Archive for the ‘hope’ Category

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.”

As The Sun Set in the Warm September Sky

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It was 95 degrees today! On the 6th of September! My daughter, Marie, and I spent most of the day at the movies where it was cool and comfy, munching on buttered popcorn and drinking Diet Coke. Coming home at 5:30 to stifling heat, we decided to take a swim in the pond behind our house. I had not been swimming in the lake in years. (My children, now teenagers and young adults, had lost interest in beach activities, onto other teenage endeavors that don’t involve wet bathing suits, towels, and sand between their toes.) As I stepped into the water, it was refreshingly wonderful! With Marie in tow, we each sat in a tube and paddled out to the middle of the lake. The cool water was the perfect solution for the muggy hot weather. We chatted for a while, (in sign language,) and Marie told me of the importance of wearing socks with her sneakers or her feet stink and people don’t want to come near her. She told me she enjoyed woodworking class which she had just begun, and she planned to build a house with what she was learning. We talked about teachers and boys and what her hopes and dreams are for when she “was older.” (She wants to work petting dogs and cats.)
As the conversation wore down, we both relaxed in the water, just floating and enjoying the moment. Marie took my hand in hers, a move she would have never done all those years ago when she came to live with us and would have screamed if I even touched her. I felt we were bonding anew. She shared her dreams, and now she was sharing her love. We floated in silence, watching the seagulls swoop down to get fish, and the geese fighting with them for air space. It seemed they were playing a follow the leader game, flying side by side, and then swooping into the water, geese honks and seagull squawks. We watched as the turtles poked their heads above the water. When she was younger, Marie would have taken off to joyfully capture them. But today she just floated in silence with me. More mature. More content with herself.
The time seemed timeless; we could float there all day, water lapping at our legs. But the setting sun belied the late time of day. Above the trees beautiful colors arched; pinks, oranges, purples. It was peaceful. It was relaxing. It was joyful. As we sat there in the water on our tubes holding hands…

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If you are interested in learning more about my family, here is 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

I Am a Certain Thomas

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My life has been blessed with the certainty of God’s existence. My brother was born multiply disabled with Rubella syndrome, (a warning to those who do not believe in immunizations.) He was almost deaf, blind, severely developmentally disabled and had a cleft palate, along with several other physical anomalies. My mom spent the first few months of his life sobbing on her bed. It was a confusing time for me as a child…my mom was not available to me, this new creature in my house mewed like a kitten for hours on end, and my dad did everything he could to not be home. Then, one sunny, warm day, my mom sat in the sun parlor on a rocking chair, rocking Curtis as he cried his kitten cry. Then a miracle happened…she was visited by the Holy Spirit. He/she came right on in, with a brightness that far surpassed the streaming sunlight, a brightness that would have been blinding were it not for the fact that it wasn’t. With a warmth of all encompassing love and joy. With a deep understanding that was somehow passed along to my mom. My mom stopped crying that day, and never again cried for my brother. Instead, he was raised with love; encouraged to do his best and accepted for what he could do, not what he couldn’t. My young life was so awesome after this experience! I have lived with that spirit in my heart; joyful and loving. Accepting and encouraging. Yet humble and in awe of all that life has to offer.
While that one experience changed my life, it was another experience that cemented my belief in the existence of a higher being. We traveled much during my childhood, and once we stayed atop a mountain, reveling in the views of the valley during the day and surrounded by pitch darkness at night. It was a time I valued having a campfire, sitting next to it with my poking stick, playing with the coals and listening to the gentle sounds of the night. Sleep came easily. I was awakened by an unbelievably loud noise and shaking of the earth, as though the whole mountain had exploded. The sound was so intense and unusual that my first thought was that it was the end of the world. In that instant, as I imagined “the end“ was near, an incredible sense of contentment and love immediately washed over me, with the joy of anticipation of a peaceful after-life. As silly as it sounds, I was actually disappointed to learn that the noise was just the sound of the thunder high in the mountains. What kind of person, especially a child, would have that thought????? I should have been frightened beyond belief, but I wasn’t. While my experience may lack scientific validity and meaning, it affected me deep in my soul and has deeply influenced the way I live my life.
Since that fateful night on the mountain, there have been a few more wisps of God in my life, the most notable being the unexplained healing of my daughter, Dinora’s deafness.
Many Christians heard the Gospel story of Thomas last Sunday. Thomas was one of Jesus’ disciples who would not believe in Jesus’ resurrection until he put his hand in Jesus’ side to feel his wounds. Since has come the term “Doubting Thomas”. I am Certain Thomas because I have so fortunately been given a rare sight into God’s existence, an existence of which I am sure and without doubt. It has been natural to live my life the way I have, and to do it with love and joy and acceptance. I’m not doing anything extraordinary, only what is natural given my knowledge. It is so much more meaningful for those who life similar lives, helping others, raising children, being peacemakers, donating material and monetary possessions, and loving others without qualification. They do so out of faith without proof, an amazing accomplishment for sure!
How would YOU live your life differently if you knew, for sure, of God’s existence?

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For more stories about my childhood, please, read my book. Here is a link:

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

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

Let Them See You in Me

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My youngest son, Angel, has not been the topic of much of my writing. For some reason, I shelter him and his Dissociative Identity Disorder. It is an insidious mental illness which developed because of severe, continued, horrific early childhood abuse. It has taken him many years of counseling to adjust to the fact that he has twelve personalities that don’t always work together or even know what each other is doing. Even though the special education system in our town has given Angel a first rate, accepting and supportive education, his teenage years have been a real challenge. Angel has a very angry part that spews hatred and vile threats which are too X rated to explain here. Friends who don’t know of his illness have called him to their defense in the middle of the night because Angel’s angry part would willingly and effectively threaten the bullies bothering them. His friends had also taken advantage of his innate kindness and willingness to help, and he found himself driving them everywhere until his gas tank (and our bank account) was empty. Friendships held little advantage for Angel.

And then he found a wonderful young man named Christopher! He and Christopher had been in elementary school together and just happened to reconnect. Christopher provided a friendship that asked for nothing in return, a new feeling for Angel. Christopher encouraged Angel to join the youth group at church. Pastor Joe, whom I had called to alert to Angel’s eccentricities, took a personal interest in befriending Angel. What a huge difference this has made in my youngest son! With a newfound feeling of acceptance for himself and his parts, Angel is beginning to make real friendships without having to hide his disability. Little by little he has discussed his condition with these two accepting individuals. And they still like him!

This morning I was driving home from church and a sense of great appreciation for Pastor Joe and Christopher filled my heart. While driving, I changed the radio station to K-LOVE, my favorite station, which, unfortunately, does not come in very well in my area. Through the static I could make out the songs, which were only background noise anyway because I was deep in thought. It dawned on me that Christopher and Pastor Joe were gifts from God, and that, through them, I could feel God’s deep caring for Angel. Such a thought warmed my heart with happiness and joy. And at that EXACT MINUTE, the radio station became perfectly clear and the song “Let Them See You In Me’ played. My jaw dropped at the timing. Coincidence that this radio station should suddenly come through loud and clear and play the exact song to match my thoughts????? For me, it was just one more confirmation that God is alive and well and lives through some wonderful people!

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To read all about Angel’s early years and diagnosis, please read my book. Here is a link:

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

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

I had “THE” Talk with My Teenage Daughter

If you have been following my blog for a long time, you may know of my daughter, Marie’s, early trauma and severe abuse. When she came to live with us at the age of 7, she insisted that she was a boy, not a girl. She wore boy clothes and had a boy’s haircut. She even begged the pediatrician to sew a penis on her! Bless him for not being shocked, but for telling her that decision would have to wait until she was an adult.

Because she is deaf, she didn’t hear when I’ve called her my daughter and when I’ve used the pronoun “she”. It also didn’t seem to faze her that her name was a girl’s name. After the abuse she lived through, my goal as a mom has been to make her feel as comfortable with herself as possible. If having a crew cut and wearing boys’ underwear suited her, so be it.

Marie insisted she was male right up until she got her first period. At that point she conceded to me that she WAS really a girl, (no denying that fact,) but that she wanted to appear to be a boy so that no man would “hurt her”. This was understandably a clever accommodation on her part!

Enter Marie the teenager…and “THE” talk about sex… She brought the subject up as we were watching a teen movie on television where the heroine and hero kissed. Marie did most of the talking, (in American Sign Language of course,) asking me who was better for her to “like”, boys or girls. She said she has had childhood boyfriends and girlfriends, but that she didn’t know which she should “like” for a real mate whom she would someday marry. She looked at me with questioning, soulful eyes as I put on a brave face, pretending to be wise. The answer was simple, of course. I told her that she would end up finding a mate with whom she would feel comfortable having sex. SEX????? She signed, aghast. She wasn’t talking about SEX…..in fact, she was NEVER going to have sex….she just wanted to know whom she should marry! And just like that she dismissed my answer with a wave of her hand and went back to watching the movie….

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To read more about our life as a family, please read my book. Here is a link:

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

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

I Lost All of My Money at the Casino :(

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I admit it… I LOVE to gamble; to play the slot machines at the casino.  It is one of my wicked vices. (I’ll bet you are all shocked to hear such an admission, which I have been consciously keeping from you so as not to tarnish my good image.)

It goes back to the days when I was a young adult.  My mother and my brother loved it when I took them to a casino in a nearby state.  We would take a day trip sponsored by a local bus company, and for a mere $25 fee, we would get a coupon for a free buffet and a coupon for $25 in gambling money.  As my mother was extremely frugal, this deal was enticing to her, and it allowed the three of us to have a nice day together.  My brother, who was severely developmentally delayed, legally blind, deaf, and schizophrenic, loved the long ride on the bus, to eat at the buffet where he could choose all of his favorite foods, and to enjoy all of the bright lights. But his favorite thing to do was to play a martian slot machine.  In his schizophrenic haze, he thought of himself as an alien, so he felt somewhat vindicated to see a slot machine “of his people.”  His $25 in free gambling money would last for hours as he would always bid the  minimum, 5 cents.  Every time the symbols on the machine matched, aliens would swoop down to bring them into their spaceship.  With his eyes pressed close to the machine to see, my brother joyfully whooped and hollered every time that happened.The money he won was secondary. He was in his “element”, something which he rarely felt elsewhere. Plus,my brother loved Diet Coke,and he could get all of the Diet Coke he wanted free. (We had purchased a refillable plastic cup one time, and my mother held onto it like gold…washing it and bringing it to every visit to the casino….for years my brother was thrilled to get free soda!)

My mom would always cash in her $25 gambling voucher.  She did not believe in gambling and preferred to take the money in cash, which to her meant a great day out with a free trip and buffet.  Her joy over a great bargain was greater than her playful spirit. She was certain that the machines were fixed, and that they “let you win” in the beginning, and then, when your money was gone, you would put in more and more, never winning again. Although I thought this idea was ludicrous, I have to admit that, over the years, I have seen this happen time and time again…those crafty slot machines!!!!  Regardless, I LOVED to play the slots. I would have to sneak away from my mom because when my $25 voucher ran out, (as it ALWAYS did,) I would play my own money.

And so it was yesterday, when I took a similar bus trip with the recreation group of adults with disabilities that I coordinate.  (After all, just because they have a disability doesn’t mean they should be excluded from loosing their money at the casino like the rest of us!)  It was during that trip that I lost all of my money.  As the last few cents dwindled away in the slot machine, I felt a sick feeling in my stomach.  I was so sure I was going to win!  It was FATE for me to win, because I really needed the money and therefore God could work his “magic” and allow my machine to his the jackpot, therefore getting me out of debt.  Isn’t that the way God works?  Unfortunately not…

As my money ran out, I sat there sad, disappointed, and frantic. What would you all THINK of me? How was I going to buy lunch for the rest of the week?  How could I have been so STUPID?!?!?! All my money was gone…

It is a good thing I only brought $20 with which to gamble…

Mother’s Day and Delayed Rewards

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Mother’s Day is a wonderful time to appreciate moms, step-moms, birth moms, adoptive moms, wanna be moms and women who love children. Bless you for making a difference in a child’s life! Don’t you get joy from seeing the joy in a laughing child, the shy smile of a child with twinkling eyes, and the serene look on their faces when they are sleeping?  Ahhhhhh……..what sweet little rewards of being with a child…

Most of us know, however, that it is VERY difficult to be a mom and sometimes the REAL rewards are far apart….

When my son Steven was in nursery school, it was a real challenge because of his autistic and ADHD problems. He had been born addicted to cocaine and heroine and his nervous system was “messed up” (my professional diagnosis.) Bringing him was a real challenge as he would kick and scream and cry, yet I did it because he could not hide out safely at home for his entire life with me vacuuming around him. At first, he would  spend most of the time in school hiding out in the “quiet tent”, playing with his plastic reptiles, sometimes soaking in the information from the teacher. Eventually, he sauntered out of his safe space to see what was going on.  He did not join the other children, but he was with them…a huge improvement.  Eventually, nursery school became normalized for him; part of his routine.  He would come home with his little projects; a paper flower, a painted snake, a play dough alligator.  I had learned not to make a “fuss” over these things, but to quietly tell him they were wonderful while his head dropped to his chest, eyes closed.  (He was not a child who could tolerate excitement of any kind.)  He survived two years in that classroom, and I wondered how he would act on “graduation day”, a celebration seemingly out of his tolerance level.  All of the children stood there in their little paper graduation caps, tassels dangling in front of their noses so they had to keep blowing them away.  All of the children except Steven.  The children sang a song, and thanked their moms and generally wowed the crowd with their antics.  All of the children except Steven.  The children walked in a nice, straight line to get their nursery school diplomas; all except Steven.  When all but one diploma had been handed out, the teacher walked over to where Steven was hiding under a chair, butt facing outwards. (If I had been smart, I would have sewed a smiley face on the butt of his pants, but, alas, I had been unrealistically hoping that he would join the other children in the graduation ceremony.)  The teacher bent down with the document and Steven’s  little hand reached out to grab it.  He quickly pulled the diploma out of sight.  Calm and cool under the seat, he had made it! Steven had graduated from nursery school without a tantrum, yelling or screaming.  He graduated in the manner he felt most comfortable, but graduate he did!  What a reward that was for me; I was a proud mother, indeed!

Diagnosed in elementary school with Dissociative Identity Disorder, Angel, has been very carefully placed in specialized classrooms.  Although intelligent and able to do grade level work, he frequently changes “parts”, (his word for his alternate personalities.)  His teachers and teacher aids, bless their souls, understand him well, and manage to educate him, even if it means repeating the same lesson because a different “part” was out that day, or giving his the test over because the “part” that studied for the test is not the “part” that took the test!  He has a baby part which necessitates him to just “veg out” in a large mushroom chair.  On those days, nothing was learned.  His condition has been kept top secret and no unnecessary teachers or others in the school know about it. Fortunately, he has been living a very “normal” life.  I have found one surprising benefit…he has a “Game Show Host” part.  I work with a recreational group of adults with disabilities, and every now and then we play Bingo or Family Feud. Angel, as have all of my children, regularly comes with me.  One day, he asked to be the moderator for Family Feud and his “performance” was beyond hilarious.  Usually a reserved child with groups, all of a sudden he channeled Richard Dawson! He went down the rows of “contestants”, gave each of them a peck on the cheek, and, while holding their hands in his, asked their names and a little about themselves.  The older women, who probably have not had much attention in their lives, giggled and smiled and blushed.  Then, Angel read each question with gusto, and made a “ding” noise when they got it right, and a loud buzzer noise if they got it wrong.  It was sooooooooooo funny because it was so out of character of the Angel that they knew.  This group of adult with disabilities, many of whom live alone on a minimum income with this once a week outing their only time out of their houses, were laughing hysterically that evening. Ever since then, they look forward to Family Feud and “Gameshow Host” Angel! What a reward for me to see Angel’s  give such joy to these wonderful people!

As a graduation present, my daughter, Dinora, and I took a trip back to her birth country in Guatemala.  She had done fundraising to assist with the opening of a soup kitchen in Antigua, and we were there for “opening day”.  We went shopping that morning, taking a little “putt putt” (2 wheeled open air taxi) into the village, giggling all the way as it bounced along. We bought flowers of all bright shapes and sizes, which stuck out of the putt putt on the way back, narrowly bopping passers by on the head. We spread the flowers out in front of  the  alter where a mass was to be said in honor of the opening of the facility. An overflowing crowd of people filled the make-shift pews, and it was a beautiful, emotional mass. Even though it was all in Spanish I seemed to understand every word, and I could certainly feel the emotion in the songs which the Indigenous Guatemalans sang.  After mass, people lined up for the food in their brightly colored clothing. There was my daughter, a young adult, behind the counter, dark hair pulled back into a pony tail, serving food with a beaming smile on her face showing dimples I never knew she had, (or perhaps she had never smiled so brightly.)  She was old enough and cared enough to give back something and help “her people” as she called them. I will never forget the sight of her…sweat on her brow, wiping her hands on her apron, making pleasant conversation in Spanish while smiling that amazing smile…   How could that sight NOT be a reward for a mom after years of raising a difficult teen?

Raising Marie has been the most difficult because of her many serious challenges.  When she came to us, she was street smart at the age of seven.(See post “All She did Was Scream and Say No! No! No!) She had no thought of danger and no social skills.  Although this may sound silly, one of my concerns was the fact that she would litter.  Get a drink; throw the bottle on the ground.  Have a piece of gum; throw the wrapper on the ground. Popsicle; stick thrown in the grass.    Repeatedly, I would have her pick it up and throw it away, explaining that we don’t litter in our family.  Marie could not have cared less…she did not want to be in our family anyway…  It took many months with us before she learned not to litter.  That’s why it shocked me when we were at the mall one day and she casually flicked the paper from her straw onto the ground.  My eyes widened, and just as I was about to ask her to pick it up, she bent down and picked it up, signing to me “I was just teasing you!  I know we don’t litter in this family!”  What a reward it was to hear her say that!  Finally, she felt part of our family!

My most favorite reward I saved for last.  For all of you parents, especially parents with children with disabilities, I will share that there has been no greater reward in my life than seeing my son, Francis, become a successful adult. Despite being legally blind, he has a college degree, is very successful in a job which he loves and through which he is benefitting others, and he recently married a great woman who not only loves him for the wonderful person that he is, but can also drive a car so he won’t have to take public transit to work any more!  There IS no greater reward for a parent; to know that the problems, fun, hard work, love, difficulties and dispersed joys of childhood have come together in a positive way. My son has officially “made it” to adulthood.  Now he can look forward to the rewards he will experience in raising his own children. Then I get the extra rewards of grandchildren!

To all of you mothers and others out there, Happy Mother’s Day!  Beyond the handmade cards, the flowers, the breakfasts and dinners out, and the gifts of the day, so many more rewards await you.  Sometimes you just have to be patient…

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