Saturday, October 29, 2016

2+1+K = 4

"Bash. Um," I always say to a new group of kids before I take roll. "Mrs. Bash. Um." It doesn't really matter. I'll get any number of new names assigned to me throughout the day. Teacher. Bashel. Bash. Bashman. The list goes on. Then, if I'm at my boys school, I will tell them that I have a fourth grader and second grader there. Now, of course, I also share that I have a baby at home. Because kindergartners and girls of every age will inevitably squeal and, seemingly, instantly like me once they know I have a baby. On Wednesday, a bright little kindergartner exclaimed, "So you have two kids here at school and one kid at home so you have THREE KIDS?" He waited expectantly, as though he wanted me to affirm his addition.

Great math, five-year-old.

He's too young to understand algebra. He doesn't know that 2 + 1 + = 4. It's always a strange sort of thing whether it's a kindergartner or a woman in a store who stops me to say, "So you have the three boys?" It's the very worst when a well meaning person says, "Time for your girl now."

There's an awkward pause every time as I struggle to figure out what to say. Usually, I just say, "Yes." Or, in the case of the people who tell me it's time for my girl, I smile and reply, "Well, I'm happy with what God has given me."

Yesterday though, the little boy in kindergarten got a longer pause and, as sometimes happens, I felt the tug not to erase my daughter from the equation. "I have three kids with me and one in heaven." I don't know if I'm allowed to mention heaven in public school but it's as much a part of my reality as breathing so there you have it.

Another boy instantly joined in the conversation. I don't know his story. Maybe he's lost someone close to him, maybe he was just curious, but that little guy wanted to know. "Oh. That is sad," he said. "Your kid went to heaven?"

"Yes," I replied.

"A boy or a girl kid?"

"A girl," I answered.

He lowered his voice and asked, "What was her name?"


And at that, he seemed content to move on.

I've thought a lot about grief in these past 21 months. My heart had never broken like that before and I needed to know that it was the worst grief anyone could ever feel--because I could not imagine anything worse. Except my head knew that it could be worse--that one day, it would be worse. And so I walked a precarious tightrope of emotions, upset with everyone who said they knew how I felt and upset with myself for embracing, so intensely, a grief I have sometimes felt wasn't mine to experience.

She had never really been mine.

Only the dream of her belonged to me. How can the loss of a dream hurt so completely and how can I think, every day, of that little dream and what she would have become?

I struggle to find answers. I continue to peel away the layers of the feelings, to understand more and more as the pain becomes less and less. I mourn the loss of the dream. And I mourn for Kate. For her life, unlived. 

The stillborn are handled in one of two ways. They are buried or cremated for the purpose of memorializing them or the hospital disposes of them. We could have stayed in Utah. The baby would have been disposed of according to hospital protocol. We would have grieved our dream and, one day, moved on. That would have been it. 

We didn't stay. We went to her. We held her. We gave her a name on a stone and a piece of grass that belongs to her. We made her ours. She was our dream but she was reality. Her unlived life mattered. I think that is why I grieve so tremendously a little girl I never knew. Because if not her mother, then who? 

I know that if she had been born alive at 32 weeks gestation, instead of still, I would have rushed to her side and sat in the NICU until she was healthy enough to go home. I would have loved her and cared for her and rejoiced with her and cried with her and raised her as best as I know how. She was born still and I was not afforded the opportunity to do any of those things. What I was given was the great privilege to rush to her side and grieve for her.

Now, I have the privilege of thinking about her every day, wishing I could visit her grave every day, and struggling with how I answer the question of how many children I have. Because I have four. And I really miss one of them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Don't Quit Your Daydream

Don't Quit Your Daydream. Those are the words on a shirt that my mom brought me on her recent visit. 

I was pondering the sentence and how much I liked it and how my mom knows how to shop for me and then I thought, "What even is my daydream anymore?" And while I'm not 100% certain, what I know is that it has always been to create something that lasts. To maybe, someday, write something worth reading or direct something worth watching or sing something worth listening to. I used to want that to happen on a grand scale, to see my name plastered up on some sign in flashing neon lights. Now, to not have my children cringe when I sing a note is daydream enough for me, I suppose.  
It's interesting, the way I have allowed other people to influence how I feel about my own art. It's true that constructive criticism should be embraced. I would certainly hate to be one of those delusional people on American Idol who fancy themselves a brilliant singer when they actually just sound like a wounded cat who is also in heat. But, my overwhelming desire to be liked and to be appreciated has been a huge detriment to my promotion in any medium in which I may otherwise have had a small measure of success.

Why is it that we need to hear positive affirmation approximately 11,225 times before we'll believe it but one person saying one negative thing about us is enough to do us in?

In high school, I had two different theatre classes. I knew I wanted to continue in the theatre and I worked as hard in those two classes as anyone. I listened intently to the notes and I fixed it. I paid attention to everything, as desperate for improvement as I was for air.

At the end of the year, one teacher went around the room saying positive things about everyone's growth as an actor. The bell rang just as she got to me and she put her hand on my head and hurriedly said that I was a nice girl. Literally, everyone before me had been given these glowing reviews of their performances. From the stars of the shows down to the chorus members. Nice is nice, I guess, but it wasn't exactly on point. I was 17, vulnerable, and a complete perfectionist. In that moment, nice sounded a lot like, "I can't think of a bloomin' thing to say about you."

I would never tell anyone that I wanted to continue doing theatre because I was so afraid of rejection. Just before graduation I confessed to the other teacher that "when I grew up" I wanted to be an actress. She looked at me, cocked her head slightly to one side and said, matter of factly, "Lori, you already are." That was half a lifetime ago and I can still remember what the rooms looked like and how both sentences made me feel. One spoke life. The other tore away confidence. One made me question whether I'd had any impact at all while the other ran through my mind whenever I needed a confidence boost during my four years as a theatre major.

In college, I had many professors who praised my creative writing. I loved to write and any creative writing assignment felt a lot more like fun and a lot less like work. Once though, JUST ONCE, I had a professor, who did not teach writing, tell me that I needed to find my own voice and stop trying to copy my friend's writing style. Now, it should be noted that my friend is an infinitely better writer than I am. She's published and phenomenal. But my voice had remained consistent from high school throughout college. It wasn't changing because my friend was an amazing writer anymore than it changed when I read Hemingway, Tolstoy, or the Saturday morning funnies. Always the sponge and never the duck, I allowed that one comment to bother me for far too long, to shake my confidence, to make me wonder if maybe I just shouldn't write at all.

On the other hand, I had a lit professor approach me one day. Earlier in the week, I had been asked to read some of my poetry at a literature luncheon. On this particular day, I had just performed a Laban Crisis Piece as part of a grant application for the Theatre department. The poems were raw--the result of what had been both a painful and joyful year. The crisis piece had also left me feeling bare and exposed. This professor was highly respected by myself and, seemingly, every human being on campus. He came up to me, placed a hand on my shoulder and said, "Thank you. I just love the way you express yourself through your art." He referenced my poetry and my performance and told me that they were a great blessing to him. I have clung to that one compliment for fifteen years.

Because, after all, aren't we all just striving to be seen? In those moments, high school drama teacher and college lit professor had seen me and validated my experience and my dream.

The truth of the matter is that I'm never going to win at any of these arts forms. But it's taken me a long time to realize that it was never about winning in the first place. My daydream is to create. It isn't to be the very best--not anymore, anyway. If I can sing a song and hit the notes, it doesn't matter that I'll never be a recording artist or win a Tony. If I can write a story, it doesn't matter that it won't be published. If I can bring something to life on stage, it doesn't matter that it isn't on Broadway. Or Off-Broadway. Or even Off-Off-Off-Broadway.

I want to make art. I want to encourage in my children--and those I have any influence over--a desire to create and to express who they are, so that we can really see them. I want to encourage their dreams, not discourage them. They may not be the next Picasso, Sondheim, or Shakespeare.

But then again, they might be. A kind word or a harsh one may well be remembered for decades. Both may be relied upon to make or break the artist.

Encourage. Create.

And don't quit your daydream.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Are You a Starfish?

We have a finalization date! Our family is set to appear before a judge on December 21st. Just in time for Christmas. Now, I'm going to be honest with you. I started crying when I read the email. Not because, "Hooray for finalization!" (although, yes, of course, HOORAY!) but because we're eligible to finalize as early as December 6th. 

I emailed the lawyer's office and basically said, "Um. Any chance we could do this sooner? Any chance we could get ourselves put on a waiting list? Cuz I'm going to straight up invent things to worry about between now and then and we need to get this thing signed, sealed and delivered, yo." Except it sounded more professional than that. And it ended with the bit about the waiting list. Because I don't want the lawyer's office to fire me as a mother because of my neurosis. 

I received a response explaining that this judge splits her time between the Park City courts and the Salt Lake City courts and the absolute soonest we can get in is the 21st.

So I followed up my first email with, "Any chance we could get in with a different judge, yo?" (Minus the yo. And, again, more professional.)

Not unless there's a big, giant reason we can't wait until the 21st and, then, we'd need to file a petition to switch judges, etc. First, that sounded like a massive pain and I saw dollar signs floating by. And, second, there is no big, giant reason we can't hold our horses and wait until four days before Christmas. Except that MAMA IS BAT POO NUTS, Y'ALL AND SHE SERIOUSLY INVENTS TERRIBLE SCENARIOS IN HER HEAD.

Fourteen months of contested adoption in 2009 and 2010 will do that to a girl.

So I'm going to hold my metaphorical horses and hunker down and wait for the snow and the cold and December 21st to come so that we can FINALIZE THE HECK OUT OF THIS THING.

Adoption is not for the faint of heart.

Seriously. I have had people tell me how lucky I am that I didn't actually have to give birth to two of my children. Um. Girlfriend would NOT be saying that if she had any idea what the adoption process is like. I am basically sure that the anxiety and the waiting and the home studies and the incredible financial strain have taken a decade off my life. Child birth? I did that too. It took a day and cost me $300 dollars. The end.

We have to submit an Affidavit of Fees to the judge. Our lawyer's office needed me to submit a list of what we spent. I'm so INCREDIBLY grateful to all the people who donated to our adoption and lightened the load for us. But our grand total (IF no additional fees are incurred between now and December for some reason)(Read: Any number of the terrible scenarios I've invented in my head) is $30,037. (That does include our one time listing fee with our Adoption Facilitator that we paid back when we were waiting for Kate.) Hear me when I tell you that that is a pretty inexpensive adoption.

You cannot adopt overseas for that. You cannot adopt from an agency for that. People, there are children in orphanages all over the world waiting to be loved. There are babies being born and put into the foster care system. There are children growing up in foster care (AND YOU CAN ADOPT THEM FOR CONSIDERABLY LESS THAN 30K). We need to figure out a way to make this affordable for people. We need adoption reform. I honestly don't know how or what that looks like. But I know it needs to happen if we are going to live out the command to care for orphans.

What I do know, though, is that this is DOABLE for so many people if they would just allow themselves to be vulnerable, to open themselves up to the waiting and the anxiety and give all that over to the Lord.

Troy and I (because of complicated clergy tax laws) do not qualify for the Adoption Tax Credit. BUT MOST PEOPLE DO. The adoption tax credit, for 2016, is $13,460. To be clear, a tax credit is an amount that is subtracted from the adopting parents' tax liability. So BOOM, that would take our adoption down to $16,577! (If, of course, we were fortunate enough to be able to benefit from it.) Many insurance plans offer adoption indemnity benefits if the adopting family has maternity coverage at the time of placement. In Utah, this can be up to $4,000. That would take our total down to $12,577. That is still A LOT of money. I get that. But it is so much less than $30,000. And with adoption fundraising and grants, one might successfully alleviate a great deal of that. 

I'm saying all of that because I have heard SO MANY people say that they can't afford to adopt without really looking in to it. I've heard others say that the process is too daunting. I will be the first to say that IT NEEDS TO BE CHEAPER and IT NEEDS TO BE EASIER. But it CAN BE DONE. 

I'm just really passionate about adoption. And I feel a lot like the boy in the starfish proverb. You know, the one where the boy is throwing starfish back into the ocean and there are just so many that he can't really make a dent. So many of them will die there on the shore. And the man tells him that he can't make much of a difference. The boy stoops down, collects a starfish, and hurls it into the sea. "It made a difference to that one."

It makes a difference when we adopt. It may change the life of a child but it definitely changes us. But beyond that, my point to this starfish story is that by talking about adoption, by explaining the ups and downs but, ultimately, the absolute joy I have found in this process, I hope that I might influence even one person to consider this for their family. There might be thousands who read my drivel and can't adopt. (Convicted felons come to mind.) But if I can throw just one of you into the ocean, to plant a seed that may blossom into a decision to one day adopt, that will be worth it to me. 

Is the Lord tugging on your heart? Is He whispering to open your home to a child in need? Are you one of the ones who is ready to take ten years off her life for the VERY BEST OF REASONS? I'd love nothing more than to talk to you about adoption. And, listen, I'm just going to be sitting around for the next two months waiting for December 21st. SO YOU CAN TOTALLY HELP ME PASS THE TIME BY TALKING TO ME ABOUT THIS.

Email me.

And if you have no interest in adoption whatsoever, you can pray for us...that everything between now and December 21 is smooth sailing and that I stop concocting crazy horror stories in my demented little head.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Ethnic Ambiguity

My little, tiny guy--the one who is in the 1% for length and the 2% for weight (but he started off the charts teeny so we're not worried)--is biracial. His mama is white and his dad is black. Knowing this, I always assumed that Will would be darker than he is. Oh, sure, he could get darker but all the ways I know of predicting his future tones point to him being pretty fair. I knew he'd never be as dark as Matthew whose parents are both black, but I assumed he'd look, well, blacker. I hoped he'd be darker. Being a mixed kid growing up in a white home will probably have Will identifying more with his white roots in the first place. I don't want him to blend right in and not look black because I want him to embrace all of his heritage, to celebrate everything that makes him who he is. When his straight black hair grew into soft brown curls, I rejoiced. When he got just a little darker than when he was born, I celebrated.

Troy and I have laughed over a scene from Parks and Recreation where Rashida Jones's character, Ann, is referred to as being ethnically ambiguous. Rashida, in real life, is black, Welsh, and Ashkenazi Jewish and totally one of the most beautiful people on the planet. No. Really.

On the show, I don't believe that her ethnicity is discussed. At least, not beyond her being referred to as ambiguous. It's true that Jones could probably pass for Latina, Middle Eastern, black and white, or a handful of various ethnicities. And I wonder if that will be Will.

When Matthew was born and in the seven subsequent years since, everyone asked if he was adopted. No one asks me if Will is adopted. That makes me sad. Not because I enjoy answering everyone all the time. Not because I like questions such as, "Where did he come from?" and, "What happened to his parents?" But, because I want to embrace all of who he is and that includes his birth family. I don't want people to see our family out and about and just assume that Will is white as can be. I want him to BE white AND black. Because he is.

On Saturday, I took the boys to sell popcorn for cub scouts. Will went with us and did his best to help with the sales. Here's how he looked.

At one point, my friend, Morgan, was holding Will. From across the parking lot, a black lady came walking briskly. "Does he have red hair?" she asked. "Is he a red head?" She came right up to him. Morgan and I, slightly confused by her enthusiasm, glanced at each other. 

Morgan answered, "" She ran her fingers through his hair. 

"Oh! He looked like a redhead from across the parking lot. Can I hold him?" this caught me off guard because I had literally known this woman for two seconds. 

Morgan said, "You'll have to ask mom." She pointed at me.

"Oh, YOU'RE his mom," she said and turned to me. "Where's his dad?" I must have looked confused because she followed that question up quickly with, "He's mixed. Dad is black, right?" Listen, I could have thrown my arms around this stranger right then and there.

I wanted to yell, "YES! HE IS! THANK YOU FOR NOTICING! THANK YOU FOR KNOWING. YOU HAVE JUST MADE MY DAY!" But I did not do that because, at this point I had known this woman for approximately fifteen seconds and I have boundaries. Instead I kind of stammered, "Oh. Yes, actually. We're adopting him but, yes, his dad is black and his mom is white."

"I knew it!" she said. "Look at those curls." She proceeded to tell me that her sister had placed a baby for adoption. She thanked me for stepping in and adopting him and while I appreciate the sentiment, especially coming from the aunt of a child who was placed, I always want to tell people that the pleasure and the joy is entirely mine and that, really, my kids should have some kind of trophy or medallion for putting up with me.

Matthew walked up and so I put my hand on his head and said that he was mine too. Then Garrett interjected, "So am I!" 

"This is your real son. I can tell," she said. And because she was being so nice and friendly and was probably just commenting on the fact that Garrett is my twin separated by 25 years, I simply said with a smile, "This one is biological and these two are adopted." I left out the part about how all three of them are quite real. None of them need to be plugged in at night in order to achieve the lifelike ability to move and breathe and soil a diaper. My excitement over her knowing that my kid is biracial outweighed my desire to work, in that moment, on changing the terminology and verbage surrounding adoption.

Here's a close up of Will with my parents last week. He's black and white and teeny tiny and full of life and joy and energy. He melts my heart to a pile of mush. He may be a little ethnically ambiguous but, apparently, the trained eye will rush across a parking lot to squeal over my mixed kid.

Friday, October 7, 2016

It Is Well

It's been a whirlwind few weeks. I just logged in to my blog and was kind of floored that it's been so long since I've posted. But, in the meantime, we've had a couple of special things happen in our family. Both sets of parents came in to town and spent time with us last week. They were here to visit and celebrate Will's dedication to the Lord and Troy's ordination.

Troy has basically had all the paperwork to become ordained since forever but just never called together the council and had it officially done. A few Thursdays ago he defended his theological positions before a council of peers. It was a grueling three hours of discussing, clarifying, and arguing his positions. In the end, they unreservedly recommended him for ordination. Also, I felt dumb. Because the words my husband was using were SO above my intellect. I mean, it might be similar to when I'm talking about Broadway to him but, I really kinda doubt it.

On Sunday, we dedicated Will to the Lord and Troy's was officially ordained. It was a really special day for us. It was great to have our parents there to be a part of it.

Troy's parents left on Monday and mine left yesterday morning. Then, today, we had Will's post placement visit for our home study. I think things went well and we should be able to get a court date for sometime in December.

We have many concerns and so many people, places, and things that we are praying for. At this moment though, within the walls of our own home, it is well. Our family is full of hope and joy. And, when Will bursts out into a hearty baby laugh, we can't help but join in.