Archive for the ‘parenting’ Category

The Mirror From the House of Horrors

bathroom-mirror-clipartmirror-man-clip-art-royalty-free-640-mirror-man-clipart-vector-73d10fccDressing in the morning for work, I try to look my best. When I look in our bathroom mirror, my hair looks pleasingly curly. My face looks “fine”. Average, (as I am no beauty by any means,) but fine, especially when I smile back at myself. Although I could stand to loose a few pounds, I don’t look overweight. Pleased with how I look, out the door I go to work.

I remain in a confident, upbeat mood unless I have to pee. IF I have to do so, I enter the room with the mirror from the house of horrors ..our office bathroom…oooooooooohhhhhhhhhh! Prepared for Halloween all year, this mirror somehow magically transforms my okay look into a horror. My hair is wild, frizzy, with straggly curls going everywhere. (Not unlike Dr. Frankenstein or Freud.) My eyes bulge out, with dark circles beneath them, (somewhat resembling characters from the Walking Dead.) My face is mottled and spotted and scary. My pores seem huge and my freckles overpower the rest of my face. And I am the size of elephant!

The first few times I used this bathroom, I scared myself. I am used to its tricks by now, so I don’t pay attention. I am confident enough to know that, at least in my mind, that is not the REAL me. That mirror distorts what I see on the outside so that it does not match what I feel on the inside. So I try not to have to pee all day….

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.”

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.

Umbrella or Bucket?

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Just an observation: It seems that we have a new generation of “bucket babies”, babies carried around in their infant seats. While this is probably the safest way to transport them from one place to another, it seems like added stress for parents…imagine having to carry your baby AND his/her car seat every where you go! Even though their little ones may weigh only eight pounds, it must feel like carrying 50 pounds around. It ties up one hand, leaving the remaining hand to juggling car keys, diaper bag, purse, cell phone and iced coffee.

“In my day” (just like a grandmother would say,) I used umbrella strollers. They were exceptionally light and freeing, and the little one would hunker down comfy and safe while I pushed him/her around. Everywhere. Especially shopping where I would gleefully use the back of the stroller as my own personal shopping rack. Of course, when the children were infants, I could only hang a few things on the back. When they were toddlers and their weight balanced out my potential purchases, a lot more items would fit! (Thus my expanding shopping budget…)

I no longer carry little ones around, and my children have long outgrown the umbrella stroller, which is fading into extinction. Too bad…

My Stomach Growls When I am Hungry

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I admit it, my life revolves around food. I start the day with breakfast; eggs, toast and tea. By noon time, my stomach is growling and asking for more to eat, and I unfailingly grant its wish. Because of my own feelings about food, I have extra empathy for those who do not have enough to eat.

Today, our Lutheran Church celebrated “God’s Work, Our Hands”. One of our group projects was a specialty of mine, something I do with my own children on a monthly basis. We made 128 bag lunches for the homeless. Bologna and cheese sandwiches, apple sauce and potato chips. When the production was finished, Marie and I drove to the local agency for the homeless and dropped them off. This is something we have done on a regular basis. Years ago, when we started this tradition, Marie was wary of the people milling about outside the building. Some were dirty, some were minorities, some with disabilities, some with obvious mental illness; scary people to a young girl. But, through the years, Marie has become comfortable dropping off food. Now, she understands. She smiles at them and waves “hi”. She says “thank you” in sign language when they open the door for her. And today she proudly placed the work of her hands and the hands of our congregation on the counter. As she turned around to leave, I am sure that she did as I do; appreciates that our own stomachs never have to go without food. Making lunches is such a small sacrifice for us to make. Minuscule, really, when considering the depth of hunger that abounds. But not minuscule to those few who had lunch today.

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

“God Don’t Make Junk”

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This used to be my mom’s favorite saying. She believed it all of her life, but never as much as she did after the birth of my brother, Curtis. When she was pregnant with him, she was unknowingly exposed to German Measles, thus affecting him with Rubella Syndrome.

Curtis was unfortunate to acquire all of the accompanying diagnosis; he had a severe hearing impairment, congenital heart disease, an intellectual disability, an odd head shape (like a smooshed pear,) a cleft lip and palate, autism and was legally blind with crossed eyes that wiggled back and forth. (Additionally, when he was a teen, he developed schizophrenia, but that’s for another story…)

Because I was only 4 when he was born, I thought he was the cutest thing in the world! He was my BROTHER, after all. I delighted in feeding him formula through an eye dropper, trying to quell his kitten like hunger cries. I loved to rock him in the rocking chair, all bundled up and warm. He was a delight to me!

Curtis’s life in our family was as amazing as mine. Loving, adventurous, interesting, and accepting. Anywhere we went, I would explain to quizzical stares that he was born like that and he might look different, but inside he was the same as everyone else. In fact, he had an amazing sense of humor and would laugh at anything! He loved to eat peaches and watch Sesame Street. As I extoled my brother’s virtues, I could see their stares soften with understanding and acceptance.

The “gawking” role was reversed when I was a parent, and this moment is etched into my mind. Francis and I were at the zoo. He must have been about four years old because I remember pushing his sister, Dinora, in a stroller. Nearing a pen of vastly ugly pigs snorting mud, Francis exclaimed, “Look, mom! One of the animals got out of the cage.” I looked over and saw a horrified mother with a toddler in a stroller. A disfigured toddler, with a gaping mouth like Curtis used to have. And the child was snorting bubbles and drool. Taken aback and horrified by what Francis said, I took his hand and we walked over to the stroller. I smiled at the mom and told her what beautiful eyes her child had! I asked her if it would be okay if we touched him, and Francis and I leaned over and gently rubbed the child’s chubby little hands, which opened and closed in excitement. “He really seems to be enjoying the zoo!” I said, as we parted, smiling knowing little smiles at each other.

I then took Francis aside and explained that God makes all types of children, and “God don’t make junk!” His observational comment was an innocent one, (especially because he is legally blind,) but it provided an opportunity for a valuable lesson.

Every mother wants to be proud of her child, and to have others share in her positive feelings. Every child is a joy! Imagine yourself in the mother of a disabled child’s shoes. Have empathy for that mom. Join in her admiration of her child, and maybe you will also internalize the concept that “God don’t make junk!”

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For more stories about Curtis’ childhood and our adventurous 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

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