Sunday, April 30, 2017

Open Adoption

Troy called me downstairs yesterday. "I just got six texts," he said and he turned his phone so I could see. For the briefest of seconds, I was confused. The newborn baby in the pictures was Matthew. The sender was his father. Why was Matt's father sending us newborn baby pictures of our 8 year old? A moment later, my synapses all started firing correctly and I realized what was going on.

Matthew has a baby brother. His baby brother--who shares half of his DNA--looks so much like he did as a newborn. He was born yesterday. Matthew's father texted us within an hour after his birth to let Matt know he's a big brother again. We didn't know his brother was coming. We don't know the circumstances. But we know that his father, who has waited 8 years to parent a child, has a second son.

We showed the pictures to Matthew. He was so excited to have another sibling. This makes 7 for him. Three biological sisters, a biological brother, two brothers by adoption, and a Kate in heaven. Our boy is struggling, in some ways, with some of the concepts of adoption. He longs to have all of his family under one roof and, truly, who can blame him? He often says, "I want to live with __________ but, then I wouldn't be able to live with you." He doesn't want to leave us. He just wants all the people who are important to him nearby. It is because of this struggle, because of this sometimes blurred identity, that I rejoice in the siblings he has.

We are connected enough to his birth parents that I have no doubt he will one day foster relationships with his biological siblings. And I am so glad that he has them. He was excited to tell some of the people at church today that he has a new brother. To see him beam with pride, to hear the joy in his voice, I see, in him, a sense of connection and love--even if his brother is separated by miles and years.

There is the tendency, with adoptive parents, to push back against biology. The idea, perhaps, that we will be enough. We are only enough if we are all they need. If there is something else that they are longing for, we must always put the child before our own needs and our own feelings. Open adoption redefines itself many times in the course of a life. We must always protect the child entrusted to us (and that can certainly mean different things depending on the adoptive situation).

I believe that in open adoption we must be, well, open.

We must always love.

Love our children enough that, while they are young, and unless there was abuse against the child, they hear only positive things about their families. They are too small to process the negative and too impressionable to bear its weight.

Love our children enough to celebrate victories. Celebrate marriages and siblings and positive phone calls and, perhaps, even positive visits if circumstances allow. Matthew and I immediately picked out a gift for his new brother and we'll ship it out tomorrow. Because we share in Matthew's joy. Because we are celebrating with him.

Love our children enough that they sense, in us, openness. If my sons grow up and say, "We were always allowed to tell our parents what we were thinking and feeling, even if it could have hurt them," I will be satisfied.

Love our children for who they are and know that a large part of that comes from who their parents are. Matthew hasn't seen his father since he was two years old and he makes a couple of faces that look just like him. Some of his personality traits are directly passed down from them, riding on his DNA and outshining nurture in every way. We make a point of saying, "You looked just like your dad right then." Or, "Your mom really loves spicy food, too." Because we want to validate his place in our family and his place in theirs.

Love our children in the moment. Always. No matter what. Without regard for the way our relationship might change and without worrying about the evolution of open adoption in our lives. Love them with wild abandon. Love them, in adoption, the way we are called to love always.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. -1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Our relationship with Matthew's dad has not been an easy one. But time has a way of growing us. He sent us a picture this morning of him holding his newborn son. It touched me and nearly brought me to tears. I want good things for him. The truth of the matter is, he blessed me with an incredible gift in the son that we share. I will continue to love that boy with everything that is in me. And, born, perhaps, from the fierce love that I have for him, is a deep care for his family.

This is open adoption.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Hot Pink Puker

My middle child is very introverted. Not once he's very comfortable, mind you, but if you're a stranger or an acquaintance or even a casual friend, you can forget about cracking Matt's shell. He's a tough nut. He hates to have attention on him unless he's specifically gone looking for it. As his former kindergarten teacher recently said to me, Matthew needs to feel safe or he shuts down.

I tell you all of this as a preface--a little background--into why I have leaped so far ahead of all the rest of you in our race for Worst Mother of the Year. I'm so far ahead, in fact, that the committee is just going to give me my award now. In April. I don't have to wait until the end of the year.

Last Thursday, Matthew woke up and told me he had a stomach ache. He has also been loudly and frequently telling me how much he hates school. (This baffles me because he's brilliant, he likes his teacher, and he promises me that he's not having trouble with any kids.) So...I assumed his stomach ailment had a direct correlation to his detestation of education. I told him to get ready for school.

He didn't want to eat.

In addition to being a brilliant introvert, Matthew's eating skills are legit. No joke, the kid eats like he's the next champion of that Coney Island hot dog challenge. So the life choice to not eat breakfast on Thursday morning gave me pause.

I offered him Pepto Bismal the way you offer a toddler a band-aid. "This will help!"

And off he went to school because if there isn't a fever and/or some kind of bodily fluid coming out of my kid (i.e. vomit, explosive poo, eye goop) they're going.

Twenty minutes later, unbeknownst to me, my poor kid (read: my poor Do-Not-Look-At-Me-Unless-I-Invite-You-To-Do-So-Because-I-Am-Shy-And-Embarrass-Easily kid) threw up a hot pink mess all over his desk, all over his clothes, and all over a packet he'd been working on all year. My cell phone rang, "Hi, Lori. It's Jennifer." It doesn't bode well when the office is calling you twenty minutes after school starts. It either means there's an unfilled sub job in a class with a bunch of trouble makers or a sick kid. "I have Matthew. He threw up ALL OVER THE PLACE."

Oh goody.

Matthew is super smart. He is super funny. He is super athletic. You know what he isn't? A super barfer. He just, rarely throws up. On the other hand, I am a champion vomiter. A class act puker, if you will. Garrett is proudly being raised up in his mother's tradition. When we throw up, it is every 15-30 minutes for no less than 4 hours. We throw up what we've eaten and then, hours later, we receive visual confirmation that there are greens, yellows, and phelgmy reds existing in the deep pits of our stomach. Acid. Bile. Lining, perhaps? We barf big, y'all. Garrett, by age three, was throwing up without assistance. Now, to be fair, his first chuck would usually begin while he slept and, thus, cover himself and all of his bedding. However, all subsequent trips would involve him trekking to the toilet himself, throwing up, and then crawling back into his sleeping bag on my floor. AT THREE.

And lest you think that I should have won Worst Mother of the Year for THAT, I was always awake, always asked him if he needed me, and always received the answer that, no, in fact, he did not.

Matthew, at 8 years old, repeatedly hurled onto his desk, never thinking that getting over to a trash can would be ideal. He, apparently, has the barfing aptitude of a three-year-old. Poor kid. So he threw up Pepto Bismal all over his desk and then went to the office where I picked up his sad, vomit covered self. I apologized profusely to the office staff and his teacher. "He told me he didn't feel well," I said. "But, there was no outward evidence of his stomach ache."

Not to worry, they all said. Except that we do. We second guess all of our parenting choices. If only I'd found it even more weird that my champion eater didn't want to have breakfast, he'd have thrown up in the safety of his own home, all over the carpet. I'd have cleaned it up instead of poor Josh, the custodian. When we got home, I sent him upstairs to change his clothes. He stopped on the stairs and, with his eyes welling up with tears, said quietly, "I told you my tummy hurt."

Knife. Heart. Twist.

Yep. He'd told me alright. But he never throws up! I can count on two hands the number of times he's thrown up in his whole entire life. If it was me, I'd need my hands, feet, and a whole bunch of neighbors to lend me their fingers. How was I to know that this particular stomach ache was going to be the one that ended in a fountain of regurgitated Pepto Bismal?

Still, I subjected my shy, introverted 8 year old to public vomiting. I'm terrified that, in high school, he'll be known as the Hot Pink Puker. It is for this reason that the committee has awarded me the Worst Mom Trophy. I've knocked you all out of the running.

You're welcome.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


I had grand plans to visit multiple national parks this year. My kid is in the 4th grade and, as part of an effort to get Every Kid in a Park, 4th graders get their vehicle in for free. It is, as my son says, "Boss."

This was also the year that my kids (ever so thankfully and PRAISE the LORD!) switched from a year round schedule to a traditional one. People told me I would desperately miss the track system. People told me to be careful what I wished for. People were wrong. I've loved every second of the traditional year and am SO excited that my kids are getting out in early June and aren't going back until mid August. More than 7 weeks of summer? Yes, please!

But, with the absence of those pesky and disruptive year round breaks (okay, okay, the January one sure was nice because I got to go to San Diego to thaw out), came the absence of the ability to visit all the parks I'd planned to see. Sure, we still have summer, but our summer plans are already shaped.

With spring break looming, we decided to jaunt down to Arizona and see the sights and the grandest of canyons.

We spent the first full day of our visit just hanging around in Arizona. Driving in new places, soaking in new sights, experiencing new destinations.

Then we drove through places like this, which seemed like we had put ourselves directly into the Cars movie.

Perhaps Radiator Springs was just around the bend in the road. If our boys saw something they deemed an adventure, we let them get out and explore it. They scampered up this big boulder in no time flat. Their father went after them. I stayed in the car with the crying baby who does not understand his own inability to climb.

It was a relaxing time of, "You want a mocha from McDonald's?" "Yeah, I could go for one of those right now." And, "Hey, can we pull over and look at that?" "Sure!" 

On Sunday we took the boys to see Bearizona Wildlife Park in Williams, AZ. Everyone absolutely loved it.

The first part of our trip was driving through the wildlife without fences or barriers. The animals just walked beside you or lounged just off the road. It was incredible. We saw bears, wolves, burros, bighorn sheep, and so much more.

This burro stuck his head right up to the car window. Garrett pleaded for his dad to pet the guy but we weren't sure that was something we were allowed to do. So Troy tried to make it move along while I rattled a plastic bag to continue attracting it. We work well that way, me undoing all his hard work. It's payback for when I clean the house and he builds a pile on the counter only moments later.

After the amazing drive through portion, they have a small zoo. We watched a fun bird show and then visited the various animals. One of our favorite parts was watching this little guy show off for us. He kept swimming up to the glass where Will was standing, pushing off, doing a flip, and then coming back to do it again.

They also had a petting zoo, foxes, javelinas, a jaguar, and so much more. It was really a fun place to see and I highly recommend it if you're ever in the Williams area.

The rest of our trip was spent visiting the Grand Canyon. We got our 4th grader his free pass and off we went.

I'd been to the canyon once, as a nine-year-old, but I was the only one in my family who had seen it. The pictures simply do not do it justice. I would snap a shot, glance at my phone, glance back at the canyon, and shake my head. You simply cannot capture the grandeur. 

The older boys and I did a little rock climbing out to the edge. Of course, it looks like the edge until you look down and see another ledge and then another. Garrett begged me to let him "stage" this picture. It's a fine line, I always say, between keeping them alive and letting them live.

We want to shelter them, to get them to adulthood in one piece and as unscathed as humanly possible, but what is life if not to be lived and lived fully? What is exploration without adventure?

So many men I have been blessed with. They will grow up and leave me (well, except for the tallest one, I hope) and forge lives of their own. But I want them to say of their mother that she instilled a great faith in them, that she taught them to experience life and not to sit on the sidelines, afraid to live, and that she gave them an opportunity to blaze their own trails.

I am learning, slowly and by the grace of God, that it takes a dedicated person to mother only the wild man. This trip gave me a glimpse into what is required of me. It is allowing them to satisfy their craving for scrambling up the face of a rock just because it is there. It is accepting their passionate plea to climb to the very edge of a canyon just to say they looked down. It is taking their outstretched hand because there is just a small amount of fear and mama would never let them fall. It is knowing that the world needs a few good men, a few brave men, a few wild men and that those good, brave and wild must first be boys of endless curiosity. 

I have learned to let them sit on the edge.

It was a good trip.

"The Grand Canyon is carven deep by the master hand; it is the gulf of silence, widened in the desert; it is all time inscribing the naked rock; it is the book of earth." -Donald C. Peattie