Monday, October 31, 2011

Comic relief.

We need a change of pace on this here blog.  So instead of continuing to lament our adoption status, I'm going to publish a guest post I wrote for Natalie in August.  It was some serious comic gold, not to mention horribly embarrassing for me, and I'm just not sure how many of you went over to read it.  I feel like a few of you might have mentioned it to me the next time we were in close quarters--with some jesting involved.  See, Natalie suggested I write a story about an awkward moment.

Then my problem became: where to begin? My number of embarrassing and awkward moments has increased exponentially since I became a mother. Should I write about when I took my 2 week old to the grocery store and my fragile bladder control failed me? Or when I was singing on stage at church and my nursing boobs started leaking? Or when my daughter projectile vomited on the shoes of a woman in front of us—also at the grocery store? Huh. I’m noticing many of my moments have to do with bodily fluids. And grocery stores. I hope you find these amusing, because my vault of funny is deep with blood, urine, snot, feces, spit-up and puke. Barrel of laughs, right?!?

But I’ll let you in on a little secret…these are easier to share, because I totally blame it on the kids! The REAL humiliation is when the moment has nothing to do with having given birth or a person under age 10 who doesn’t know any better. So, in honor of Natalie’s Awkward and Awesome, I’ll just cut to the chase and share a couple doozies.

Several years ago I worked at a church office. If we needed to make copies or use the shared printer, we had to walk down the hall to a small copy room. No biggie. One afternoon, I was waiting for a particularly LONG printing/collating/stapling job, and my Mexican food lunch (Who are we kidding? I was young and broke. I’m sure it was Taco Bell.) was, let’s just say it was settling uncomfortably in my lower GI. In my innocence, I figured that being alone in this room for a good 10 minutes was a perfect place to—why am I having such a hard time writing this?—to PASS GAS, people. I tooted, alright?! There. I said it.
It took about 2 seconds for me to realize the ignorance of my ways. A SMALL room, with only ONE door? Oh, sweet, innocent, stupid early-twenties Me. What did I think was going to happen when one of the pastors walked in RIGHT THEN? Blame it on…the copy machine? The non-existent “other” person who couldn’t have just left, because he would have seen them leaving the room? My stinky toddler who wouldn’t be born for another 4 years? Nope. Nothin’ doing. Just smile, laugh uncomfortably, and GET THE HECK OUT OF THERE.  Abandon the collating 1 to 2 sided copies.  And never speak of it again for approximately 9 years, at which time you will share it publicly for all the world. So, yes, Pastor Tom, if you are reading this…IT WAS ME, OK? I admit it.  Stop haunting my dreams with that look of disgust.

I swear I don’t have stomach issues. I’m mostly a person with mastery over my gas. But I will share one more embarrassing moment, knowing full-well you’ll all start recommending I be checked for IBS. Many moons later, I was in the grocery store (see what I mean?) with a 1 and 4 year old and—having learned my lesson—was in a very well-ventilated, large and open aisle, perfect for a quick getaway. There were 2 other groups of people in this long aisle, but they were down by the frozen pizzas and I was still at popsicles. I gently let out a teeny-tiny little whiff as I was walking. I didn’t factor in the fact that my loud-mouth preschooler has a nose that is right about the height of my rear-end.

“MOM! YOUR BOTTOM IS SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO STINKY!!!” Heads turn. Brows raise. Chuckles are unsuccessfully hidden.  “Oh! Heehee! Aren’t you a little silly! You must be smelling the…the…cheese aisle. Or Sydney’s diaper! YES! That’s it! Your sister’s diaper! What a funny little man you are!” Then secretly I grab his funny little arm and walk quickly away towards the register, telling him under my breath to shut his adorable little trap.

So, you know, lesson learned by moi. Get in control of your sphincter already, girl. Public gas-passing is a risky, risky business, better left to the professionals—whom I’m assuming are middle school boys, frat boys, and pretty much just boys of all ages who don’t care if someone smells their farts. And apparently I should avoid grocery stores. Can someone back me up when I explain to my husband that I can’t do the shopping anymore?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Low point.

I've been procrastinating writing this post. Partly because it's sad and difficult.  Partly because several of my Thai-adopt friends have said it and said it well.  (See Thai blogs on the right.)  But several people have asked what the scoop is, and I realize that although it's big news in our little adoption world, that doesn't mean everyone is "in the know."
The flooding in Thailand is severe.  The water levels are not receding.  In fact, the flooding is spreading to Bangkok, the capital city, the place to which many families had already evacuated.  This article today does not paint a pretty picture of the devastation.  2.5 million people disrupted, 113,000 in shelters and at least 366 dead.   The damages are estimated at over 10 billion US dollars--that's billion with a B. 
 And our little boy is there.  Somewhere.  These pictures were sent from the social workers in Thailand.  They did not clarify if any of these homes were actual Holt foster family homes.
 I'll try to summarize the information that we have received.  First, it's important to understand the vast responsibility on the shoulders of our sister agency.  Holt Sahathai Foundation (HSF) has approximately 70 foster families affected by the floods.  In each of these homes is a child for which they are responsible, and a foster family to whom they have promised support.  These children range from newborns recently relinquished to those toddlers who were supposed to come home to their adoptive families within the next few weeks.  In addition to those families, HSF also has a large program for Family Preservation.  They work to support and rehabilitate birth mothers who are not able to take custody of their newborns at birth, but who would like to do so in the future.  HSF then supports BOTH the birth mother AND the foster family caring temporarily for the child.  (One US family who traveled to bring home their kiddo said the foster mother had cared for 10 children, and 8 of them had been reunited with their birth mothers!)  Our update said that 105 families in this program have been affected by the flood.   HSF is providing food and supplies and shelter to all of the families that need it. These staggering numbers are why the HSF social workers (especially the precious few that speak English) do not have time to detail out for all of us just precisely where and how our babes are right now.
 HSF drafted a spreadsheet outlining the number of foster families and the severity to which they have been affected.  The majority fall under 2 categories.  First, 18 homes were so severely flooded that they were no longer liveable.  These families are living with relatives or in shelters.  33 foster family homes are flooded UP TO THE second floor.  The families have created a living area on the upper level and supplies and food are being brought to them by boat on a weekly or bi-weekly level.   In our original paperwork, Asher's foster home was described as a 2 level home, the first level being where the daily activities took place and the second level housed the sleeping quarters.  So, at night, I lay awake picturing Asher with his foster family (mom, dad, grandma and sisters age 7 and 10), stranded in their bedrooms, looking out at an ocean of muddy water, waiting for rice, water and formula to be delivered.  I don't know for sure if this is the case, but it's a picture I can't get out of my mind.
 Of course for those of us whose spring travel dates were tentative at best, we could assume this was not good news for our progress.  But the worst blow came last Wednesday, when a dear friend --who had already experienced major delays in their process--had been told at the beginning of last week that the wait was coming to an end!  They had a court date for December 1st and would finally be united with their daughter and have her home for Christmas.  That means they would be buying tickets and seeing their daughter within a few short weeks! The very next day they were told that due to the floods, they should not plan to travel to Thailand until February.  We all grieved for was a difficult day after such celebration.  This family received a referral 6 months prior to ours.  It's anyone's guess as to what this means for others in the program, including our family.  The initial estimate is to add 2 months from previously estimated dates, which for us might mean June.
 But as I look at this picture below--I don't know with certainty, but I choose to think it is a Holt babe with his foster family--I have to remind myself that it is not about ME.  I'm sad--really sad--about how long this process is taking.  I'm feeling frustrated and down that I won't get to have him in my arms for a long time. But my main concern is for my son.  I'm stressed about if and how this disaster will affect him emotionally--how it will affect his foster family relationship and level of care.  I have to continually remind myself that although I do believe it is in his best interest to begin his chapter of life in the US as soon as possible, it might not be in his best interest to rush the transition in the midst of crisis.  Trent and I like to daydream about what it would be like if we got a call and said "Get on a plane tomorrow, they're granting visas to all the kiddos."  We'd be in those airline seats!  But a rushed custody transfer would be one trauma on the heels of another, well, if not "trauma" then certainly a stressful living situation that he is currently in.

This summer after our referral, I think I was at the apex of my adoption high.  "We have a baby!  He's gorgeous and he's mine!  Everything is going according to plan.  We've almost fully funded! Yes, it takes a long time, but the process is following the precise timeline laid out for us." 
Well, that timeline has disolved and with it my cheery adoption outlook.  This is not fun.  This is hard.  Someone watching our process might see how hard it is and decide not to adopt, which depresses me even more.  I'm trying to keep my focus on the situation in Thailand and not let myself wallow too much in self-pity, since I'm sitting here in my secure, dry home.  This is just another layer in the DEEP ways that the Lord is teaching me through this process.  Surrendering control time and time again, and choosing to trust.  Hoping that some good news is just around the corner...for the people of Thailand and for those of us on the other side of the world whose hearts are in the flood.
If you would like to donate directly to the fund that will rebuild and repair HSF foster family homes click HERE or see info about texting below.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Say WHAT?!

I've always had a sarcastic reflex.  It's like a gag-reflex--it's taken years for me to realize that I do actually have some control over it, but still, it's a natural instinct.  In truth, I don't remember even realizing it might not be a barrel of laughs to everyone around me until my new husband (of about 6 months) was not laughing after I mocked him with some witty jab.  It could have been any number of times I told him that his stories of physical therapy class were "simply riveting!  Tell me more about the muscles of the lower leg, Dearest!"  Or the time I excitedly told him about this new invention called running water, and that he should see if it works to rinse off his dishes. And if really wanted to get crazy, I could introduce him to this newfangled contraption called the dishwasher.  He looked at me without a trace of amusement and told me to lay off the sarcasm.  Not that funny to him. Huh.  Interesting. 

Reigning in my tongue is a lifelong learning process...I doubt I'll ever master it.  Sometimes, the target is just too easy--or maybe I'm just too easily annoyed.  People on reality shows...whether it be of the talent, island-survival or weight-loss genre--are often subject to my sarcastic criticism.  "Really, CHAZ?  Is it really LIFE or DEATH?  You mean this moment where you're going to sing a pop song--could mean you cease living?  Really? You wanna re-think that statement?"  "Gee, thanks, Jillian!  I never realized that EXTRA CHEWING GUM was low in calories and a great post-workout snack!  I also never realized that product placement could be so awkward and unnatural!"   "Wow, Chris, this really IS the most dramatic rose ceremony EVER!"

I thought for sure that I had been getting better at keeping my speech positive and uplifting, especially during the kids' waking hours. (Previously mentioned reality show rants always happen after hours.)  Carson does know what sarcasm is by name and calls me out on it.  Like when he says "Mom!  Sydney's lid came off and she spilled milk all over the floor!" and I say "Awesome."  He informs me that I don't really think it is awesome, but that I'm being sarcastic.  To which I reply: "Yes, you're a real genius."

But a few signs have crept up and subtlety hinted that maybe the smart-@$$ doesn't fall far from the tree. And by "subtlety hinted" I  mean shot up red flags that my oldest child is on the fast track to being a cynical character from a quick-talking teen dramedy on FOX who wears ironic vintage t-shirts.

Here's a few examples.  We were laying on his bed at night, and we usually read 3 books or one chapter in a longer book.  I was especially exhausted and just grabbed a few that were on the floor near the bed. He complained we had read them recently, and I said that he was welcome to go get more books, but I was tired and these were closeby.  He grew frustrated and said they were "close by" because I always just "throw his books on the floor" and he has to clean them up. (Not true.)  I calmly asked if he could think of a solution to our problem (my solution: you could get up and get some new books if you want them so bad) and he said, with full head-wag and eyebrows raised: "Uh, yeah, you could walk, like, FIVE FEET and put them away when you're done."

WHOA.  EXCUSE ME?!  We nipped that in the bud with some serious reality checks on how that is rude and disrespectful and also: HELLO!?!  Am I reading Curious George Goes Camping for my own benefit?  Is it my responsibility to keep the circulation up on the books? You think I wait all day to see what actually happens If You Give a Mouse a freaking Cookie? 

Hmmmm. OK. That right there might be where he gets it.  I promise I didn't actually say all those things to him, but I wanted to.

Another moment was not directed at me, but was still disconcerting.  We were in the car and I was listening to a voicemail on speakerphone.  I'll admit, it was a rather long message.  To nobody in particular, Carson says: "Sheesh.  What are you gonna do?  TALK us to DEATH?!"  That one, since he didn't know the person leaving the message, took me a minute to reprimand, because I was chuckling to myself just a teensy bit.  But then I did manage to tell him that was disrespectful and that he should not ever speak that way.

These two in close proximity, followed the next day by his well-timed and expertly delivered "DUH!" (seriously--it was scary good.  I know 13 year old girls from 1991 who would have given him props) were enough to guilt me into my own reality check.  In theory, as an adult I have a better handle on when sarcasm and mockery are called for and when they are hurtful and/or completely inappropriate.  Hey--I said "in theory."  But this witty tool can also be a dangerous weapon, one that I don't want in the hands (or mouths) of my children!  It's ironic, because I'm actually very conscious of trying to make positive statements about people in Carson's life...from the guy pumping our gas to the kid in his class who doesn't listen to his little sister.  I specifically try to model graciousness to everyone we encounter--particularly in public.  However, I'm wondering if my guard is dropped when I'm with people I'm most comfortable with--the ones I love the most!  These little rude-awakening moments have been a good dose of my own medicine to help me regain focus on the goal of setting a good example with actions AND words. 

And I feel confident that I'll be able to get a grip on that!  I mean, I've completely mastered all other areas of parenting.*

*Yes, that's sarcasm.  You're a real genius.

Friday, October 14, 2011

King over the flood.

Several people have asked about the flooding in Thailand and what we know and what it means.  The answers are brief.  We know that it is pretty bad.  Monsoons and typhoons have caused the worst flooding in decades...affecting two-thirds of Thailand.  THIS ARTICLE gives you an idea of how bad...and it's a few days old, so there may be newer updates by now. We know that Asher and his foster family are safe, but they have been evacuated--as have all foster families in that area.  The official quote from our agency was that the floods have "severely affected" all the foster families in the Ayutthaya district, which is where Asher and many of our friends' children are living.  We don't know where they are now, and we don't know how long.  I'm assuming somewhere in Bangkok, which is one of the only areas yet to be flooded.  We know that Holt Sahathai, our sister agency in Thailand, is providing safe housing and relief support to the families--almost 80 families. I'm sure this is a huge task for them to support the Thai families and know how worried the adoptive families are as well.  We don't know if their homes are still standing, or how badly damaged they are.  We don't know if his foster family was able to save any of the things or pictures we have sent to Asher.  We don't know how this will emotionally affect our son or his foster family. We don't know if or when his foster family will be able to return to their home.  WE DON'T KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS FOR OUR ADOPTION PROCESS.  Several people have asked if this could be a way for Asher to come home sooner.  In all honesty, I cannot foresee how that would happen.  If anything, I'm afraid the stress of a natural disaster on the entire country will slow down government paperwork, not speed it up. 

Here's what we know--what we are clinging to.  (Sorry if this is too "spiritual spice" for some of my readers!)  Our heavenly Father is not surprised by this flood.  I don't know why He is allowing it to happen, or why He allows so many devastating things to happen on this earth.  He never promised life would be easy and safe.  "In this world you will have trouble..." But I know that He has promised to never leave me or forsake me--or my son.  My God loves Asher even more than I do.  A silly little Christian cliche that I've seen over people's bathroom sinks comes to mind...and in this moment it doesn't sound silly to me.  "Sometimes God calms the storm.  Sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms His child."  Bumper sticker theology?  Maybe.  But right now there's a storm across the ocean that if affecting my family, and I need some calmin'. 

For most of the past 2 weeks I've felt a little numb about the situation.  I have kind of put it out of my mind in a move of self-preservation.  Of course, that can only last so long.  A few days ago I was driving and listening to my tunes and heard a song that I've heard and sung dozens of times.  But I heard it with new ears. 
 "When the oceans rise and thunders roar, I will soar with You above the storm.  Father You are KING OVER THE FLOOD.  I will be still and know You are God."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"I see a bwown beya yookin at me."

My sweet Sydney has been driving me BONKERS lately.  I don't know if she's not feeling well or what, but she's been a needy, clingy whiny, hot mess all the livelong day.  But she still has some ridiculously sweet moments, like the one below.  Her language is delayed, so we've been working with her, gently correcting, ENUNCIATING our words clearly, and lots of reading books.  She has a few favorites, and this one she can read/recite on her own.  I think she got a little nervous with the camera on, b/c she usually doesn't mix up the colors, but still: this is crazy cute.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The 411 on those weird parents of his.

Yesterday we spent several hours at an adoption training workshop.  We are required to complete a certain amount of hours of training prior to bringing Asher home.  I don't really know if this is a Holt requirement or a state or federal requirement, but it doesn't matter, because it's a just a good idea.  It's been divided up into 3 full days of seminars with other couples, and this was our last "module."  It was focused on recognizing and parenting a child who has experienced loss and/or trauma. The themes were definitely drilled into our head in a concrete way.  If I could summarize the training in one sentence, it would be this: in many ways, adopted children need to be parented differently than bio children.

Throughout the workshop, we talked about a variety of situations that may affect our adopted children.  In the room we had families adopting from Korea, Thailand, Ethiopia, and China.  One family also has a preschooler adopted from Vietnam.  Some of the kiddos are in orphanages, others in foster families.  I think all of them will come home between the ages of 13 and 22 months.  I appreciated the social worker facilitating our class, because she wasn't touchy-feely about grief and loss.  At no time did she convey pity towards our children.  But she was completely frank that being separated from everything these children recognize as normal and safe (even into a new, loving home) will be a life-changing trauma--one that will affect their psyche in deep and potentially unknown ways.  In addition, we are not fully able to understand or know the details about their care in the first year, and how that may also play into their behavior and emotions.

Now, just like a first-time-pregnant woman cannot possibly be a parenting expert, I do not share this info because I have all the answers.  On the contrary, I'm rather intimidated by the unknowns and anxious about making parenting decisions for Asher, especially as he transitions home. You experienced adoptive parents may have thoughts and experiences that differ from our expectations and the information I'm conveying, but we are trying to prepare with due diligence for all possibilities--and help prepare our families as well.  We are always open to hearing ideas and stories that vary from the textbook norm. One thing that I have heard frequently is that it is difficult for people who have only dealt with biological, securely attached children to understand the strange choices made by adoptive parents! One adoptive mother called it "upside down" parenting.  We have been encouraged to share the concepts and theories that we are learning and will most likely implement, so that our close friends and family will better grasp the choices we will make in the best interest of Asher.  This may be old news for you or totally foreign.  I'm not going to be academic and quote sources, just paraphrase what we've learned from books, stories and seminars.  Even though Asher won't be home for many months, I'm writing this now while it's fresh in my mind.

Here are just a few examples we are anticipating. We've heard many times that grief in a toddler will often manifest itself at night--Asher will very likely have trouble sleeping in a new place, with new people, waking up and wondering where he is.  Even when he knows us and is getting comfortable with us, he may still grieve for his foster mother.  Things are always worse at night, right?  I think that even as an adult!  Many families in Thailand sleep as a family on a single low mattress on the ground.  We will probably experiment with co-sleeping with Asher--whether that means in bed with us, a crib adjacent to our bed...we don't know yet.  We plan to continue waking up and comforting Asher in the night when he cries...even after he's been home several months, when we are sleep-deprived and just wishing he would learn to self-soothe.  Research shows that letting an adopted child "cry it out" can do serious harm to the attachment cycle of parent and child.  He needs to TRUST that we will be there to meet his needs and calm his fears.  We did some sleep-training with both of our older kids at different times and had to let them cry it out--especially when they got to be toddlers.  And we've never been co-sleepers!  So that will be an adjustment for all of us.  I also have no idea how we're going to deal with the fact that he's clearly bottle-fed--a LOT.  Some families ween the toddler immediately to sippy cups, and other families continue a few bottles for comfort and the fact that feeding them a bottle is an opportunity for physical snuggling and eye-contact.  We'll have to feel that one out when we get there!

Another very important aspect of bringing home an adopted toddler is the need to attach and bond with his father and mother.  We have a very close extended family who are involved in our daily lives--this is a good thing!  We want Asher to recognize and bond with them too.  But first and foremost, he must understand that I am his mom--now and forever.  Trent is his Daddy.  This is his last transition.  No one else will be coming to take him away again.  We will be the ones to hold him, feed him, give him gifts, change him, comfort him--meet all his needs.  If you can think about a one-year-old that you know...can you imagine taking him or her away from their family--and not bringing them back?  Can you imagine how scared and upset they would be?  We've read lots of different strategies that help with bonding and attachment....eye-contact games like peekaboo, lots of physical contact and baby carrying, and making sure that mom and dad are the only ones to meet Asher's needs (including comforting and holding) for the first several weeks.  Oh, how I would LOVE to have a huge--HUGE--party when we get home with Asher!  There are so many people who will want to meet him and if they could would just snuggle him like crazy!  But, alas, we will not be doing anything like that.  Maybe an airport greeting or something like that, but then we'll probably hunker down at our house for a while and find our new normal.  We had two experienced adoptive parents talk with us yesterday, and they said that this experience is similar to coming home with a newborn--we will be brain dead, physically and emotionally exhausted.  They both said the best gift people can give us is to bring dinner (and meet Asher in a small, low-pressure setting), or pay for house-cleaning!  These moms also said that we will be able to tell when Asher is more ready to interact and be held by family members, and then slowly be introduced to our loving friends and church family.  I'm sure every child is different and adjusts at different speeds.

Another interesting exercise we did yesterday was read through "vinyettes" taken from real-life post-placement situations.  They were gathered by Holt's social workers in our state.  They ran the gamut from sleep and eating issues with toddlers to bed-wetting and aggressive behaviors of older kids.  (There was a lot of questions and discussions about potty-training a toddler from another culture!  But that is a different post.)  A discussion that resulted from this activity was to think about how to discipline an adopted toddler or preschooler.  When one of my bio toddlers would take a toy or hit during playtime, I often put them in time out.  But isolating a child who may still struggle with security and attachment could cause more emotional damage--and further negative behavior.  Adoptive parents have to get creative on how they discipline--firmly, but in love and ever-mindful of the adopted child's complicated background.  There's a word tossed around a lot, it's called a "time-in."  If Asher is making bad choices, instead of sending him to his room, I might remove him from the situation and sit WITH him in his room.  Or maybe just bring him with me to a chair in the next room and sit with him in my lap for a few minutes.

These are just a few examples of possible situations that might arise.  The good news is that our research and also many, many stories from experienced adoptive parents (especially our friends in the Thailand program!) have told us that toddlers are resilient!  They are often quick to adjust and bond with their new, loving families.  The intense grieving does not usually last longer than weeks or a couple months.  Soon enough, we anticipate having a happy, well-adjusted little boy going to playdates, sleepovers at grandma's house, enjoying preschool and Sunday school.  Thank you all for your amazing support and understanding.  I hope someday Asher can fathom the incredible number of people who were loving and waiting for him here at home!