. That became something of a pattern. He can go a few days, living in each moment and totally enjoying things, but then all the newness wears off and he just cries. This is greatly complicated by the language barrier. We can't explain and reassure, and so sometimes he has big, ginormous meltdowns over simple things--because, in his world, even simple things can be huge. In China he sometimes screamed if we had to get in a car. He absolutely refused, if I didn't get in first, to assure him that I would be with him in the car. I couldn't blame him for freaking out--the last time he got in a car, they took him to a civil affairs office and left him with me. His whole world turned upside down. From his perspective, getting in cars is the scariest, most dangerous thing in the world.

He seems to really enjoy this new "family" thing he's got. He LOVES following his siblings around everywhere, especially Grace. He gives Annie little kisses, and shares food with her (the true way to Annie's heart). He plays with the neighbors, loves the sandbox, is learning his alphabet, shapes, and colors with the nanny, and tries to give Barney hugs through the TV. He's almost always happy. But sometimes he grieves. Unlike Annie, he did leave people he loved, and people who loved him back. He had a place there. He knew who he was there. I am told that he is exceptionally verbal in the dialect of his region. It seemed clear that he is used to being able to communicate readily with people. Now he's stuck in a new place where no one understands him and he can't understand us. For a bright, social little boy like him, it must feel like a special part of hell sometimes.

I don't know him well enough yet to know when to hold him and when to leave him alone. I don't know when to ignore tantrums and when to listen for a deeper need beneath the tantrum. And even if I can discern the deeper need, I don't always know how to meet it.

He had a rough night. At 5:00am I finally took him out of his crib so that he wouldn't wake everyone else. He fussed and moaned and whimpered for over an hour. I finally noticed that he kept holding one side of his face, and together with earlier observations that he was chewing hard on things, deduced that he might have molars coming in. I gave him some ibuprofen and rocked him, wishing that I could take some of the hard away for him, that I could carry some of the load he's bearing right now on this little four-year old shoulders. Sometimes he would relax into me and calm down, but within a few minutes he'd remember and tense back up, and the tears would start again.

It just hurt that I couldn't do anything, that I couldn't wave a magic wand and show him that it's safe to let Mommy hold him & snuggle him, that I can help if he will let me, that this new family he's liking so much is for real & forever, that I may not always be able to solve his problems but I will always try, that I understand how rough this is.

My 5:00am epiphany was that the 5:00am rocking chair sessions are the only magic wand. Over and over, one at a time, love starts to slowly trickle in. My earlier babies learned it as I got up and fed them, rocked them, changed them. Days and days of that, coupled with soft words, stroking hair and faces, holding them close, smiling eyes--these are the ways that babies learn to trust. Jack is just getting started.

Don't get me wrong--I'm really tired. I'm hoping we don't have a lot of these 5:00am sessions coming up. But along with my prayers for Jack this morning, I was also praying prayers of gratitude to be back in the sacred ground of 5:00am magic.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I Am Not a Hero. Also, Not Amazing.

Here's the deal:

If one more person tells me how amazing I am for adding two more kiddos to my family through adoption, I will hurt something. Possibly the person who says it. I am not a hero, I am not wonder woman, I am not a saint.

Don't get me wrong--this adoption journey was hard. The ongoing transitions and changes in our family and in my life are not easy ones. They are GOOD, but they aren't easy. I won't sugarcoat anything and pretend it's all one big happy party. But I also won't go along with the idea that it's an act of sainthood, either.

It's an act of parenting. Parents take care of their kids, period. I'm hardly alone in this. Parents all over the globe make sacrifices and do hard things to care for their little ones. Often those hard things begin with carrying them in-utero for nine months, and going through physical pain to deliver them into the world. Sometimes those hard things involve social worker visits and flights halfway around the world. And sometimes those hard things even involve giving up that child so that he can have a life that you cannot provide--sometimes, just so the child can live, period. My hard things are my hard things. My children's birthparents have been through their own hard things to provide the best for these children. None of our hard things make any of us saints or sinners or victims or winners. Our collective hard things make us parents, and parents do what they have to do to ensure the safety and well-being of their babies.

My parents raised nine kids. They both worked around the clock. They kept us fed and clothed, they taught us the value of hard work & education, and somehow all nine of us grew up to be pretty decent people. Maybe it's their fault that I'm rejecting the medals for international adoption, because they set the bar too high. Thanks to them, I know that parents do what they have to do for their kids, almost always without applause or pats on the back.

I think what I'm saying is that I don't deserve any more recognition or praise than any other parent who is doing the best she can in her world. We all have our hard things. We all need support and help, and we all  need to be a support and help. My hard things aren't any more noteworthy than a mother who puts off retirement to fund rehab for her son, a mom who takes parenting classes and attends support groups to ensure that the cycle of abuse she knew growing up ends with her, a parent who creates happy moments for her children while coping with marital infidelity and personal heartbreak.

It's not just parents, either. My hard things aren't any more heroic than a childless friend who cares for both of her aging parents, or an immigrant friend who works backbreaking manual labor all day and attends classes late into the night, or a friend who faces demons of addiction every day.

I'm uncomfortable with the praise not only because it's unfair, but because I've noticed that it doesn't help me be a better mom, or even just an ordinary good one.

When I gather my kids around the dinner table, I am NOT amazing. Definitely not heroic. They squabble; I yell. Any bad word you've ever heard my kids use, they probably learned from me. I get tired and lose my temper. If I even start, for one teeny minute, to believe things like "amazing," and "hero," I get so tense! I start to feel so much pressure to be those things, and I'm just NOT those things. That stress and pressure raises my expectations, for myself and for my kids, and that's pretty much a guarantee of failure. The negative cycle of perfectionism is toxic enough at my house; we don't need any help.

You know what does make me feel good, though? When people tell me I'm a fun mom, especially when my kids say it. I like being a fun mom. Fun moms smile. They laugh with their kids. Even if I'm not really much of a fun mom, when I'm told that I am, I try to live up to it.

I'm also okay being told that I'm brave. Parenting has ended up being one of the most courageous things I've ever done. It takes guts every single day. Some days it even takes guts just to get out bed. The ways that I am brave might be different from the ways that you are brave, but we can all acknowledge and praise our collective bravery.

It makes my heart happy when someone notices how much I love my kids. It motivates me to keep being loving, doing loving things, using loving words, giving lots of hugs and kisses.

I'm uncomfortable with praise for inheriting a pretty cushy situation. I live in a country where I will never have to make the choice to give up a child so that she can obtain the healthcare to keep her alive. I live in a country where I can attain the level of education I choose, for the types of employment I would like, so that international adoption can even be option for me. I live during a time when my fitness as a parent isn't unduly scrutinized because I am single, when I am not legally prohibited from adopting because of my marital status. I am blessed to be in a situation where I CAN have six kids if I want them. There are people who don't have that choice. I'm keenly aware that I am richly blessed, and 99% of those blessings were not earned.

That is one comment with which I will completely agree: I am oh-so-very blessed. I am blessed to have a wonderful Gracie-girl in my life, who is nearly as tall as I am, ultra-responsible & hard-working & fun. I am blessed with my sweet Mia, and her delightful sense of humor, quick wit, tender heart, and thoughtful nature. I am blessed to know Mercie, to see the world through her unique lens, appreciate her heart for all God's creatures, to stand in awe of her relentless determination to deal with challenges she faces. I am blessed with my little man, Eric--his sensitive and introspective nature, kind heart, keen intellect, and disciplined mind. I am newly blessed with Jack, non-stop bundle of energy, animated and outgoing, a little ray of sunshine. And I am blessed with Annie, my little snugglebug, who is content to spend an entire day soaking in loves.

On top of that, I am blessed with good people who love me and my family. Yes, blessed is a word I will definitely take.

Since many of those people I love and who love me right back are the ones who throw around the words of "amazing" and "hero," I suppose it would be kind of rude to ask them not to use those words.

So, let's make a deal: you can use those words for me, if I can use them for you. I won't use your names here on this blog, but you & I know who you are, and please, know that I think you are absolutely beyond amazing, and heroic in every way, as you:

  • head back to school to complete your degree and show your kids it's never too late
  • keep going to therapy for years and years, refusing to give up the effort to overcome scars of childhood sexual abuse, paying a price for someone else's sins
  • call your sponsor when the urge for a drink comes
  • participate in hours of grueling therapy and rehab every day to regain basic abilities that everyone takes for granted until they are gone
  • put your adoption papers back in again after suffering the devastating loss of giving a child back
  • accept that new foster placement and commit to love that child with your whole heart, whether it's for a day, a week, months, or years. 
  • support your wife through chemo, telling her she's beautiful and meaning every word. 
  • humble yourself enough to ask for others' prayers, so they can help share your burdens
  • swallow your pride and head to the food bank, because your kids' tummies are more important than your ego. 
  • freely forgive those who have deeply hurt you. 
  • teach other people's children while longing for your own
  • open your heart to love again after great loss
  • take on frightening, overwhelming responsibilities at church because you believe God wants you to accept the call. 
  • follow what your heart knows is true, even when everyone around you disapproves. 
  • trim the grocery budget by $20 each month so you can help provide life-saving heart surgeries for orphans. 
  • tell your fiance about your eating disorder.
  • love your spouse through years of bad decisions and poor judgement, never losing sight of all the worthwhile reasons you fell in love in the first place. 
  • share your talents and gifts freely with those around you
Hmm. I guess maybe you are all pretty darn amazing. Maybe even heroes. No wonder some of it rubbed off on me :). 

Friday, August 08, 2014

Uncle ShuShu

If you want to see the most excited four-year old in the history of ever, come to my house and watch the top of the stairs when the doorbell rings and Jack knows who is waiting on the other side. He throws his whole body into a frenzy of pure joy as his face lights up and he screams at the top of his lungs, "SHUSHU!!!!!! SHUSHU!!!!"

Shushu is the Chinese word for uncle, and in our family, is a title reserved for someone who totally and completely earned it.

It wasn't easy finding someone who was both able and willing to accompany me on the trip to China. It was freaking hard, actually. A three-week commitment on the other side of world, when you have your own job, kids, and life to keep track of, is kind of a big deal. Unlike, say, a touring river cruise throughout Europe, this trip was pretty much guaranteed to be super stressful, chaotic, uncomfortable, and at times downright unpleasant.

In the end only one person signed up, and like my mamma says, has cemented his win as friend of the  year. Maybe even the decade. I knew he was awesome; I just didn't know how awesome.

There is some disagreement at our house over whether Luca is the kids' friend or mine. We all claim him. Jack, I think, is convinced that Lucas is in fact his own personal buddy for life and partner in crime, and that they are peers in every way. One of my favorite things about the trip was hearing Jack's voice wafting down the hotel hallways as he toddled to keep up with Luc: "Shushu! Shushsu!" Especially with a little sister who was physically frail and kinda scared of everything, it was great fun for an active little boy to have a pal who would dunk him in the hotel swimming pool, have stroller races down the halls, and encourage him to decorate his face with food.

I present the evidence for friend of year:

  • He went out a not-insubstantial sum of money to make this happen, including covering things that I'd forgotten about, to the tune of a hefty price tag. 
  • He never got stressed out or tired of singing "Popcorn Popping" for the billionth time. 
  • He kept us all fed. Whether filling everyone's plates (over and over) at the hotel breakfast buffet, hauling boiled water, treating everyone to authentic restaurants and figuring out how to communicate with the wait staff, cooking ramen noodles in a hotel room electric kettle, or late night grocery store runs, we just might have starved without Luc. 
  • He changed poopy diapers. VERY poopy. 
  • He didn't lose his cool when Jack had the mother of all tantrums at an airport in Shangai, nor when Jack topped that with an even worse meltdown mid-flight, somewhere over the Pacific, that lasted almost an hour. 
  • He survived THREE flights--or was it four?--of the worst turbulence known to man, short of actually falling out of sky, and stayed calm for the babies. Seriously, this was grown-adults-screaming-and-crying kind of turbulence. This was make-peace-with-your-maker kind of turbulence. Not just on one flight, but three stupid flights. I have a better sense what hell feels like, now. 
  • He initially agreed to a ten-day trip that turned into a three-week trip. He sacrificed opportunities in his own life and never once made me feel bad for what he was giving up. I did feel bad, but not because of his attitude. He acted like there was nothing else he'd rather do. 
  • Laundry. Endless laundry. Handwashed in hotel bathroom sinks. Every frigging day. Toddler clothes with poop and barf. Ugh. Memories of laundry still trigger anxiety for me. 
  • Luc really enjoys figuring out how to communicate with others. He picked up far more pidgin Chinese than I even attempted. His enthusiasm and sincere interest won us friends everywhere we went, even new pen pals. 
  • He is probably the most patient fellow traveler in the universe. He didn't complain when I couldn't handle even one more hour of the heat, humidity, and smells to have a sightseeing experience he really, really wanted to do. He was understanding when I made a long day even longer in order to visit one of the orphanages, and he didn't object when I wanted to stay on the floor in a dog pile of babies forever (it was our guide who objected and finally forced me to leave). He was more than fine with curtailing most touristy experiences to focus on the needs of two very little ones. 
  • He thought of things I didn't. He bought Jack a car backpack to bring snacks and diapers everywhere we went. Jack was so proud of that grown-up accessory he would have worn it to bed if we wouldn't have allowed him to keep right next to his crib. Luc found places for fresh fruit so Annie would always have healthy options right in the hotel rooms.
About a week after we returned Lucas stayed with the babies for an afternoon so that I could take care of my own dental & doctor appointments, and get some much-needed me time. It was so early that I couldn't have left them with a babysitter, but ShuShu was a thrilling treat, after the disappointment (Jack's) of discovering that ShuShu did not actually live with us.  

As I told the hygienist about our amazing and wonderful ShuShu, she kept trying to write the story into a romance. It was very entertaining, though I kept assuring her that the story of our friendship is most definitely a platonic one. She finally sighed and said, "Ah well. It's a good story. It would be so much better if you two would have fallen in love on this kind of trip." 

I beg to differ. I think people do a lot of wonderful things for other people when they are romantically involved. I think that it's not terribly difficult to be unselfish and kind and generous and thoughtful when sexual attraction is part of the picture. Romance inspires people to heroic feats. 

But to do those things for a friend? A friend where there is no great romance or underlying sexual tension? That's genuine unselfish greatness of heart, and that's why our family is so very blessed to have our own Uncle ShuShu.