Archive for the ‘family’ Category

To Be Joyful with So Little

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When Dinora and I visited her birth place, Guatemala, we spent some time with moms who were working picking coffee beans. They toil all day while their children play nearby. Prepared for this visit, Dinora had a backpack full of little toys; small dolls, Matchbox cars, bouncy balls, toy rings, and so forth. (Above is a picture of a little girl clutching a small ring in her hand, so pleased with her gift.) The children were amazingly polite. Each child would gather around Dinora as she gave them each a small toy. Taking it delightfully appreciative into their little hands, they smiled shyly and stepped back to leave room for others to come forward. They didn’t crowd her. They didn’t ask for more, more, more. They reveled in the joy of that tiny toy! Sheer happiness!

It made me realize that more and expensive and better isn’t the right Christmas concept for children as they may not fully appreciate their multitude of blessings. If only they could experience the happiness on Christmas that those children among the coffee bean trees exhibited. Pure joy! What a concept!

As Peaceful as Falling Snow

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My husband and I have the tradition of going to our little cabin in NH at least once a month.  We have had a real challenge raising Marie and Steven lately, so this weekend was especially timely.  Right now I am sitting in a comfy chair, feet up, air warm around me, and a cup of hot chocolate with lots of marshmallows sitting on the table next to me, adding steam to the air.  I am smiling thinking of how this cabin has served us well over the years.

When Steven came to live with us, his obsessive compulsive disorder, extreme hyperactivity and severe sensory integration difficulties were not conducive to family vacations in hotels and such. My father, who adored Steven and saw many of my brother’s mental health traits in him, generously purchased this little vacation home.  He himself had always wanted a house in New Hampshire, and he was proud to be able to give me something that would last a lifetime.  The cabin is full of his carvings, including a sign that says “RELAX!!!”  It might be a reminder to actually relax, except on the sign is a carved eagle with a beak so sharp and long and eyes so wildly life like that it kind of scares me instead.  Fortunately, I have learned to look on this sign with love, a reminder of my dad and his “quirky ways”.

On the wall of the cabin are pictures of the kiddos through the years; Francis water skiing, Dinora standing gloriously in front of Mount Washington, Steven holding up his bucket y.of frogs, one frog in his hand thrust towards the camera looking huge next to his tiny body, Andy wildly waving a sparkler on the Fourth of July and Marie holding up a huge fish she caught ice fishing, almost too heavy for her to hold.  There are other pictures of all of us together, or the kiddos playing in the sand at the beach, cuddling on the deck of the cabin, or hiking in the woods.  The pictures are a nice reminder that we have been parents for a long time, and our children have led full and happy lives with us.

While staying in the cabin is reminiscent, it also serves as a retreat for me and my husband.  It is very quiet here.  No telephone reception. No multitude of cable tv channels.  No internet.  No neighbors. No housework.   No stress.

The weekend is a wonderful interlude to our busy lives, an interlude where we are free to nap all day, laugh at silly things, eat  wonderful concoctions Raymond dreams up, (last night it was shrimp rolled in bacon and topped with cheese,) and spend lots of time loving each other.  While we are loving when at home, we go into overdrive in the secluded cabin. No neighbors can hear our screeching laughs.   No children can walk in on our sexual escapades, and no one cares if I walk around bra-less. We are “free and easy”, and the stress just melts away…

Today, the day we will be packing up to go home, I am sitting here writing this, content watching the snow slowly falling outside; soft, fluffy, amazingly beautiful snow!  Peace surrounds me now.  I am well rested and have laughed and loved my stress away, and I am ready to go home to face whatever challenges may come my way.  Bring it on!

All It Took was a Few Daisies

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Things have not been going so well lately. Marie has been in the hospital for trying to swallow a box of staples during a PTSD episode. (The pain of the memories was just too much.) The staples, thankfully, passed through and did no damage, but her recovery from the incident has not passed so easily. She is sad and shaky as she works through her most recent memory, that of a “john” pulling a gun on her mother. She remembers hiding under the bed and watching in terror as his footsteps thumped by, sure he would find her and kill her at any minute.

Steven has had a similar fate. As a young adult, he chose not to take his medication anymore. He didn’t like it because it made him feel “sleepy”…instead he is hyper, agitated, argumentative, obsessed and out of control. When you have a mental illness when you are a child, you are hospitalized and given great care. When the same thing happens when you are an adult, you are arrested for domestic violence and thrown in jail. Not the best situation, and extremely difficult for a parent to handle. (Yes, I am being selfish thinking of how this affects me.) Maybe when he is released he will agree to take his medication again, medication which has enabled him to live a full and relatively happy life. Medication which has calmed his OCD and aggression. Medication which has smoothed out the wrinkles in his brain created by in utero exposure to cocaine, heroine and alcohol. Medication which has made our family life “normal”.

Yesterday, (Thanksgiving) was a solemn day for our family, missing two of our beloved children. In preparation for the day, I had cleaned the house as my husband had shopped and prepared the food. I had hoped to get to the store for a floral centerpiece to add some happiness to our table, but time just didn’t allow. Setting the table, I felt sad, abandoned, and empty inside, unfamiliar feelings for me. Just as I was allowing the despair to set in, there was a knock at my front door. There stood a middle aged woman dressed in a neat, black coat. I didn’t recognize her at first, but as soon as she introduced herself, I remembered that she had a child in the same class as Steven ten years ago. I forced a smile and asked her how she was. She had been thinking of me, she said. She remembered me from all those years ago and she remembered the challenges our children faced. She had made me a beautiful floral centerpiece for our Thanksgiving table! She said she knows how hard it is for her to raise one child with mental illness, and that she has admiration for me raising several. I thanked her and held back tears as I hugged her tight.

This amazing centerpiece is filled with bright orange mums, cheery yellow daisies, and red roses, whimsically arranged with a big Thanksgiving Day bow. Looking at it, I can’t help but smile. It is beautiful! It is hopeful! It is joyful! It was just what I needed to get me out of my despair and realize that this, too, shall pass. And the reminder came from a woman who was almost a stranger to me. I am so thankful for the timing of her thoughts of me.

She LOVES me! She really LOVES me! (not…)

Anyone who is raising a child with reactive attachment disorder knows that love and caring is not always reciprocated. In fact, often the children are so hostile that we wonder what we are doing wrong and what have we gotten ourselves into? Raising Marie has been like that. Coming to us from living with a mom who allowed unspeakable abuse, Marie was not ready to love anyone. Not letting me touch her, in fact, shoving me away or hitting me if I tried, it took six months for me to reason with her that I needed to have a way to show her that I loved her. She graciously allowed us to fist bump. Our fists met with a minimal amount of touching as I signed “I love you” in American Sign Language with the other hand. As a mom, I desperately needed to be able to share my love with her, whether she accepted it or not.

Through the years, she allowed me to hug her. I would put all of my love forth in that hug, deep, sincere, emotional… Whether she actually got any of that through osmosis, or whether she just tolerated my hug, I never knew. But I felt better doing something to demonstrate my love.

When she was about 14 years old, we were at a carnival and she spotted a photo booth. She had always been fascinated with these contraptions, and she grabbed me by the hand and pulled me over to it, sticking her other hand out for the money to put in it. As we sat inside the booth and the camera clicked, a miraculous thing happened…she turned and KISSED me on the cheek. Whether it was her excitement over the photo booth, (and the demonstration photos on the side of people kissing,) or whether she really felt an emotion and wanted to kiss me, I’ll never know. But I choose the latter. In the picture below, you can see the emotion on my face as she does so. After SEVEN long years!

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Well, a couple of years have gone by, and she and I regularly hug and kiss (she offers me her cheek.) Not much had changed in that department. UNTIL I went to the open house at her school. She saw me walking down the corridor while she was standing with a group of friends. She came galloping towards me, wrapped her arms around me with such force that I almost fell over, and gave me a huge kiss ON THE LIPS! Then she proudly told everyone that I was her mom. SHE LOVES ME! SHE REALLY LOVES ME!

To Find or Not To Find, That is the Question

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Many adoptive parents are faced with the dreaded request from their kiddos…they want to reunite with, or at least find out about, their biological families. Of my four adopted children, only one expressed an interest in doing so. The thought struck fear into my little, mom heart!

Angel came to live with us as a foster child at the age of three, still having weekly visits with his mom and four siblings. His parent’s rights were terminated shortly afterwards and his siblings were adopted by an aunt. We kept in touch with his aunt, and the siblings visited a few times. Within a year, however, the aunt relinquished custody because their bio mom kept interfering…meeting them at the bus stop, trying to take them, and so forth. (His bio mom was a mentally ill drug addict with HIV and she could be violent.) The four children were split up and placed in shelters or foster homes here and there, and our life carried on as usual. Angel accommodated well in our loving family, and we lost touch with his siblings.

One day when Angel was a teenager, he came to me and said he wondered where his brothers and sisters were. I did, too, as my heart had always ached for these children for whom a normal family life was not possible. It would have been easy to tell Angel that he was in our family now and his bio family no longer mattered, but that wasn’t true. As a young Hispanic man, who looked nothing like his Caucasian parents, he had a right to know more about his heritage. If I didn’t support him now, he would only look himself in a few years when he became an adult.

I contacted the social worker in the Department of Children Youth And Families adoption unit to have her look into Angel’s request. Within a few days, she called back. Because the siblings had aged out of the system, their information was no longer available. However, she DID have Angel’s aunt’s phone number, which I gladly took. Angel bravely called his aunt, and started to cry immediately when she started to cry when he told her who he was. She had continued to have a supportive relationship with his siblings, but she had always longed for the one who was adopted…Angel! They talked on the phone for hours as she filled him in on their history and he filled her in on his. But, most importantly, she gave him the telephone numbers of his siblings.

Angel savored the numbers at first, but, one by one, he called them. Each had led a difficult life; the boys having lived in shelters and group homes and the girls in and out of foster care and never adopted. But they were still tight as a family, proud of their Hispanic heritage. They had each other. And now Angel had them, too!

Angel and one sister, who still lived in our state, met for a long, glorious lunch! They found each other immediately at the restaurant because she looked like a female version of Angel. They ran to each other and screeched and hugged and cried. They found out they both have the same laugh (AND same dry sense of humor.) They have kept in touch since that lunch date, and talk on the phone regularly.

Angel’s other sister died from leukemia when she was twelve…a sad, lonely death with no family to call her own to support her.

His older brother, Fernando, lives in Florida. And looks just like an older version of Angel, judging from the pictures they exchanged on their phones. They talked and texted often. His brother had lived in group homes and then in a homeless shelter when he aged out of the system. Following a job lead to Florida, his brother obtained a job, found a wife, and had 2 children. He and his wife work 2 jobs to make ends meet, and “Grandma” lives with them to care for the children in their one bedroom apartment. They are incredibly HAPPY, especially his brother who now had a family to call his own!

Angel’s 18th birthday present was airfare to visit Fernando for a week. Alone. (Yes, I trusted him!) He is a mature young man with a good head on his shoulders. (Plus I did check his brother out to make sure he did not have a criminal record, unlike his oldest brother who is in prison for selling drugs. HE had chosen his mother’s lifestyle…) Getting off the plane in Florida, Angel was welcomed with open arms into Fernando’s family, everyone crying and gathering around him in joyous celebration. Angel still laughs about his two young nieces, grabbing him at the knees for hugs, almost toppling him to the ground. He visited for a week in their tiny apartment, sharing their meager food, (and becoming the hero uncle when he ordered take-out pizza and Chinese food!) He came home with a new sense of self and contentment. An adult who knows who he is. For his birthday every year, he will be asking for a plane ticket to visit Florida.

Of course, this is my story of what happened to him. I have asked Angel to write a few words, and he did as follows:

“It was an amazing feeling to finally have contact with my biological family. After years of waiting and wondering, my questions would finally have well over due answers. Ever since I was able to remember who they were, I had an empty feeling in my heart. When I was adopted the empty feeling was satisfied but not filled. when i was able to hear their voices, my heart started filling up with happiness and joy. When i finally saw my brother and sister, it was overwhelming and exciting! That doesn’t mean I don’t love my adoptive family. They have done a lot for me, but you really have to go though what each adoptive kids been through to truly understand it. It’s natural to wonder where you come from, especially when you don’t have the ability of asking the people that brought you into the world.”

I Didn’t Know Cats Could Swim Redux

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I am very crabby today…went to the dentist. Dentists conjure up very bad memories of pain. Living with a “crazy” dad who loved to eat candy, cookies and pies, along with limited encouragement for good dental hygiene, I had many cavities as a child. When having the cavities fixed, the dentist did not use Novocain. (Either that or my parents would not pay the additional expense for Novocain because my dad was obsessively cheap.) At any rate, I equate going to the dentist with torture. Even though I am grown now, and the dentist DOES use Novocain, the experience in general is very stressful and causes me much crabbiness. Needing a boost out of my bad mood, I tried to think of something that would make me smile. Thus, I am repeating a post I did more than a year ago. One that made me giggle. One that I will share again with you…

Because my youngest daughter, who is deaf, goes to school out of state, I sometimes rent a hotel room for myself, my oldest daughter and her son, Alley (Alejandro) to visit together.  Last weekend was one such weekend.  I love to see the interaction of the three of them, Dinora signing in ASL to Marie and Alley trying to copy the signs with his small hands.  (He explains that Marie can’t talk because her ears are broken, so she has to use her hands…)  His favorite sign, “swimming”,  is used often because he wants them to spend all of their time together in the hotel pool.  It was during one of their swims, while I was sitting in the lounge chair by the pool, sipping a nice tall plastic cup of Diet Coke, and smiling while the three of them frolicked, that I was overwhelmed with a feeling of joy in my heart. They were beaming with laughter and exuding a happiness that one could not overlook…a deep, profound happiness which doesn’t often come to Marie. Seeing her eyes glint with laughter, tears stung at the back of my eyes, then slowly slipped down my cheeks.  To think that a child who had been so severely abused as she could come through all of that darkness and  despair to ultimately be able to experience such joy made my heart want to explode with love for the three of them.  I could not remember ever having been so content in my life, but my reverie was soon disturbed, but not unpleasantly…

My tears of joy were soon replaced by tears of laughter.  Alley came out of the pool and looked around…  “Where’s the cat pool?” he asked.  “The CAT pool?  There is no cat pool!” I replied.  “Yes! Yes!  In hotels there are sometimes CAT pools!” he argued, frustrated that I could not understand what he was asking. “You know, the pool for the kitties.”     Ah!  The KIDDY POOL!

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To read about Marie’s early childhood, here is a link to my book:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Literally, God Will Provide…

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In my years on earth, miracles have happened that have strengthened my belief in God. Whether it be my daughter, Dinora, gaining hearing after being deaf, or the provision of a wildly disputed passport showing up in our mailbox just in time for her travel to her birth country when she was a teen, I have been blessed. But I’ve never been more surprised about God’s ability to provide until today…

We have to share our cars now that Angel is driving, and today was my turn to take the big family van. Being short on money this week, I fished out a one dollar bill that still clung to life in the bottom of my purse. Victory! When stopping for gas, I could go into the convenience store to get a bi-i-i-i-i-ig drink of Diet Coke to last me the day! Once in the store, I put my la-a-a-a-a-a-a-arge cup under the spigot and filled it to the brim, excited at the prospect of getting such a delight for only 89 cents! Looking up, I suddenly noticed that this was not an all sizes pay same price kind of store, and that a large soda was $1.49! My heart skipped a little bit when I realized I was going to have to go out to the van to dig up some loose change in the carpeting or under the seats to pay for the soda. Just as I was putting the lid on the cup, the store owner struck up a conversation. “That’s a big van for you to drive,” he said. “I have five kiddos and our family all has to fit,” I answered. “Yeh,” he said, “But it must be really difficult to drive that thing.” I just laughed and shrugged. I was just about to tell him that I was going to have to leave my drink on the counter to run out to get more money (hoping to dig up another 3 quarters,) when he said suddenly, unaware of my financial situation, “God bless you! The drink is on me.” I smiled and said an enthusiastic “Thank you!” He could not have understood how much this gesture was seen as a blessing, (especially because when I got back to the car I could only find six pennies, two dimes and a nickel.) God provided a Diet Coke so large that I had enough to drink all day, and I still had a dollar left in my pocket! Maybe no big deal in the scheme of things, but, to me, it was a personal affirmation that God DOES provide!

Similarly, another provision surprised me today. Having recently saved up enough to buy a flat screen television to put on the wall, we have been remodeling our living room. I washed and hemmed some new curtains and shampooed the rug. Without the large, old television cabinet, the room looked much cleaner and brighter EXCEPT for our 25 year old couch that displeasingly hugged the wall, looking like an old walrus, slumpy and bedraggled. (The couch was so old that I could not count the number of stains, or the times the skirt had been super glued back on because one child or another had ripped it off in a PTSD or dissociative fit.) I would buy a few throw pillows to brighten it up, I thought to myself, just as my phone rang. It was a neighbor, one I always wave to but don’t talk to too often. They were getting new furniture, she said, did I want their leather, L shaped couch? It was still in good shape, she explained, and they paid $6,000 for it, but they were looking to redecorate. DID I WANT IT???? DOES POPCORN POP? DO FERRIS WHEELS TURN? Yes, yes YES! Of course I wanted it! What an unexpected surprise! How wonderful is God, who provides even when we don’t ask! That is truly a Being that sees inside our hearts.

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