Bracelets for Our Brothers
Help Us Bring Our Brothers Home
Posted on May 18th, 2017

​When I first discovered and translated the message, I was in my office, on a small break near the end of the day between a class and a conference with a team of teachers and a parent.  I had to read it three or four times before I understood—not only because the translation wasn’t really clear, but because I was frozen in disbelief.  How could this be happening?  Then the hyperventilating started, followed by an uncontrollable stream of tears as my body became sticky and clammy from the distress. 
Maybe I misread it, I thought, as I reread the message for the 6th or 7th time—I lost count.  Maybe the translation is bad, I hoped, as I passed it on to a friend who could give me a more accurate reading than Google Translate.  I continued to put it through different translators, but all indicated the same general message.  My friend responded nearly immediately.  No, I wasn’t mistaken.  No, it wasn’t that inaccurate of a translation.  His words were clear.  His message was firm.  He thanked us for our time and generosity and for being good people, but it was made clear that this would be our final contact with one another.
After about 15 minutes of shock and denial, I looked at the clock—only ten minutes until the meeting.  How could I possibly sit in front of a parent and have a coherent, helpful conversation?  There was no way, I wasn’t strong enough.  I stumbled into my administrator’s office sweating profusely, eyes crazed and bloodshot from the tears, face red and puffy.  I probably frightened him; I usually have better control over my emotions.  This was a tragedy though, a real-life, actual tragedy that was playing out on a stage in my office with me as the protagonist.
Because I have a wonderful administrator who has seen a more honest and real side of me than probably anyone else I’ve ever worked with, I told him the truth.  I had to choke out the words while I gasped for breath and stability between each horrifying set of letters.  “The… the boys… they… aren’t coming.  They withdrew….  from the adoption.  It’s over. I just found out.  I just got the message.  I might need to take a personal moment instead of attend this conference, here is what I would say to the parent, can you say it for me?”
Just as shocked as I was, he graciously told me to take the time I needed.  I locked myself in the restroom and watched the minutes tick by on my phone.  I tried, in those minutes, to remind myself of why I work where I work and with whom I work.   Many of the children, including the one in question, have a past and/or present that is very much like the background my own children have.  I knew topics would come up in this meeting that would be difficult for me to hear and talk about. 
This child, while he struggles in so many areas, and has such a difficult life, blossoms when he makes music with me.  I see my own children when I look in his eyes, and, if we had room for one more in our home, I would help him find the permanency he lacks. 
I knew this meeting would have a lot of negativity to it.  His poor grades (to spite his natural brilliancy), behavior problems, and lack of concentration would be the bulk of the conversation, but all stem from instability.  I am blessed to see a different side of this child, as I often have the opportunity to when working with children in an artistic setting.  I am frequently a teacher who can offer some shred of hope to a meeting like this, the teacher the parents thank later on for being the first teacher who has ever had anything nice to say about their child.  I am fortunate to be able to break away from the desk, chair, paper, pencil, and written work.  It is with great honor and privilege that I get to see beauty, through art, in some of life's most hideous moments.  
I stopped crying.  I opened the stall.  I feverishly tried to make myself not look panicked and weak, but I still looked awful.  I had to go, though.  So, I walked into the conference about 7 minutes late, drawing even more negative attention to myself as I sat down at the far end of the long conference table.  I can’t even imagine what other people thought about me during that conference.  All I can tell you, though, is that I was able to listen to some really hard truths that hit very close to home, and I decided to stick it out, and I am so glad I did. 
I was fortunate enough to form a relationship with this family that day that I didn’t have before.  I stayed after school for a long period of time just talking one on one with the family member representing the child that day.  Again, I can’t imagine what she must have thought of me as I stumbled into the meeting, flung myself into a chair, hair a mess, mascara stains around my fire-red eyes.  But, I’m so glad I stuck it out.  I think we blessed each other that day.  She may never know that.
The rest of that Wednesday evening was a blur.  I honestly have blocked most of it out.  I know I re-read his message several times.  It was polite, gracious, but very final.  He also made sure he blocked us from contacting him in any way.  In the same paragraph where he thanked me for caring for his sisters so well, for being such a good person, for coming back for him, he also told me he could never view me as his “real” mother, that he understood the difference between a biological mother and an adoptive mother, and that it would be a disgrace and betrayal to his biological family to take a new family name and call another person “mother”.
Devastated.  Then, the rage: Ok, fine, don’t call me “mom”, I get it, I never asked you to, you chose to!  You asked ME on the trip if you could call me that!   You continued to call me that in messages for days after we left Bulgaria.  Don’t take a new name!  I don’t care!  I never forced that on you! You chose that, too!  And, while I understand loyalty to a biological family and differences across cultures and genders, where has the loyalty to YOU been all these years? 
All these opportunities and chances that were given, no one, not a single person has said YES to you except ME.  I made bracelets with my daughters, your sisters, until my fingers bled.  I worked days and days on no more ethan four hours of sleep so we could get those bracelets out before people opened gifts and stockings on Christmas morning.  I have had to put my pride aside and ask for money, something I never thought I’d do.  I’ve fallen asleep over lengthy adoption paperwork, my hands unable to sign another document, my eyes unable to decode another legal word.  How can this be happening?
Fine.  Don’t come.  Stay in the orphanage and rot.  Leave there and have no education, no future, and try to find your biological family.  See how that works out for you.  I tried.  I fought for you in every way I could.  I stalked you for months and waited for your file to be with a reputable agency and NGO.  I plowed through adoption paperwork, red tape, and jumped the hoops at break-neck speed.  I said YES when everyone else said NO.  I have poured my life into bringing you home, to reuniting a part of your family, to righting a wrong I didn’t create but still feel responsible for.  I listened so hard to what God was telling me to do, how could this possibly be happening?  How could I have misheard Him?
We didn’t tell the girls.  Faking it in front of them for a couple of days to see what would happen and waiting for our NGO to run emergency interference on this was hard.  Meanwhile, no contact, and no apparent change in feeling from you.  Your mind was made up, and you were probably going to make sure your younger brother stayed behind with you.  The contact with him ceased as well.  Every time my phone had a notification, I prayed it was you.  I prayed you would change your mind, or that I would just wake up and it would all just be some horrible nightmare.  But, the days dragged on and things stayed the same.
We told the girls on Friday night after a dinner out and before our trip to Carowinds the next day, strategically planned to lessen the blow.  They were furious with you.  By the time we told them, we knew why you did what you did.  We knew your birth mother found out about our visit and contacted you.  First contact she’d made in years, but she got in your head and threatened you.  She told you that you’d be a disgrace, and that you were dishonoring your family.  She told you what to tell me.  And you did.  I know this to be true not only because of information we received from abroad, but because my oldest daughter said the same thing happened when we came for her.  She almost said no to our family, too, for the same reason.
We waited anxiously for news the following Monday from our NGO.  Late Monday afternoon and email, finally.  A Skype session was proposed for Wednesday at 6am.  We would try to talk through this with mediation from our translator.  The days between Monday and Wednesday became an “if this, then that” game between Neil and myself.  What will we do if this happens or that happens, when are we done, when do we throw in the towel, when do we say we tried but failed?
I confided in a trusted friend.  She reminded me of the story of Abraham and Isaac.  Abraham is asked by God to do something utterly absurd, and contradictory to the very nature of God’s will.  The very death of Isaac would be a complete contradiction to God’s promises.  The passage in Genesis is one that is controversial for many, and I can understand why.  Not only is it controversial and difficult to stomach that God would ask someone to offer his son as a sacrifice, it is also unclear exactly how to interpret the story.
After this conversation and my vague recollection of the story, I became enthralled with it.  I read perspectives from modern Christian scholars, multiple versions of the Word, and perspectives from Old Testament and Jewish scholars.  All of the interpretations made my head swim.   I also, in the midst of this process, recalled that one of my favorite composers, Stravinsky, set this Hebrew text to music, and that, this piece along with, was he or wasn’t he an anti-Semite, became and continues to be controversial among both music theorists and musicologists.  Two of my favorite musicologists, in fact, go toe-to-toe over this piece, and whether it was “bought and paid for”.  So, the obsession extended for me.
Back to the actual text, though. What was God really doing here?  How could he ask this of Abraham?  And, God’s own promises were dependent upon Isaac’s life.  Was he testing Abraham—some say yes, some say no he was already tested.  Some say the entire story reads out of context, and that Abraham understood metaphorically what was going on the whole time, that a lamb would be provided, and the whole thing is just one big misinterpretation of the Hebrew language.  Then there is big debate on whether Abraham actually “passed the test” because he listened to a messenger who gave him permission to stop just before he was going to sacrifice his son.  All kinds of disagreements over this text—fascinating.  Who knows the truth-only God…
But we do know that Abraham and Isaac make the long journey together, and Abraham does build an alter for a sacrifice.  Ultimately a message is delivered to Abraham that he clearly “FEARS” God and does not have to sacrifice his own son. There may be disagreements about the reasoning, the faith, the testing, the interpretation—whatever.  Most Christians choose to interpret this text as a pinacle example of doing God’s Will no matter what, listening, obeying, following His command.  While some might say this is a rather romanticized interpretation of the text, it is undeniably motivational, and absolutely applicable to the situation I found myself in.
I fear God.  I have tried to do what He has asked, even when it seemed absurd, while everyone around me questioned what I was doing.  I have tried to be faithful and trust in His provision as we started this process with about $1000 in savings, but needing about $40,000.  God has reaffirmed our journey time, and time again.  I have, even during moments when I questioned my ability to take on two more children with many needs, tried with all my might to be an obedient servant.  Maybe I had proven to God that I feared him, that I listen, that I believe.  Maybe he was letting me off the hook.  Maybe our journey here was done, ended not by me, but by outside forces.  I didn’t have to continue to endure the emotional, physical, financial sacrifice anymore.  I passed the test. 
I became rather confident in this application of the Word to my life, and, as Wednesday approached, started to be rather ambivalent about the outcome of the Skype session.  If they showed and changed their minds, all right we move forward.  If not, I’m tapping out.  God said I could.  I figured I’d climbed the proverbial mountain and shown I was ready and willing, and God had given me permission to hang it up if it just got too hard—impossible, really.
My alarm disturbed me from a restless sleep at 5am on Wednesday morning.  I hurried to get dressed and do the tasks of the morning so we could all be dressed and waiting promptly at 6am for the Skype call.  6am came and went.  Our NGO was on the line and ready to help interpret, but there was no cooperation from the boys.  All right, I’m listening, God, I’m about to just let this all go.  6:11am a call comes.  While the computer processed the image from the other side of the world, my eyes raced to see who would be present on the other side.  Only one child, the younger child, was present.  I did a Grammy-award-worthy acting job pretending to be thrilled by his presence and his alone, but as Jesus taught, the sheppard goes after the lost sheep. 
Where was my other son?   After about 20 minutes into the Skype session, I started praying for God to please place it on his heart to join our session, to at least listen, to at least see that we showed up.  I asked God to soften his heart, to take down some of his hard-earned armor, and allow us a chance to see one another one final time. 
Then another image came into view on the screen—my oldest son.  He reluctantly sat down, but it was clear as soon as I saw his face and he saw mine, the tides had shifted.  The rest of the call was simultaneously horrible and beautiful, joyful and tragic, painful and therapeutic.  Unbeknownst to me, because I was so focused on the Skype session, prior to his appearance that morning, my oldest son wrote me a lengthy message asking for forgiveness, reconsideration, and stated his unwavering commitment to following through with the rest of the process.
On the way to work that morning, I heard clearly the words in my mind, “you haven’t built the alter yet.” 
When I got to work, I saw his message, time stamped 6:28am, while I was deep in prayer for him.
You see, I’d only climbed the mountain for these boys; I had not truly shown God my willingness to sacrifice for the good of another or to fulfill His command.  I had put a limit on my own suffering out of fear that God might not provide the strength necessary to continue to the journey without certainty of commitment.  I put a limit on my empathy in an effort to protect myself emotionally, not trusting that, if it is truly God’s Will, it WILL be done.
Day by day I building the alter, wondering if I will be blocked again or if birth mother will convince him through shaming that he is unworthy of another family, bound eternally to the one who did not provide for him.  She has rights to contact him whenever she wants, I do not.  I am not his mother.  I can’t be his mother until he tells a judge that he wants me to be.
I am on day 8 of building the alter, trusting that a strength greater than my own will help our whole family get through these uncertain and difficult times together.  So far, his commitment has not waivered, it has not waned, and it is stronger than ever.  Communication is initiated from him daily, and he has resumed calling me mom (a title I would never demand from him).  Tomorrow we Skype again, and, although I have nagging doubts that linger, I’m pretty sure I’ll see both of my sons tomorrow morning and that, very soon, they will legally become my sons.
Build the alter, friends. 
Then shout from the mountaintop the glory of God’s work in your life.  This was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever written.  It is laced with embarrassment, shame, guilt, and fear.  It is raw and honest.  Now you know the truth.  I am sharing this truth publicly, however, as a testament to my dedication to building this alter and to my everlasting faith that once that alter is built, a horrible sacrifice will not occur.  Instead, God’s beauty, promises, and blessings will be made clear to our family of six.  It will not be easy, but blessings often aren’t. 
I am strong enough to build this alter, because my God provides the strength, the tools, and the endurance to do it with faithful hands.
This artwork is a reproduction of a public domain work. :)

Posted on May 10th, 2017

​An Open Letter to My Children’s Birth Mother:
This weekend in America it is Mother’s Day.  It seems appropriate that I write to you near this holiday, because I know that if you had a Mother’s Day in Bulgaria (I’m not sure if you do or not), you’d probably dread the holiday as much as I do.  So, at least we have that in common.
I have never met you, I probably never will.  But, it is important for me to let you know how I truly feel.  I often wonder what you think about me—I do have some ideas based on things I’ve been told—but I want you to know who I actually am, and what my feelings about our circumstances really are.
Let me start with statements of gratitude.  Thank you for giving birth to four beautiful, amazing, intelligent, sensitive children.  Thank you for carrying them each in your womb for 9 long months.  I have no knowledge of what it feels like to be pregnant or give birth, but I am grateful that you endured childbirth, probably with a great lack of medical oversight, each time.  I respect you for the pain you endured physically through labor and childbirth.  Your children are all amazing, beautiful, funny, resilient, strong, and morally grounded. 
Thank you for the times that you protected them when they were in harms way.  I know you were in a situation in which you really felt you had no control.  Your culture is different from mine. Your experience as a minority in a country where your ethnicity makes you a target for extreme persecution and discrimination left you with few options.  You lived in extreme poverty without any resources.  You are not an equal to your husband.  You, as his inferior, were expected to sit idly by while you watched things I’m certain you wanted to put a stop to.  Thank you for shielding my daughter's tiny bodies with your flowing dresses, allowing the fabric to swirl around them and to offer at least a thin layer of protection.  Thank you for your bravery and for doing all you could to help them.  I know it could not have been easy for you.  I cannot begin to imagine your feelings during the times they were removed from your home-- ultimately forever. 
Thank you for allowing me the absolute honor and privilege of raising your children.  I promise I will do everything in my power to make sure they have a happy, successful, and prosperous life.  They are my priority, my commitment, and my world in a way I never knew as possible.  They have changed my life, my perspective, my empathy, my tolerance, my world-view, my everything.  Through recreating a new family with them, they have caused a rebirth inside of me.
Someone once told me that you said that I could never be a real mother to your children, that only you, who bore them as your flesh and blood, could hold the title of mother.  And, that for a child to change their name and live with another family would be the ultimate disgrace to you and your family name.  I want you to know that I understand why you might feel anger, resentment, and rage towards me.  I also want you to know that I understand my place in my children’s lives.  I will never be their birth mother, and I am okay with that.  I can never replace you.  It isn’t a goal of mine, never has been. It is not a competition; I do not wish to erase the very few positive memories my children have from Bulgaria—most of them are about you.  I am not jealous when they talk about how nice and beautiful you were.  I smile and laugh with them as they share memories, because my goal in life is to see my children happy.
But, I see things from all sides, too.  I see that the circumstances you found yourself in did not allow for you to provide basic needs to these children.  I don’t know all of the reasons, and I don’t need to know.  Sometimes my children describe why, but they always speak of you with deep reverence and respect.  I share that with them.  I do not speak negatively about you, your choices, your circumstances, nor do I judge the situation for anything other than it has lead us to this point where I now have a privilege to step in and help.  
I have heard many people say despicable things about you, making snap judgments about a situation they don’t really understand, but I always defend you.  I always remind people that we cannot fully understand the decisions of others because we do not know the circumstances that lead the person to those decisions.  I always speak of you with respect, and defend every choice you made—good or bad.  Without you, I wouldn’t have the family I have.  I will always defend you and respect you because of this fact alone.
Mother’s Day has always been hard for me since engaging in this adoption journey.  The year we were waiting on our daughter’s adoption to be finalized, it was agonizing.  Last year, they’d been home just a little over a month and had just been ripped away from their brothers.  I was still not to be trusted.  We didn’t do much, in fact, I’m pretty sure the day ended in an argument and slammed doors.
This year, we’ve come a long way as mother and daughters.  I know I will probably get some gifts, I know for sure I will get hand-crafted cards from my girls that I can add to the thousands they have made for me this year.   We might go out to eat or my husband might make me a special meal.  Who knows?  It doesn’t really matter.  What matters is, over the last year, my children have come under my leadership, are learning what it means to be a part of a functional family, and are now willing to share their true feelings about me and the role I play in their lives.
My daughters do call me mom, and your sons want to as well.  And, that’s all I need for right now for Mother's Day.  That is the greatest gift.  You see, I’m pretty open minded as far as people go, and I believe that a child can have respect, love, compassion and understanding for a birth mother while also participating actively in a family that is able to provide the love, resources, nurture, and support that they need.
But, I also dread and grieve this holiday because I am aware that ALL adoptions come from a point of loss.  In our case, all four of our adoptions will be a direct loss to you.  I need for you to know that I know that.  I need for you to understand that everything I have done in this journey has been to help your children prosper, not to hurt you.  I will never speak a negative word against you.  I will let them form their own thoughts about their family life before they came to America-- they are entitled to do this without influence from me.  It isn’t a competition.  It isn’t about disgracing a family name.  It isn’t about dishonoring your flesh and blood.  It’s simply about the love of a child.  
And I desperately need for you to know the love that I have for your children runs as deep as if they were my flesh and blood.  There is nothing on this earth I would not do for them.  Believe me, my commitment has been put to the test multiple times.  I will never, ever give up on them.  My devotion and commitment is endless, and will always be centered around what is in their best interests.  I did, and am doing, what I feel is right.  Every decision is to improve their quality of life.  

I hope they make you proud.  I hope one day I do get to meet you, to touch you, to see where their beautiful features came from.  I hope that they get to see you and show you the amazing men and women they will become under the right care and leadership.  A group home is not a place for a child to languish.  All children deserve a family to help them attain their potential, and the potential I see in each of your children is endless.
It is God’s greatest gift, but also the heaviest responsibility of my life to parent your children.  I need for you to know I take it seriously.  Really seriously.  And I give you my word that I always will.
I wish God’s blessings upon you, that you may find peace, comfort, and joy in this life.  It is my greatest desire that the pain of this loss may one day be lessened for you.
Lastly, I am connected to you forever.  I view you as a part of my family.  I care for you, I pray for you, and think of you often.
On my right ring finger I wear a ring, it is a triangle with a heart around it.  It is the accepted international symbol for adoption.  The three points of the triangle represent: the birth parents, the adoptive parents, and the child(ren).  The heart signifies the love that all must share for each other.  I wear this ring not just as a trendy symbol of being an adoptive parent.  I wear it because I believe it, and I try to live it every day.
With greatest love, sincerity, and respect.
The “Adoptive” Mom

Posted on May 7th, 2017

​I sat across from her in her office; it was just the two of us.   The office was sterile, medical, and smelled like disinfectant.  This place to discuss the most sensitive of emotions somehow felt like the most hollow and vacant place on earth, a strange dichotomy. She was well dressed that day—I remember her floral-print knee-length pencil skirt, white blouse, and  green cardigan, neatly buttoned.  Her tan-colored patent leather heals added a couple of inches to her already above-average height.  She towered over me as we both sat down.
It was the very beginning of spring, and the temperature was already rising well that mid-morning, so her attire was perfect for the weather.  The early spring sun was perfectly positioned to pierce brightly through the window to my left, and this somehow added another layer of uncomfortbility, as if the rays of light were somehow going to highlight and expose the darkest of truths.  I had to struggle to see her fully because of the brightness of the sun, but I remember being jealous of her for a split second because she was so put-together and stable and I, sitting in the same room, was disheveled, worn out and unable to button my pants.  I was a week away from receiving my Celiac Disease diagnosis, but at the time, without the diagnosis, my body was on the verge of breaking down due to a ENT’s terrible decision to put me on a high-wheat, bland diet from a misdiagnosis of acid reflux.
I kept repositioning myself in the hard, plastic chair.  The thin upholstery carefully positioned in only some parts of the chair was not enough to make it feel anything less than antiseptic.  I was terribly uncomfortable, not only because of the circumstances that brought us to this point of contact, but also because I felt five months pregnant I was so bloated, and I looked every bit of it, too.  My largest pants barely buttoned, but hung loose around my legs.  My ankles were so swollen my feet could not fit comfortably into regular shoes, and it was difficult for me to stand or walk.  My face was puffy, skin and eyes red.  My hair was frizzy, dry, and falling out by the handfuls.  My nails were cracked and a red rash ran down most of my left arm.  I had no physical or mental energy left to deal with the emotional dysregulation happening in my home daily. 
You see, parenting children from hard places is hard.  When you adopt them, you adopt their past.  Every action, every abuse, every lie, every hurt, every injustice perpetrated against them—it becomes yours.  Forever. 
At first, as an adoptive mother I found myself to be rather naïve and though that I could “fix” it.  For months I just want to fix it, love it out of them, make it right.  I tried to wear several hats and play every role for my children that I could—therapist, doctor, private investigator, advocate, psychiatrist, teacher, and mom. 
But, the thing is, while I was trying to wear all of those hats and “fix” things, I was actually unable to be a mother.  And, it caused me to take a lot of my perceived inadequacies in these areas personally.  When a child spews hate from a place of anger because no one has ever taught them coping skills and they have every right in the world to be pissed off, it is so hard to not crumble into a million pieces.  However, the more I tried to “fix” it, the more I found that I was not “fixing” anything--not righting any of the wrongs, instead spinning my wheels, and caught in a continuous cycle of frustration, self-loathing, and desperation.
Around this same time, however, I discovered a concept called “detachment”.  Then one called “radical acceptance”.  I read and studied voraciously, and I still do.  I learned, for the first time in my life really, that I am not in control of anything but myself—my beliefs, my thoughts, my values, my actions, my words, and my feelings.  That’s it.
I cannot “fix it”, not for my children or for the students from hard places that I teach every day. I can’t control how they feel or act or what they say or do, I cannot be anything but a mother or a teacher.  A safe place to fall, and when they fall hard, the art of detachment comes in very handy.  I learned, across painstaking weeks, to manage my feelings about my children’s past.  Through private writing, strange artistic creations, and quiet meditation, I was able accept there is nothing I can do to change the past.  I also learned to find my real role as a mother—that it is to simply support my children as they work through the anger, rage, frustration, sadness, and grief that they are fully entitled to.  I have learned that, as a byproduct of this process, there will be things said and done to me that are hurtful, but I am not the reason for them, I am simply on the receiving end because I am safe to them.  I am slowly learning to accept these challenging behaviors and words objectively, with empathy, and without taking it personally. 
As one’s physical health improves, and the body gets the nutrients it needs and is not receiving the poison that was killing it, the mind heals, too.  My tolerance for dysregulation built up over time.  My capacity for empathy without compassion fatigue increased, for both my children and my students who have circumstances in their lives that rival the pasts of my own children.  The ability to think calmly and rationally and evaluate situations from all sides became easier each day.   While all of this improves, there is then time to process how to really parent the hard stuff, while preserving my own mental stability in the process.  My confidence soared with each connected moment with my children, each time I remained calm, each time I detached when necessary, and each time it strengthened the relationship I have with my children.
But, that day, while I alternated staring at the floor and her bright floral pencil skirt, I didn’t know any of this.  And, I was physically sick to the point of exhaustion and inability to perform daily tasks.  The woman in the floral skirt was my child’s psychiatrist.  We spoke for a while about her most recent outrageous behavior.  Then she said these words, “Maybe you are not the right mother for your daughters.  And, probably not the right mother for their brothers.  Maybe you should give that some thought.” 
I was so caught off guard by her comments that I barely heard the rest of her justification for what she was telling me—that she would never encourage anyone to adopt a child at any age because it is too difficult, and that she and her husband considered it until she’d worked in the psychiatric field for so long and realized she didn’t want to adopt a child.  I just caught pieces of what she was saying, focused more on the sting of her suggestion, and fighting off tears.
I left the room shattered.  No one had ever suggested this to me before.  Plenty of naysayers, discouragers, and questioners of our decisions, but never someone suggesting that I was not the right mother for these children.  I stumbled to my phone and called my husband.  And, for the rest of the day I sat with those words, unable to think about anything else.  So did he.  We were mostly quiet.  We didn’t discuss it.  It was almost like we didn’t have to, though, because there was a mutual and unspoken assumption of inaccuracy in the doctor’s words.
Two months after my Celiac Diagnosis, and a little over two months after this pinnacle moment in the course of my parenting, I understand the full ramifications of my Celiac disease.  I know how sick I was.  I am no longer swollen (I am 25 pounds lighter, in fact), my skin is healing, my hair and fingernails grow very quickly now.  My mind is clear, my tolerance for all things higher, my ability to concentrate and put energy and effort into tasks is greatly improved.  I am healing.  Our whole family heals as I heal. 
The impacts of Celiac Disease are far-reaching.  It is not a food allergy or just a GI disease.  The root of the Disease is that the body is not getting the nutrients it needs to support the function of the body.  And, the body interprets many proteins (not just gluten in my case) as poison.  The body literally begins to attack its own systems.  For me, Celiac robbed my of my eyesight, giving me mysterious posterior cataracts in both eyes at the ripe age of 30. 
Celiac disease caused my teeth to disintegrate to a point where I have to wear a protective guard to preserve what is left of my back molars.  It caused severe inflammation in my joints and muscles, and also turned my sinuses on high alert all the time.  There was not a day that went by that mucus was not burning my throat and dripping from my nose, and those were the good days.  Perhaps less understood by the general population, Celiac disease, because nutrients cannot get to the neurotransmitters in the brain, robs a sufferer of the ability to think clearly, to maintain emotional stability and regulation, and to perform everyday tasks with quality and energy.
But, even as I continue to heal, I have never forgotten the doctor’s words.  Maybe I’m not the best mom in the world.  I am a human being with a lot of shortcomings.  Sometimes it is difficult for me to take on the trauma my children have experienced.  Each time I think I have heard everything from them, there is a new twist, a new bomb dropped on our family, almost always without warning.  Sometimes I embody these surprises too much, feel it too much, take it on too deeply, and still feel the need to fix.  Sometimes these times cause an intense and strange paradox to occur—during these moments, when I feel so deeply for my children, my ability to express physical affection or to engage with them emotionally becomes diminished.  I withhold, I protect, I move away from them as they try to draw closer to me.
I make mistakes.  A lot of them.  I often get it wrong.  But, time has a way of giving us perspective on situations we’ve encountered in the past.  While I still stumble, make mistakes, and fail to live up to my own expectations of myself as a mother, I have an answer for the doctor now, although I might not ever see her again.  My daughter is no longer under her supervision.
That day I left her office, not saying anything.  Not defending my choices.  I had no words to speak back to her.  I had no time to prepare my rebuttal.  And, honestly, for a split second I wondered if she was right.  But, now I have an answer for her:
My ability to come to this conclusion was actually relatively simple.  I didn’t have to perform miraculous acts of healing for my children, I didn’t have to fix their academic and developmental gaps, I didn’t have to erase their trauma, I didn’t have to seek justice or vengeance on their behalf, I didn’t have to arrange play dates, or spend hours on Pinterest making cute crafts for their class parties, or buy them special clothing or material goods. 
I didn’t have to prove myself at all, actually.  The proof that I am, and have always been, the RIGHT mother for my children was there all along.  In a world of potential parents, for 10 and 14 years  (the ages of my children currently), I was the only mother who said YES.  Unconditionally YES.  I have consistently said YES every day, even when I am tempted to alter that answer. 
So, if not me, then who?  Who would be the right mother? 

And, let's talk about unconditional love for a second.  Most of us, when we hear that word would define it as "if you do something wrong I'lll still love you".  For me as a kid it was that time I threw a toy at the wall so hard it shattered a window, or the time I tried to put baby doll clothes on my cat, or when I spilled nail polish all over my bedroom carpet, or lied to my parents, or brought home a poor report card.  They still loved me.

Of course I share this definition with my children.  It is difficult for them to accept because no one has ever shown them this type of forgiveness, grace, and love.  However, what is often missing from the definition is that unconditional love means that love is given, without condition, without expectation of a return, without a requirement that it be reciprocated.  Children from hard places sometimes can't reciprocate that level of emotion, and if we are not careful, we can end up taking it very personally.  I want my children to know that they owe me nothing in return for the love I extend.  Ever.
And, you know, maybe the doc was right on some level.  Maybe someone could do a better job.  Maybe someone understands personal and work life balance better than I do.  Maybe someone else can freely give affection without fear of being hurt.  Maybe someone else has more patience, parenting experience, or strength than I do.  Maybe someone else is more fun and is able to build a better schedule filled with activities and outings for their family instead of just trying to get through every day.  But, so far, no one has offered to do that for any of my four children.
You see, it is convenient to criticize from a different perspective, especially one that lacks experience.  A doctor who doubted her own ability to parent an adopted child can, with a great deal of ease, tell me I made a mistake, or I’m not strong enough, or I’m not the RIGHT mother for my children.   They can suggest the easy way out.  Just leave them behind like everyone else has done—problem solved.  Except it won’t be.
It’s easy, also, to kick someone when they are down—when they are sick, when they are emotionally drained, when they are already full of self-doubt.  Questioning and criticizing the decisions of others when you yourself are not doing anything to solve a worldwide problem is just too easy.  I can’t let her off the hook like that.
I will always be thankful for her challenge that day (and the challenges from others that have been much less offensive).  It caused me to do a lot of soul searching.  I had to answer her question.  It took a little while, but I have the answer now.
I will never be a perfect mother, but I will always show up for all four of my kids.  I will never dismiss them, neglect them, hurt them, or reject them—even if they don’t reciprocate this unconditional love at times because they have been burned by so many other adults.
Maybe my kids will never heal.  Maybe they will always have a really tough go at life.  Maybe the predictions of others, many of them well-respected medical professionals, therapists, and social workers, will be right—it’s too late, nothing we do will ever be enough, they will repeat the cycles of abuse, they will never be able to have healthy relationships, they will never catch up… the list goes on. 
I don’t know what their future holds, but I have absolved myself of the responsibility of needing to be in control of that.  My role, as a mother, and only a mother, is to encourage and enable them to find strength within themselves to build a new life.  I think, especially now, I do a pretty good job of that.  And, at the end of the day, me at my absolute worst is better than anything they’ve ever had before.
I would encourage all mothers, not just adoptive parents, to release the need to control.  I see it daily in the classroom, especially when I taught older students and more affluent students than I currently work with.  The obsession over GPA, merit, accomplishments, was exhausting to watch.  I could sense the frustration and stress in a great number of the students I worked with, on the verge of collapse under the mighty weight of high expectations.  Understand that I am not suggesting that we, as parents, not hold our children to high standards.  What I am suggesting, however, is that we do so with the understanding that we do not control our children, and their choices are not a direct reflection of our self-worth as a person or as a parent.  The liberation I have found through this outlook has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.
And, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my faith as a component of this answer.  I do not believe in a God who would lead me astray or put his children in harms way on purpose.  My God does not wish to destroy my life or the lives of my children; he wishes to enrich it, so long as we are obedient.  My God does not promise comfortable, or easy, or perfect.  My God promises, instead, a beautiful life full of rich experiences unattainable without strict obedience.  He also promises criticism for doing His work.  May this entry be a testimony that this promise is true, but, given the right mindset, can serve as validation that the right path is being followed.  My God often chooses the least equipped and weakest to do the mightiest of jobs for His glory.  Through His love and mercy, my God finds ways to strengthen me to do His work.  My God chose me and told me that I am the right mother for my children, to go back and get the two left behind, and I am listening. 
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  -- Romans 12:2

Posted on February 26th, 2017

For this child I prayed...

One year ago today, a judge said YES (and my teen reluctantly agreed) to our adoption of Stella and Evvie.

The other day I was reading a blog post from an adoptee about the term "Gotcha Day".   The author made a compelling case against using the term.  I always enjoy reading things from and talking to adoptees, because it gives me insight as a parent that my children are not yet mature enough to provide most of the time.  Adult adoptees are able to show love towards their adoptive parents, while offering feedback about what they wished had been different about their upbringing.  I'm sure one day my children will have a lengthy list of my mistakes, shortcomings, and ways that I annoyed them.  Some will be trivial, but some will be worth serious consideration. 

The issue of using the term "Gotcha Day" and celebrating it annually is one that has always bothered me, even before we brought the girls home.  I admit to using the term, mostly before I actually went and gotcha-ed my two daughters.  Our actual "Gotcha" day was anything but beautiful, happy, and was absolutely nothing that I had dreamed/romanticized in my head.  While adoption can be a beautiful picture of redemption (for the child(ren) AND the parents), the truth is, that it is ALWAYS born of sadness and loss.

Since pick up, especially, the idea of celebrating this sadness and loss has always felt unsettling to me, especially because of what our actual "Gotcha Day" looked like.  Filled with tears, hatred for us because they felt we were the ones tearing them away from their brothers (they know now that this was not true, they understand we never were informed of their existence until Trip 1 and it was too late then)-- the only stable family they'd ever known, and fear, terrifying and paralyzing fear.  While Neil and I had waited for this day with great anticipation, we had failed to completely calculate the trauma, the cost, the difficulties this day would bring to all of us.  We had failed, on every level, to account for what this day would mean for our children, and instead we focused only on what we would feel-- mainly a relief that the grueling process to bring them home was finally coming to an end.

Before traveling to Bulgaria for our pickup trip, we knew that we would be picking up the day before Evvie's 13th birthday.  I dreamed of all the ways we'd celebrate our Gotcha Day-- the first one, and then the anniversaries of the date to come.  I read countless blog posts and Facebook posts from fellow adoptive parents about what they did to celebrate the anniversary of this day.  I decided which ideas I liked, and which I didn't.  I also reconciled with the term "Gotcha" and decided we'd prefer to call it "Family Day".  I then agonized (oh, y'all, this was when I had so much time on my hands but thought I was "busy") about when we'd celebrate it.  I didn't want it to be celebrated the day before Evvie's birthday-- I saw potential sibling jealously or blurring of the lines there.  Technically, our "Family Day" was 2/26/16, the day we passed court, because at that time, we legally became a family.  So, it was decided 2/26 would be our "Family Day."

But then our pick up trip came.  Then we saw the reality of what that day meant for our children.  We saw them say goodbye to their brothers, presumably speaking to them and touching them for the last time ever.  We saw the hurt, the anger, the loss, the fear, and understood that maybe it wasn't a day to be celebrated at all.  Maybe it was just a marker in time that we, as parents, could keep up with to track progress and thank God for putting our family unit together.  The actual day became about survival, and was not celebratory in any way.

The more I've read about trauma, triggers, memories that children have of past events, the more I don't want to celebrate or help my children to remember this day this year.   We are fortunate that our girls still have no concept of time and cannot read a calendar, so we are sort of off the hook this year.  Reading about trauma has also helped me to understand the truth about this day for our children who were old enough to remember and hate everything about it.  It is actually a "truamaversary".  Just as someone who loses a loved one tends to be on high emotions and sadness each year on the date the loved one was lost, our family has been on high emotions lately as we get closer to that year mark.  Although our children are not really aware of time, Evvie does know that she was adopted right before her birthday, and she must know, on some subconscious level, that this date is approaching.  We have seen behavior in both children become more challenging in recent weeks (normal).  Just as someone would not typically throw a big party, or go out bowling, or have a big dinner out at a fancy restaurant on the traumaversary of a loved one passing, we will probably not do any of these things either. 

Lastly, what would we really be celebrating with regards to THEIR family prior to adoption?  That our adoption of them ripped them from their brothers?  That their brothers are still languishing in an institution oceans away?  Our family is not complete, so it doesn't feel right to celebrate "Family Day" without our whole family.

Please understand, especially fellow adoptive parents who do make a choice to celebrate this day, that I am not passing judgement on you or suggesting you should do differently than what you've decided works for you.  Perhaps your experience has been completely different than ours.  Maybe your children have processed or handle their trauma very differently than ours.  Maybe you, as a parent, have processed and dealt with your children's trauma better than I, as a mother, have with my own children.  For me, it is a work in progress daily.  For your family, you do what is right.  Go ice skating, see that movie, prepare all of the cultural foods your child misses, go through picture albums together-- celebrate!  Do it!  For our family, however, I don't know that these things are possible for us this year, so we will let it pass without much mention.

Once our whole family is reunited and settled, though, perhaps we will have a reason to have a Family Day.  Maybe my perspective on this day will be completely different when the girls' brothers are finally home and part of our household.

What I will choose to celebrate daily, though, is God is good.  God is loving.  God has chosen our family to endure these challenges, but to reap the rewards of those challenges together.  God has assembled our messy family in his perfect image.  It is hard, many days, to see his plan, but we trust it and continue to follow it.

Posted on February 16th, 2017

Tomorrow I will be giving a presentation on the effects of trauma on children to a group of about 60 teachers.  The aim is to inform about trauma and how it negatively impacts children: cognitively, emotionally, physically, socially, and in a myriad of other ways.  Only once we brought our girls home did I understand the depth and breadth of this issue, and, since that time, I have often wondered why this was never part of my coursework in college or graduate school.  Sure, I learned great pedagogy, classroom management, and I even took extra courses on child psychology just because I really enjoyed the subject matter.  But, through three degrees, trauma was never the focus.

To be honest I am scared and nervous about tomorrow for many reasons.  I have presented many times before-- to other educators, to students, to philanthropic groups, at professional conferences.  I am not afraid of public speaking.  But, this is the first time ever that I will be speaking about something outside of my professional content area: music.

I am also nervous about tomorrow because, my husband, my children, and I have decided to be honest and raw.  You see, there would be no presentation tomorrow if I weren't their mother.  There would have been no reason for me to become interested in trauma and to become a voracious reader and researcher on the topic if it weren't for the experience of having two highly traumatized children in my home every day.  Therefore, this presentation was conceived from the day to day reality of raising my children, and because of that, I must be honest in my presentation tomorrow.

I know that when people see our family they have a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings.  I'm not just talking about the random misconceptions we encounter daily in public where someone might wonder why Neil and I are white and my children are brown or why there is such a small age difference between Evvie and myself.  I'm talking about the romanticized notion that we, as a society, have about adoption.  It is both a blessing and a curse.  It is a blessing because it inspires more people to aspire to go out of their comfort zone and adopt, but it is a curse because people don't understand the reality that adoptive families live in many times.

Tomorrow people will hear things about my family that I am embarrassed to admit.  All parents want to perpetuate the facade that we all have our lives under control.  But, I must say these things.  Otherwise the content will be less meaningful. Tomorrow people will hear things about my oldest child in particular that are difficult for me to talk about, but she has told me "mama, you have to tell them because they need to know what life is like for me and other kids like me."  She has given me her blessing and she knows everything I will say.  She only asks that people not talk directly to her about it afterwards.  She knows her story is important, and, for that, I am so happy and thankful because it shows me that she is finding meaning, purpose, and strength in her life.

The most import thing I hope people hear tomorrow is that trauma is real.  Its impacts on the brain and cognitive function are absolutely real and I see it play out in my home and classroom every day.  We, as teachers, are fooling ourselves if we think these are isolated incidents that we rarely encounter unless we work in an impoverished school.  Yes, my children has encountered more trauma in their 10 and 13 years than most kids do in a lifetime, but they are not alone.  They have much in common with many of the students who walk in to my classroom every day.  Understanding my children has helped me to become a better educator, and it has helped me fall back in love with teaching-- a love affair that was on its last leg a year ago.

Hopefully this is just the beginning.  I hope that having a platform to voice my experiences will help me to process and cope.  Maybe one day my children can join along side me and have their voices and stories heard, too.  I know they will be stories of victory, courage, and perseverance. 

no categories
no tags