Monday, October 25, 2010

Ordinary Times

Lately, when it comes to our family, I've been feeling a deep sense of awe. The day-to-day "wake up-make breakfast-run errands-nap-play-cook dinner-read books-go to bed" normalness of it all.

I'll be singing The Wheels on the Bus in the car or sweeping crumbs off the kitchen floor and I'll catch myself thinking "Wow, I can't believe this is my life".

We always knew we wanted a family. We talked about it, dreamed about it for years. We couldn't wait to have a house full of toys, kids chasing each other down the halls. Couldn't wait for stories before bed and pajamas with little feet.

Then we weren't sure we'd ever have it. Extra bedrooms went unused, the house was quiet. There was no need for gates on the stairs, covers on the outlets or locks on the cabinet doors. Everything felt empty and incomplete.

I don't necessarily think that infertility made me a better mom. I still get frustrated and have bad days and wish I could sleep in on Saturday mornings. What I do think is that I recognize how extraordinary it is to just be an ordinary family.

After 3 years, it's no longer surreal to wipe booger noses, spend afternoons in the park or hear someone call me "mom". What's amazing to me is how ordinary it feels...and that's pretty incredible.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Survival Essentials

One of the many reality shows Chris & I are loyal viewers of is this show on the Discovery channel called Man, Woman, Wild. It follows an ex-special forces op and his journalist wife through various survival situations, like being lost in the jungle or stranded while snowmobiling. In addition to guessing how many more of these scenarios these two can go through before one of them decides to abandon the other in the wilderness, we've learned several fire starting methods (though Chris & I have both decided that should we ever become the outdoorsy types, we'll simply carry matches).

In case you have something better to do on Friday nights and haven't seen the show, I will tell you that having fire is the most important element of survival, providing clean drinking water, food, warmth and protection for dangerous predators. Yet starting a fire is not easy. You need to gather just the right materials, find a way to create enough friction to make a spark, blow on that spark to help it grow and then slowly add twigs and sticks and finally branches. All these steps must be done carefully, any misstep - damp wood, not providing enough oxygen, dumping too many sticks on at once - and your fire will go out and you have to start all over again. Every week, even though he's done it many times before, its fire-starting that stresses Mykel out; he knows its crucial to their survival.

I understand how he feels. While I've never used bamboo branches and my shoe laces to start a fire, I can completely relate to the deliberate care and caution that goes into protecting something so essential to your well-being and precarious in nature.

Buddy has made his first friend at school, a little boy named H.

Buddy first announced this friendship to me last week, but I wasn't sure exactly what to make of it. Buddy still does not talk to any of the other children and only speaks to the teachers when they initiate conversation, so I found his announcement a little hard to believe. I thought maybe this H was just a boy he admired b/c he had light-up sneakers or something. I mean, how do you make a friend without talking? Apparently, talking is overrated because in the drop-off lane on Monday, H was in the car in front of us and he waited outside for Buddy to get out of the car, smiling and jumping up and down as they headed into class together. I asked the teacher handling drop-off about them and she confirmed they had recently developed a friendship, working on projects together, sitting side-by-side at lunch and hanging out during recess. Apparently, smiles and gestures are the perfect compliment to H's constant talking.

I had to restrain myself from running up to H after school and pulling him into a bear hug, from calling his mom and inviting H on vacation with us this February. That would definitely be adding too many twigs to the fire. Yet, I hope this new spark of friendship gets the oxygen it needs to grow, that H recognizes the fun, sweet boy sitting beside him and sticks it out until Buddy is willing to share more than just a smile.

Friendship, like fire, is essential to survival. I'm so excited Buddy has found that first spark of friendship. I hope it will continue to grow into something substantial enough ease his fear of being away from home, to give him confidence to embrace new experiences and to protect him from the sometimes cruel world of being a child.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Inevitable Post of an Adoptive Mom

Ask any adoptive family and you'll find it can happen anywhere. Most recently, it happened to us during one of our frequent trips to a nearby superstore. A new cashier was working the register, one we hadn't met before and after idly chatting while she rang up our groceries, she turned to the boys and said:

"Well, either Mommy's been busy with lots of boyfriends or you two are adopted."

Obviously, adopted or not, making a joke to a 2 year old and a 3 year old regarding their mother's potential bedroom activities is clearly inappropriate. It is also 1 of only 3 truly offensive comments I have heard regarding our family in the 3 years since we adopted Buddy. However, it got me thinking, once again, about my stance on strangers commenting on and/or asking questions about how we became a family.

I love talking about my family and sharing our adoption stories - I mean, obviously I do, I've devoted an entire blog to it. And I understand that 99% of the people who approach us are well-meaning people who are curious about our situation or just trying to be friendly. They may phrase questions in ways I wish they wouldn't (using terms such as "real" mom) or ask questions I feel are too personal (how much did it cost? why couldn't the birth mom parent?), but I know these aren't the words of mean-spirited people attempting to offend us. They are simply poorly-worded or unintentionally invasive statements from people who aren't as familiar with adoption as we are. Even the cashier's comment, though wildly inappropriate, was a clumsy attempt to get to know us.

Knowing that the vast majority of commenters are well-intentioned, I'm happy to talk about our family if you approach me when I'm alone or my kids are out of ear shot. I may gently correct a person's terminology or politely deflect questions about topics I feel are private, but for the most part I'm happy to have a conversation about our experience.

The problem I have is when people approach me in front of my kids. I understand these are the types of situations my children need to be prepared to face. I understand it's a good opportunity for me to model appropriate responses to these questions and for my children to hear me discuss with pride how they joined our family. I also understand that as the parent of internationally adopted children, I signed up for this - I knew we'd look different from everybody else, I knew we'd face curiosity and occasionally racism. I knew this and willingly agreed to it...but my kids did not.

For that reason, it does bother me when strangers in the park or the grocery store feel the need to make comments or ask questions while the kids and I are just trying to go about our day. Especially now that they are older and understand that people are identifying us as "different" from everybody else. It's sad when a moment on the swings ends with Buddy asking me why someone thought Buster wasn't his "real brother" or Buster needs to ask "Why that silly lady think you not my mama?". I understand we knowingly brought them into a situation where they'd be labeled different or unique and that these are the types of issues we need to prepare them to face all their lives...but I still wish, for their sake, they could just be kids in the park, no need to feel different than anybody else.

Monday, October 4, 2010

I Wish

My bloggy friend Tiffany recently made a list for her students of things she wished she had done differently in high school and asked others if they'd make their own lists for her to share. Since I love talking about myself in list form, I mean supporting education, I decided to make my own:

I wish I would have taken four years of Spanish, instead of just the required two.

I wish I hadn't been "the other woman" and then expected the guy to treat me any better.

I wish I would have appreciated how special it was to eat dinner with my family every night and had lingered at the table longer.

I wish it hadn't taken me an entire year to realize how awesome K was - she's my best friend to this day.

I wish I had been brave enough to run for Student Council.

I wish I hadn't experimented with bangs, owned so many flannel shirts or worn Doc Martins.

I wish I would have realized a size 6 is not fat and that while my skinnier friends could boast a smaller dress size, I was the one who could fill out a bikini.

I wish I would have spent less time fighting with my sisters over whose turn it was to talk on the phone and more time talking to them.

I wish I hadn't worn that awful dress to senior prom - white is definitely not my color.

I wish I had spent less time trying to pad my college resume and more time participating in extra-curriculars I actually enjoyed.

I wish I had been less judgemental and had been able to see shades of gray.

I wish I had gotten to know myself, instead of trying to be the person I thought other people wanted me to be.

Well, there you have it. To summarize, I wish I had spent less time being an insecure, self-involved teenager with suspect fashion choices. Make your own list and send it to Tiffany - its very therapeutic!

The Reason

A question I get from time to time and one that has been coming up more frequently is some variation of this:

Did Buddy's adoption cause his sensory & emotional issues?

Some people ask it in an accusatory way, a way of hinting that by choosing to adopt we have inflicted harm on our children.

Some people reverse it, assuming that his minor issues are the reason his birth mom chose not to parent him.

Then there's the ones who say it sympathetically, implying that because he is adopted, Chris & I aren't to blame for any problems he faces....because any issues he has must be the result of what they assume to be a birth mom's poor choices/ a foster mom who spoiled him/spending 9 months in country not as wealthy as ours.

Here's the thing - I really, truly appreciate that people in our lives are trying to understand the types of issues we are facing with Buddy. I'm glad they are asking questions and finding out what they can do to help. Its wonderful to know that so many people care about us and want to support our family. So I don't want this post to make it seem that I resent in any way people's questions or attempts to reach out to us b/c that is so not the case. In fact, I've started this post many times, only to hit delete, because I don't want to embarrass anyone or hurt well-meaning people's feelings.

But I think its important to say, in no uncertain terms:

Buddy was not placed for adoption because he was "damaged" and being adopted did not cause his developmental, sensory and emotional issues.

That's not to say that there aren't attachment issues related to adoption or that children do not experience a grieving period or that adoption has absolutely no impact on a child's life. What I'm saying is that Buddy's needs do not exist simply because he was adopted. And I don't want Buddy or anyone else believing that to be true.

The truth is, we don't know "the reason" for the struggles Buddy faces. As far as I know, there's not one definitive answer as to what makes a person brave or jealous or shy...or in Buddy's case, anxious and suffering from sensory integration issues. What we do know is that Buddy had feeding and sleep issues the entire time he was in Guatemala, before he was adopted. We also know that Buddy's birth mom made an adoption plan long before he was born, not because of any of his specific characteristics. Yes, I think its reasonable to assume that being adopted at 9 months of age intensified some of his security and anxiety issues. However, not all adopted children have these problems. Plus, we've met many children just like Buddy who aren't adopted, who were born in the US, whose mothers took prenatal vitamins and received excellent medical care and made sure their babies had tummy time each day and did all the other "right" things.

So no, I don't think adoption is "the reason" Buddy has some special needs. I don't know what the reason is. I don't even know if there is one specific reason or just a whole bunch of little reasons. I've sort of realized the "Why did this happen to my son?" is much less important then the "How do I help Buddy be the best Buddy he can be?". And while I understand the need people have to try to identify the "whys", I just want to make it clear that the list does not begin and end with adoption.