The third beautiful brown boy…

I have a book on my shelf (or the pile beside my bed) about transcultural (transracial) adoption. I should probably read it and feel a bit more informed rather than just mosey along merrily.  But I don’t really feel like devoting the time to it right now (there always seems to be something more pressing).

But it actually is a real part of my life.  I picked Micah up from school one day this week and he started asking questions about Martin Luther King, Jr. (it’s Black History Month). He was actually most interested in the facts about his death (and what’s the name of the man who shot him). But as we galloped down the stairway (he always says we’re racing, but then takes off first so I can’t pass him), he told me about a movie they

    The boys after bath

The boys after bath

watched in school. He started explaining that there are white people and black people and that the black people were not allowed to do anything like go to school or ride a bus. Out of extreme curiosity, I interrupted him and asked him, “Micah, are you white or black?” He stopped dead in his tracks on a second step down, looked at his arm, pointed to his brown skin and said without pausing “white,” and skipped on down the steps…”just like you are white.”  I followed along with a smile and we continued the conversation about how many “important men” have been killed for standing up for “important issues.”

Driving home, I thought I might bring it up again. I said, “you know, Micah, you have absolutely beautiful brown skin because your birth mother was white and your birth father was black.” He replied, “I want to be white” and I responded that was absolutely fine. End of story for that day at least.

I was curious because this week, I added another brown little boy to my family (though his skin is the fairest of them all so far). Seth has officially changed his name and officially changed who he belongs to. He is no longer a “ward of the court.” He is a member of our family forever. Several friends joined us at the courthouse downtown to witness the ceremony. The three boys “allowed” me to dress them in dress shirts, vests, ties and slacks…which coordinated so well with their light-up sneakers (I haven’t bought dress shoes …seems a waste of money for one time wear!). They were gorgeous – until the pink and white cupcakes were served and I had to break out the baby wipes. And they were relatively well-behaved in the waiting area (a jurors waiting room) until the balloon-man arrived and equipped them with fencing swords.

As small streams of steam started to emerge from my ears and my voice started emitting at a lower octave, we were called back to the courtroom where we met the judge. The boys noisily took up the benches in the back as he introduced himself and I tried to keep a squirmy Seth on my lap. After answering a few boring legal questions, the judge read the “decree”…..that the child formerly known as KJE-G will “from this day forth and forever more be known as Seth…J…G…W….” Brings tears to my eyes. Those are some powerful words.

Naturally, I worry sometimes. Will I be able to be the best mom for these boys? Will I have the financial resources to care for them? Will I be able to cope if any of them develops significant behavioral or medical issues? Will I be able to keep teen girls away from the heart-throbs that these boys will become? Will I ever be able to keep enough food in the house? Will I be able to help them navigate the divide between black and white and develop a sense of pride in the beautiful brown children that they are and the incredible men that they will become?….

Love can. Welcome to our family Seth, my love.

Soft snow and single parenting

We are looking at rental properties and Kathy mentioned the possibility of us splitting to find cheaper housing. After having spent the week alone with my three while she and our mom took her boys to Disney, I replied, “we’d have to be right beside each other then.”  Spending a week being a truly single mom – was truly stressful to me.

Single parenting….

It’s stressful when you have a kid in school and have to deal with sudden changes – oh, a 2-hour-delay for freezing rain; no after school programming for a couple days, anything else you want to throw at me?

It’s stressful when viruses are running amuck and you don’t know who and when is going to fall next. Micah had two evenings of low-grade fever, headaches and went to bed early, but I still wasn’t ready to call him sick since I was single parenting (so I just had to keep worrying that he was “getting sick”!).

It’s stressful when there are two grants due on the same day for my crisis nursery work (and I’ve never written grants before). I got 3 hours of sleep Tuesday night and 2 hours of sleep Wednesday night – and as you can imagine, this lack of sleep was not helping my parenting skills.

It’s stressful when you pick up the pen and sign your name that you are prepared to accept the responsibility of adopting another boy. You pick up the pen. You sign. A good stress….but a stress nonetheless.

And it’s stressful to worry about said boy who hasn’t gained weight in over 6 months so you’re just starting him on pediasure (to bulk him up) and spending the week wondering whether the phenomenal amount of blood letting they did last week will reveal any answers. (Update – All negative – he’s currently a perfectly healthy (runny-nosed) teeny, tiny little guy).

I spent the whole week with stress hanging over my shoulders about what I would do (and how life would have to be juggled) if just one piece fell out of my finely balanced tower. And if you’re living in stress and constantly under pressure and not sleeping for the week, the time moves by without much chance to catch up to it.

Soft snow

“Snow softly falling.” pinterest.com

Yet, as I drove to church this morning, I noticed my body soften looking at the beauty of the new snow on the world. I thought about the tranquility of watching snow fall through the yellow glare of a street light (I will often pause and stare for the longest time at this softness). I thought about how I love winter when it lets you slow down. You stay home because you don’t want to be out “in that.” You dream of a huge warm fireplace (next house?). It seems that the world should pause for a moment longer after the rush of the holidays. Yes, we tend to schedule fewer events and the weather tends to cancel schools and meetings and work. And maybe we should all follow nature’s rhythm of taking a break in the winter – resting, hibernating, rejuvenating, preparing….

Maybe I should become a tree.

Here’s to hoping for some earth-stopping blizzards in February!  (just kidding!)

 

 

The Gift of Time

Time….

It is a very strange thing.  Sometimes time flies….sometimes it stands still.

Last Monday (Christmas Eve), I took Noah with me on a last-minute shopping excursion (very silly idea….why would I want a 3-year-old running errands with me?!?).  It certainly altered time.  Choosing the “family” personalized ornament occurred much more quickly than usual, as my contemplation was constantly interrupted by the need to vocalize “don’t touch; don’t touch” rather than focusing on which one to choose! Leaving the mall took much longer than usual as we had go up and down the escalator….and then ride the train (“please, Mommy, please”), and walk slowly through the people, and stop at the candy machine (I spoil on Holidays :)) ….but I did refuse to give an hour of time to wait for a photo with Santa.

Christmas Day was absolute chaos.  I realize I had told a friend the prior Sunday that we were having a “small and quiet” Christmas since it was just our family and my parents.  But there’s nothing quiet about 5 little boys…..nothing quiet!…and very little seems “small” when they are awake and moving!

When most of the rapid ripping off of wrapping paper, incessant clambering about “where’s another present for me?” and nonstop squealing and yelling had finally driven me into the kitchen for a moment, I was shocked to see that it was only 10 o’clock. How could time stand still within all this commotion?!?  Fortunately, it sped up from there.

And time interacts with stress in unique ways (holidays provide plenty of “positive stress”).  We enjoyed a lovely Christmas Eve service accompanied by candlelight, but I wanted time to hurry up as I stressed about burning down the church.  Christmas Day was a stress to all and each boy handled it differently.  Micah couldn’t control his behavior and required banishment time (to the tune of about 3 hours) to take a break upstairs.  Noah had trouble remembering to take the time to GO to the bathroom….ahem…and forgot to take those needed breaks.  Seth, however, was granted a timely nap from the utter confusion of flying wrapping paper, noisy new toys, bouncing balls, and excited squeals of joy.  I could barely move by 7pm and collapsed into a sound sleep before 9 after bedding three exhausted ones.12-24 (86)

Wednesday was a golden day, however.  The snow fell softly and steadily.  There was no thought of leaving the house.  The boys played happily together with their new toys (how very strange) and we all just enjoyed seemingly endless “time” together.

Despite thinking that 5 days with the boys would be quite enough time, when I dropped Noah and Seth off at daycare Thursday morning, I walked out with tears in my eyes.  I had so enjoyed my time with them that I didn’t want to part with them to return to work.  I made it through half the day before I picked them up again.  Noah was thrilled that he only had a “little time” at daycare.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve.  I could be cliché and say “where has the time gone?”  Where has this year gone?  Where did December go ….and how did Christmas slip by so quickly?

But I could also say that I have enjoyed the time I’ve had with the boys this past week.  I’ve enjoyed the months that I’ve had with the boys this past year.  And I’ve enjoyed so many little minutes and so many moments with the boys….those that you tuck away in your heart.  Those moments that you take the time that you didn’t expect to.  When you lay on the living room floor for 5 minutes with Noah and set the camera’s timer and make goofy faces together….and say to yourself, I know it’s bedtime….but this time is precious.  These smiles are precious.  This joy is precious.  These boys are precious.

A long time ago, a little baby boy was born in a manger.  Time stood still that night.  Time flew over the next two thousand and twelve years.  Time is really a gift that we have – to love, to cherish, to celebrate and to do great things.  May we remember to take the time when we need to, use the time we have wisely, and share the gift of time with those we love whenever we can.

A Perfectly Good (Adopted) Family

We added a new boy to the family this week (fortunately, not by the phone call of the foster caseworker to announce the birth of a sibling!).  Stephen was officially adopted by my sister in a small courtroom in downtown Pittsburgh.  He is the fifth child of his biological mother to be adopted out and the judge who followed this case for years was so touched that it was “ending well,” that she came over especially to “proclaim” the adoption.  I am so excited for my sister.

It’s been a long time coming with many heartaches.  When Stephen was about two months old at the first court hearing, the judge said she would have handed him over for adoption right then and there, knowing the birth mom, if the CYF system had asked for it.  Instead, for the past two years, it’s been up and down with numerous, numerous attempts to help the mother “be” a mother….until recently when her “rights were terminated” as a parent….and she fled the state to try to block the “system” from taking her next newborn baby a couple months ago.

So Kathy has gracefully ridden this roller-coaster of hope and heartache, and all the while has loved this little guy every single second (including, even if not actually obvious at the time, when he spills a full gallon of milk splashing across the table and cascading majestically to the floor, upending his cereal bowl on a near-daily basis, and removing his own diapers at some of the most inopportune times!).

And now, it is final.  Stephen has a new name……Karl…with a “K.”  (It’s going to take a while to get that imprinted in my brain.  I’m getting pretty good at it…except when he’s about to pull all the bananas onto the floor, or is pounding on the dining room table with the tines of his fork, or is gleefully flicking the lights on and off in the living room….and I slip into a stern “S-t-e-p-h-e-n!”)  It will probably take even longer for the boys to figure out the name change, as Noah asked today “who’s Karl? Where?”.

It’s been a good time to review “name changes” and adoption with Micah.  He likes to ask what his original name was.  We review that he was born to another woman and came to live here when he was a very tiny baby.  We review that I love him “forever, for always, and no matter what” and I renew that commitment in my head.  We discuss that Seth will also one day change his last name (I already switched his first name when he turned one as that was easier for me J) and become “forever” family (hopefully in the next few months).

And even though I can talk about this to Micah (and sometimes to Noah who doesn’t really pay attention), it still sometimes seems so surreal to me.  I know that Micah and Noah are forever mine…..that I am their Mommy (because they “tell” me so hundreds of times a day!)….and yet, sometimes, I sit back and pause and say “wow….I am a mother….”  I can easily think of many things that I am – a woman, a Christian, a doctor, a night-owl, a reader, a work-a-holic (most likely), …. and I am a mother.  This is one of those “I am” things that is palpable in the way that I become very defensive on behalf of the boys, in the way I beam with pride in their very very little league sports accomplishments, in the way I peer intensely into their eyes sometimes and say “I love you.”  Sometimes you can just touch that “mother” aspect and roll it around and bounce it here and there.  You can lift it high, you can bend it, you can smash it, you can pound it….but you can never ever ever break it.  I am their mother – forever, for always, and no matter what.  And this Christmas season I am thankful (again) for that gift in my life.

Our family

Our family

 

Kathy realized as she hung the stockings that this year, Seth’s name had changed from one with a K to an S….and Stephen’s name changed from an S to a K….and so our stockings of last year with initials embroidered upon them still reflect our family perfectly.  A perfectly good little family.

Can’t even imagine….

When you are a parent of young children, you can’t even imagine what it would be like to be called and told that there was a tragedy at your child’s school.  I have a hard time figuring out where to put the Connecticut shooting in my brain….and my heart doesn’t even want to begin to touch it yet.

Last night Micah had one of those difficult nights in which he refused to follow anything I asked.  It started escalating into a series of his “swear” words….”you’re an idiot; you’re stupid;….” all aimed at me.  I kept trying to remain calm and asking him to come upstairs to bed, starting to layer on consequences as the battle continued.  We had reached no Mommy-sitting-in-bed-with-you, no TV times 3 days, no Mommy iPhone when you wake up at 6am, and had just moved to “you-will-not-sleep-in-bed-with-me-tonight when you come crawling over around midnight.”  I stood yelling at him that he was not going to treat me like that – calling me names….for I am his parent (despite the fact that I was so clearly not acting like a very mature adult at the time).  (Sometimes it’s hard for me to figure out where the “line” is ….do you let them be rude or do you draw some strong expectations? Is this the time for the lesson or is it better to wait for another time?)

He finally slinked into bed.  I sat in the hallway rather than lying beside him with my arm around him.  And yet, I didn’t really feel justified in my punishment, sitting there on the hard wood floor as he tucked himself in.  He quickly fell asleep and it was hours before I did….I lay in bed last night feeling the sadness of the recent deaths of so many young children wash over me.  Crying that I had just yelled at my own 6-year-old….as tender and precious as he is (much of the time)….and realized that I was listening for every sound that might say that he was waking up and was coming to my room….so that I could say “I forgive you and I’m sorry for yelling at you” and wrap him into my arms.

And that’s what I did at 11:45 at night – sat up on the side of the bed and held his face and said, “I’m sorry.  I love you.”  He climbed in and slept in such a way that my back was terribly sore in the morning and yet I was so glad that he was there.  Knowing we don’t remember much in the middle of the night, I repeated my words in the morning with a hug.  He said something about whose fault it was….and then bounded out of the room asking “what does fault mean?”

What a world these kids have to figure out.  Just a few days ago Micah asked “what does love mean?”  How do I explain these concepts to the young child….. I have not talked to any of the boys about Connecticut.  We did talk about the death at the Pittsburgh Zoo last month, because that is near to us.  But the killing of young children would just be such a big burden to them. How would I explain that?  So the grief for the families, I hold in my heart.  And I hold within me the grief for the children who survived that terrible experience.

Tonight I read the words of a Buddhist monk who said, “A five-year-old child is always vulnerable, fragile and he or she can get hurt very easily, so I have to handle a five-year-old child in a very gentle way. A five-year-old child as a flower get hurt and the wound will stay for a long time. And most of us have been five year old and the inner child in us is still alive. And the little child in us, in you all, may still have wounds within.” (Brother Thay)

So I wonder about those children in Connecticut.  And I wonder how to make sure I do not wound my child with my words or my action.  And I wonder how I can make a difference in the world to protect children.  And I thought to myself last night that every night when I talk to the boys as they fall asleep, that I would tell them of at least one thing that I loved about them that day.  (Tonight I told Micah that I loved seeing how he was learning to wrestle “gently” – that he was taking care not to hurt Noah and Ryan while they bounced around on the floor, body slamming each other and sitting on each other.  If you know our house, this is a huge accomplishment and I hope it will last longer than one day!)

An elderly man stopped me on my way out of a coffee shop yesterday after Micah’s basketball game.  He wanted to tell me that Micah had such a beautiful face and it made him think of all those kids who were hurt.  And he wanted to find ways to make a difference – in fact, he was going to call the principal of a school that had recently just let him walk right in to “drop off a package”!!  And, he thanked me for doing so well with parenting Micah.  He probably doesn’t know how much those words touched me.  I may slip.  I may fall into the abyss of yelling at my boys.  I will make tons of mistakes in parenting.  But I am committed to every day being the best parent I can be in loving and protecting my boys and praying that God will fill in when I fall short….again this morning…and I know again tomorrow.

“Awesome” Gifts

Words of Micah: “I like it when adults share their things with me. It makes me feel awesome.”  These words struck me and I pondered them over the course of the weekend.

Saturday morning I was trying to tuck up some things for the crisis nursery work before we headed out of town.  Micah was so eager to get into the car that he kept coming in and out of my office.  Suddenly, he gasped when he saw a small digital camera in a box.  “Will you let me use this camera?” he asked hopefully.  “Why, sure,” I replied (and then of course thought about the fact that Christmas is just weeks away and wouldn’t it be great if I had thought of giving it to him for Christmas!).

His excitement of being able to share in the grown-up world with “grown-up things” runs through my mind.  We are in the season of giving as we enter the month of December and I always work so hard trying to find “great” gifts for people because it’s so much fun to see their joy.  What it is, though, is that I feel good when I make someone else feel good…..when I give, and someone feels “awesome” because of that.  How wonderful to be able to do that for a child.

So this past weekend, I gave the boys the “gift” of tradition.  Since at least 1996, I have driven to a small town east of Cleveland to visit one of my best friends from college.  Her best friend from high school joins us in making Christmas cookies (2260 cookies this year!).  Years later, the group that gathers has grown to between 25 and 30 people and many of them are our children.  It’s such a great day for the boys.  They run around

Young baker

Young baker

and play with the other children.  They taste-test triple chocolate cookies, hazelnut shortbread, coconut pyramids, decorated sugar cookies, chocolate crinkles and chocolate espresso cookies, peanut butter blossums, thumbprints, kolaches, and so many more (probably the only day of the year that I’m not constantly saying “no more treats!”).  They stay up as late as their bodies can survive and then wake up as early as possible the next morning to continue to marvel in the abundance of new-to-them toys!  They love this day….and it is my gift to them to create such traditions.IMG_2141

Naturally, there are so many gifts that I give to my boys – not even thinking about the upcoming swarm of Christmas presents they’ll find under the tree in two weeks.  As I trudged back upstairs with Micah just now at 11:22 pm, I realized that in agreeing to stay “just one minute” more with him as he drifted back to sleep, I was gifting him with some time (a pretty precious commodity which is not always my strong suit in gift-giving!).

There are many gifts that other people give to my boys as well – love and attention from

Thank you, Tom.

Thank you, Tom.

grandparents and other family members, care and education from their teachers and day care workers, and the gift of attention from the men at Cookie Day who wrestled with the boys, threw balls, exclaimed happily at a new skill, and rustled their hair.  I thank these men for the gift of making my boys feel special.

And there are many gifts my sons bestow upon me – slobber and snot on my work clothes first thing in the morning, painful cheek from being accidentally whacked across the face, and of course, the favorite gifts of bodily fluids spewing onto floors and carpets in the most unexpectant and triumphant of fashion.

The best gift, though, came from one particular woman…. Miss Hannah …. who carried each boy in her heart and her womb for 9 months and then walked away so that they would experience a new life in my heart.  As I contemplate this most wondrous of gifts, I consider the greatest gift of all – the reason we celebrate this time of year, the reason we give so many gifts, the reason we live at all – the newborn in the manger.

My crazy slippers

For the past week, I have walked around the house with mismatched slippers.  My left foot wearing a brown slipper – one half of the pair that my mom just purchased and left at our house to keep her feet warm – and my right foot sporting a mauve fleece slipper from a pair I purchased several years ago.  I haven’t really thought about my mismatched slippers, despite the visiting foster caseworker pointing them out last week to the two other caseworkers (we like to schedule them all at one time and pretend to clean up for them).  But tonight, once the house grew quiet, I moved myself downstairs to the couch to admire the newly constructed and lit Christmas tree and kicked off the slippers to tuck my feet up under me.  I looked down at the odd pair and smiled.

Now, I could just say that wearing this particular pair is a sign of true laziness on my part.  I haven’t bothered to bend over and look for the matching sets under any of the couches or chairs or even bothered to look for them at all.  Strangely, for the entire week, the missing slippers have not magically appeared themselves like I keep thinking they will.

Or I could admit that my comfort and ease in slipping on two completely different slippers now shows just how completely I have given over to CHAOS and don’t even notice it anymore.  I only worry about the missing slippers when my mom does come to visit and I reluctantly give up my crazy pair so that her feet are warm (but since she was on a cruise for the past ten days, my feet have been so nice and toasty).

It’s hard to tell if this surrender is the sign of strength or just a survival mechanism.  I mean, I look around this room and see the towels on the floor (awaiting the return of the hamper which hasn’t climbed out of the basement yet with its latest load of laundry), the red Christmas Santa hats and stockings scattered at the base of the tree where the boys discarded them after our torture photo session in front of the tree, the books leaning off the shelves in a “pick me, pick me” stance waiting the joy of page-turning, the orange Matchbox tracks angularly sticking out from under the furniture (although I just noticed the loop and a couple tracks are up on top of the wall railing 6 feet up and in time out after a frustrated little boy threw them when the car didn’t loop as expected)….and I could go on and on ….but won’t, for instance, even mention the fireplace mantel where you’d be hard-pressed to find the beta fish in among the trophies, Lego airplane, digital camera, box set of DVDs, lotion bottles, a red 3-pound hand weight, and numerous other “off limit” or “too small and highly-chokeable” items.

Chaos reigns well enough in my life that yesterday when we pulled away to head down to my late-grandmother’s farm to have Thanksgiving dinner with the family, I wasn’t fazed at all to drive around the block, discover my tire pressure of the front tire read 6 instead of 35 (ie, FLAT), park the car, transfer 3 children into my sister’s car, climb in and head on out.  I wasn’t struck by the commotion of 13 children (my brother has 8) bouncing around the small dining room/living room of the farmhouse, wielding light-sabers which occasionally injured innocent bystanders.  And I wasn’t (too) fazed by sitting in the back of the new John Deere Gator and bouncing around the brush as my brother provided rides for all the kids.  In fact, it just felt really good to be surrounded by family and to watch the kids chase each other, “capture” each other into “tickle jail,” and slam Draw Four cards down in heated games of Crazy Uno.  It was delightful to have my grandmother’s farm welcome us all again.

My two cousins spent the night with us afterwards and this morning it seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring up the Christmas tree and start the festivities.  We balanced tree-arranging and some football playing, with Micah wrestling a cousin in the other room to get the ball and me defending the mantel knick-knacks (and fish!) from the on-coming missile.  The “babies” (we’ll eventually have to stop referring to the youngest two as “the babies”…someday) repeatedly approached the sparkling lights of the tree and timidly reached out hands to marvel at the brightness of bulbs before yielding to the expected reprimands of “Don’t TOUCH!”  Noah was the best, though – every time he walked into the living room today, he’d exclaim “oh my gosh,” or “that’s amazing,” or “we have an awesome tree.”  The chance to share in this joy and amazement and love of family is what makes the chaos worth it….the clutter worth it….the exhaustion worth it….

It’s what keeps my toes warm in mismatched slippers without a care.