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Words of Wisdom – Meeting the Needs of an Adopted Child

Read this article from one mom who reflects on the joys and challenges of meeting the needs of her adopted daughter:

What I Know About Motherhood Now That I Am an Adoptive Mother
By Carrie Goldman

Regardless of the Origin of our Roots: Our Tree Reaches for the Same Sun

In a few weeks, I am going to attend a presentation on genealogy.  I have always wondered where my ancestors came from, what did they do for a living, and the overarching interest in finding out what tie there is between who I am now and my past.  I have been blessed to have had the benefit of grandparents who lived until their 80’s and 90’s and my husband’s dad is in his 90’s.  We have had conversations and learned of some of our family history but it isn’t enough.  I want to learn more.

However, this raises many feelings about what happens when my son and daughter start having similar interests.  We have some basic history on their birth parents…..on birth mom’s side, we know that there is a sister who, too, was adopted and now lives in California, a brother down in Texas, and a sister in Florida.  Our twins also have three nephews…one lives with his great-grandmother in Kentucky, one was placed with an adoptive family and the other lives with his mother (Bruiser & Princess’ sister).  We know that their birth mom lived in Las Vegas as of a year ago.  Their birth dad is a merchant marine based out of Florida and he has a son, who, also, calls Florida home.  Most of our twins’ birth family is geographically spread out and moves quite a bit.

I realize that the whole genealogy thing is hard for everyone……..constantly going down paths that lead to dead ends….but then one little piece of the puzzle connects to another, and another to yet another and so on.  I wonder when my twins will have the curiosity to seek out their genealogy.  Will it be in 10 years………will it be later?  What will their genealogy tree look like?

Far more complicated than ours……….but no less important and vital to their understanding of who they are.

Bruiser –you are my son.  Princess – you are my daughter.

Although you were not born from my belly,

Although your family tree will have a few more branches on it,

Although the roots may be a distance apart,

Our leaves reach up to the same sky, seek the same sunshine, and breathe the same air.

Twins–Independence from each other isn’t so easy

I am so happy I have my own room now…..but am I really?

Just a few weeks ago, we finished the transition of moving Bruiser into his own room (aka the office).  He was so excited to have his own room…….new bed, cool karate mural on his wall, many shelves and drawers to put all his “STUFF.”  Bruiser loved the whole idea of being given a room that he could call his own rather than sharing with his twin sister.

The big day comes……………the awesome captains bed is scheduled to arrive in a few days but Bruiser insists on staying in his new room with an air mattress.  He goes on an organizing binge: all his stuffed animals are arranged perfectly on his bed, the action figures are all poised to protect from attack, the books are in perfect order from smallest to biggest.  The clothes will wait until the captains bed arrives.

Well, with all the wonderful anticipation…………the transition was far from seamless.

Night #1:  Bruiser is out bed every 5 minutes.  First it is I need a drink, then I have to go to the bathroom, then I am going to help JJ clean his room, then I am going to see if Princess is ok in her room alone, then he comes in (11:30pm by this time) to tell us that although Princess is sleeping, he thinks that she is scared without him in her room.  So 3 hrs in new room and 8 hrs in old room.

Night #2: Big meeting between the twins………outcome is that Princess must sleep in new room with Bruiser for one night.  Well another late night of chit chat and giggling.

Night #3: Twins beg us to let Princess sleep in new room.  But at this point, we refuse to be persuaded or manipulated by two 6 yr. olds.  Bruiser in one room and Princess in the other.  Although the twins continued whining and moaning for 2 hrs.  protesting our insistence that each sleep in their respective rooms, we remained strong and stuck to our plan.  By 10:30pm, both were asleep.

Night #4: Bruiser’s new captains bed arrived and he carefully folded every piece of clothing and placed it in its’ precise place.  The organization process took at least 2 hours but it was finally done.  Bruiser went to sleep exhausted from figuring out where everything belonged.

Since then, Bruiser has not looked back.  He loves his new room.  Now….we just need to figure out what to do without our office.  But that will be a problem for another day.

Treasures Hidden in the Chaos: You never know what you will find

Well, our twins, Bruiser and Princess are turning 6 yrs old in a month, and it is time for us to have them in separate bedrooms.  It is easier said than done, considering there are no additional bedrooms in our home.  There was only one solution!  Move Bruiser into his 12 year old brother’s room………..

1)      Great way to deal with space issue

2)      Great way to separate boy/girl twins

3)      Great way to cause brotherly friction

4)      Great way to increase the opportunity for squabbles

5)      Great way to ruin JJ’s study environment

Guess that isn’t the best solution, or even a realistic one.

The other alternative would require relocation of our office partially to the kitchen and partially to the basement……..this is the way, begrudgingly, we decided to go.    What a pain to go through papers, files, and “stuff” that we accumulated over the past 12 years!  We found things including: computer diskettes (don’t even know how to see what is on these), cords that we have no idea what they go to, rolodex files (2 of them) with business cards from before the year 2000, bills dating back to 2004, highlighters and pens that haven’t probably worked in 10 years, multiple pads of paper and notebooks with less than 10 sheets of paper on them……….and the list goes on.

But then, my husband found our Adoption files.  Everything stopped.  Amongst the 10 bags filled with shredded paper, the stacks of books that we didn’t remember that we had, the vicariously balanced electronics, the bills from beyond, everything beyond the Adoption files were irrelevant… husband sat and looked at each file, piece by piece.

  • The memories of the first time we met with our social worker.  The conversations came flooding back……….domestic or international adoption?  If international, what country?  If domestic, how?  Agency, Facilitator, Lawyer?  We had so little knowledge then.
  • The memories of the constant contact with our social workers once we were matched.  I had saved every email between us and the social workers.  Reading through the emails, we remember the emotional rollercoaster that we rode.
  • The receipts of my trip to visit my twins’ birth mom.
  • The medical records, lawyer and agency contracts.
  • A scribbled note on a piece of paper with the birth mom’s description of the “6 ft, blue eyed, ROTC” birth dad.  This was quite interesting because we ultimately met the birth dad.  (we are thankful to have met the birth dad who did have amazing blue eyes but the rest of her description was a bit off.)
  • A ripped piece of scrap paper that I wrote the weight and height of each baby when they were born.  I remember getting the call…….I was standing outside my house packing our car to make our flight.  I grabbed a piece of paper from the floor of my car.
  • Plus, so much more.

Surrounded by clutter and chaos, my husband was transported into a world of peaceful memories……..some of the best memories of our life.   It was like re-living the adoption experience over again, except this time we know how it will turn out.

These very special files will bypass the shredder………..but will need to find a new place in our home.  Where do they belong? I don’t know yet, but it will be somewhere worthy of these very important memories.

Adoption is Like Learning to Ride a Bike

Our oldest son, JJ, was a bit cautious when he first learned to ride a two-wheeler.  He started to learn the summer between 2nd and 3rd grade and had it down pat the middle of the next summer.  He was hesitant at first, took a few spills and called it quits after a month of off and on trials.  JJ wasn’t too anxious to try again the following summer but with some persuasion, he attempted it again.  And before long, he got the hang of riding and never looked back again.

Fast forward to Bruiser, nearing the end of pre-school (he was 5 ½ yrs old), begged for his training wheels to come off.  With slight hesitation, we complied.  He got on the bike and was shaky for all of one minute—within a month he is doing stunts that should clearly not be done by a 5 year old.  I swear he is going to give me a heart attack!  My mom won’t even allow him on his bike when she is over….she doesn’t have the nerves for it.

Fast forward to Princess, she is not as gutsy as her twin.  Princess was quite content on her Barbie bike with her pink training wheels (it is so girly—it is nauseating).  She showed no interest in trying a two wheeler.  She started to use her Razor most of the time and would take out her bike with training wheels every now and then.  We finally took her training wheels off…..but she wasn’t interested.  However, a few days ago, she got up on her bike and told us she wanted to learn to ride a two-wheeler.  We ran with her twice around the street……..she was a bit unbalanced and after a solid 10 minutes she put the bike away.  Two days later I was running out for a “date” with my husband to celebrate my (let’s just say 29th) birthday, my mom was babysitting, when Princess grabs her bike and says “Nana, watch—-I can ride a two-wheeler!”  Before I had time to stop her, Princess took off on the bike; it was like she had been riding without training wheels for months.

Three kids……three different bike experiences.  Similarly, no two adoptions are alike.

Every adoption is a learning experience.

Mental state to take the leap of faith to jump in is different for everyone.

Patience is necessary.

Not every parent stays balanced through the challenge.

In the beginning, we have lots of “training wheels” helping us keep on a straight path.

We have limited time to hold on, teach our children how to keep balance in their lives (or on their bikes) but you eventually have to let go.

Over the past 5 ½ years, we appreciated our “training wheels,” and we continue to practice letting go as our children grow older.  JJ—we love how you take time until you feel totally confident that you will succeed.  Bruiser—we love your chutzpah and sense of adventure and just get it done attitude.  Princess—we love your style of waiting until you are good and ready to even try.

Temper Tantrums: Where are they coming from?

THE CALL:  “Hello A.., this is Lauren from school” said the somewhat serious voice on the other end of the phone.  “Yes,” I reluctantly responded knowing that nothing good can come of a mid-day call from pre-school.  Either someone was sick, got hurt or got in big trouble at school…… gut tells me that it is the latter.  Well, my intuition was right………for the third week in a row, Bruiser has had a difficult week at school. 

THE SITUATION: Maybe ” difficult” isn’t a strong enough word……….he has been disrespectful to his friends, teachers, and parents, has been throwing all out temper tantrums, using hateful words, kicking things etc..  He has been put on a “behavioral chart plan” at school which we have been using at home, as well, for consistency. But for how long will getting stickers on a chart be enough incentive to behave appropriately.  Turns out that 4 out of the 11 kids in the class are on some sort of behavior modification program….so at least we are not alone. 

What should we do?  Been reading, Try and Make Meby Ray Levy. Ph.D. andBill O’Hanlon, M.S. L.M.F.T, next will go through an e-book  called Say What You See by Sandra Blackard, a friend recommended and saw quite a few fabulous success stories fromHow to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk  by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.  And in the event that I can’t remedy the situation through these sources, I scheduled an appointment to speak with a child behavior specialist. 

THE THOUGHT PROCESS:  Part of me feels good that he is able to calm himself down, part of me is happy that he loses his temper for less than 15 minutes at a time and no more than a few times a day…….the other part of me is frustrated that he loses his temper so often, that he, at 5 yrs old, isn’t able to calm himself down without some type of intervention, and that he doesn’t respect adults. I just don’t get it.  We are a fairly mellow family—not much yelling, not a stressful environment…..our day to day life is filled with warmth, love and harmony (most of the time) interspersed with Bruisers’ tantrums.  In between the tantrums………he is an absolute sweetheart.  We will get to the bottom of this!  I know we will.

THE SOLUTION: We know that with time our family will figure this out.  We are committed to finding out the best way to react, coach and validate these feelings that Bruiser is having.  I look forward to sharing with you our success story……….just don’t know when that will be, hopefully sooner than later.

It takes a village

I read a post the other day from  a blog called  A Diary of a Mom written by a woman named Jess.  Jess is the mom of two young girls, one of whom has autism.  All her posts are full of eloquence, passion, and great writing but this one on her “village” is my latest favorite.  She writes of her night away with friends: “To unabashedly be nothing but who we are – warts and all – in the company of others who are doing the same is something far too rare in this world.”

Jess’s post called to mind some of the villages from my life.  There’s the village made up of friends from high school, the ones I stayed in contact with and the ones I’ve rediscovered through the magic of Facebook.  Whenever a song from Jackson Browne, Neil Young, or The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band pops up on my iPod, I’m transported back to endless car rides around town, to that crazy Vermont vacation, or the incredible cross-country camping trip.  Whenever I choose optimism over skepticism or humor over frustration, it’s because of the 18 year old girl I once was.  When I am in the company of these friends, whether it’s virtual or live, I can see the world through that girl’s eyes once again.  A recent hiking trip in the rain with a few of these villagers was certainly wet, and my every day eyes might have described it as a bit foolhardy.  But in this village, there is no whining or complaining.  Since everything in this village is an adventure, a tough hike in the pouring rain becomes just one part of a truly great day.

Then there are my college friends.  From this village, I learned about the need to manage the conflict between what I wanted to do and what I had to do.  In all honestly, we focused much more on the fun than on our obligations, but lessons about balance began there.  This group has grown to include spouses, children, and friends that feel like college classmates.  We get together as often as cross country locations and life allow.  And yes, we talk about our lives and our obligations and the challenges that face us – crazy work schedules, aging parents, the world our kids navigate today.  But mostly… we laugh and we remember the foolish things we used to do and for a while, our plates don’t seem so full.  Whenever my 40-something self (yes guys, I know my time to say that grows short but it’s still true today!) says “Enough!” to the endless loop of work, errands and homework patrol, my 20-something self smiles and says “Road trip!”  When I give K a free pass on something and she asks me “What have you done with my mom?” I know College Gail is proud.

There are my recent villages.  They include the moms I befriended when K was small, the ones who gave me adult companionship during those wonderful but long days of toddlerhood.  They include the women I worked with on all those school events – smart, funny, dedicated women who make a difference every day in schools, so unlike the women we see mockingly portrayed on TV.  Then there are the work colleagues who helped me transition back into the work force after my time at home.  And my local friends who are my safety net, my emergency contacts, there for a favor or a calming chat over coffee. 

Last but nowhere near least, where would I be without the village my parents gave to me, my siblings?  They are the ones who remember the silver Christmas tree with the color wheel, the tennis matches in the driveway with the chicken wire net, sneaking Mom’s incredible brownies out of the freezer, and watching how high Dad could throw a baseball in the air.  They are the only ones who truly know how much I lost now that Mom and Dad are gone.  Of course, they are also the ones to remind me how much we  still have because we still have each other.

K will not grow up with a village of siblings and there are times that realization fills me with regret and sorrow.  Yet, I take comfort from remembering just as our family is not related by blood; villages don’t require blood relations either.  They require only a common bond to build and a commitment to maintain. So, I wish for K a good and happy life in villages filled with people who allow her “to unabashedly be nothing but who [she is] – warts and all.”  I hope she keeps these villages close to remind her of who she is, who she was, and all that she can be.

Love and School

My oldest started Kindergarten earlier this month. It’s awesome! My youngest started Pre-K and that is awesome too! I love back to school. It’s so great to see the girls make new friends, experience new things, and to see how they integrate our home life into their school life (and vice versa).

I’ve preceded the start of each school year with a letter to the classroom teacher (and this year the guidance counselor too) which outlines our family makeup for them. My hope is that this letter will help the teachers and staff understand adoption, adoption language, and how adoption is for us. I do this in order to spare my kids the dumbfounded look of adults who don’t get adoption (or differences in family make up in general).

When I write the letter each year I have a line from the poem Black is Brown is Tan by Arnold Adoff, “This is the way it is for us, this is the way we are” running through my head. Basically, I like to spell it out as simple and clear as possible for the reader. I don’t give back story, nitty-gritty details, or write anything that my kids don’t already know themselves. I give labels to all the family members, what role the family members each have in my child’s life, and what open adoption means, and doesn’t mean for my family. I try to stick to “This is the way it is for us, this is the way we are” as this is also the motto I have for my family in general.

My girls talk about their birth families as they talk about everyone else in their life, integrated into their wondrous universe, which they are the masters of. But sometimes, I am taken aback by my girls’ depth of thinking about our big crazy open adoption family. This happened late last week. My oldest daughter had created an “All about me” project which was displayed for Parents Night in her classroom.  It was adorable, and pronounced her age, eye color, hair color, favorite color (blue!) and then for the last page it said “One important thing you should know about me is ________________.” My oldest wrote “i HV BUTHi”. I looked at the illustration she had drawn above the writing and it gave me no clue about the meaning. So I asked my oldest what it said, and she told me, “I have a brother”. My heart stuck in my throat, I turned to hug my sweet girl, and looked up to see her teacher beaming at me with a huge smile.  Thank god, I thought, this is a safe place where it is ok for us to be just the way we are.

The Questions are Coming……..DUCK and PRAY that You Say the Right Thing

“Mom, if you are JJ’s birth mom then how come you are his regular mom too?” Bruiser asked this evening between dips of his Chips Ahoy into
a small glass of milk.   It is questions like this that every once in a while randomly come out of our 5 year old twins’ mouths.  Are you ever fully prepared to respond to these types of questions?  As adoptive parents, we hope to be ready with an arsenal of appropriate, sensitive and
truthful answers.   My husband and I seem to be doing ok with the questions and appropriate answers…at least I think we are.  We address the questions in a reassuring manner, in a way that will make our children feel unconditional love, in a way that they will not question their place in the family, in a way that will assure them that their birth mom, lovingly made the choice to place them to afford them the best life possible.

But, I never know how my responses are perceived by my twins.  Today’s question was answered with a spiritual/ religious response of “G-d has a plan for everyone………..the plan was to have me be the mom of JJ, Bruiser and Princess.”  The answer was accepted and conversation quickly turned to potty talk that seems to dominate our kid’s vocabulary these days.

It seems as though the complexity of the questions are increasing but that is to be expected.  It is frightening as a parent to fear the unknown……….what is the next question? Will I answer it with ease? What if my child doesn’t accept my answer?  What if I don’t have a good answer?    My common sense tells me that these fears are universal to every parent……..the questions may be difficult, they may be different but all parents have the fear.  I will continue to give it my best shot and appreciate that my children are coming to me to get their information.
Our family is close, we communicate well and love each other………the questions will come, the discussions will endure, the dialogue will continue
but that comes hand in hand with a child growing up.

Overnight Camp: An opportunity for our son’s individual growth? A breeding ground for separation anxiety? Or a chance for mom and dad to regain their sanity?

Summer is here.  Windows are open.  The whole neighborhood hears every scream, every yell and every attempt to discipline and moment of loss of parental control.   But there will be a reprise in a few weeks and I can’t wait.

You stand outside our house, you will hear: “No!”  “Leave your brother alone!”  “What could your younger brother have done to deserve that?”  Can you guys go just one day without fighting?”   “Was that really necessary?”    “You could have hurt him!”  “Your older brother was just going to give you a hug … why did you slam your head into his gut?”

Our eleven year old son, JJ, carefully choreographs his every move.  He doesn’t miss an opportunity to whack, smack, trip, slap, punch and taunt his four year old brother, Bruiser.   On the other hand, Bruiser never misses the chance to charge at, slam into, body check or kick his older brother.  With all this said, these guys couldn’t love each other more. Bruiser has no wish stronger than his yearning to be exactly like his brother.   And with not an ounce less conviction, JJ will stop at nothing to protect and love his younger brother.

So back on point, overnight camp is a new phenomenon to our family.  My husband will definitely go through withdrawal and separation anxiety.  Hopefully, he will make it through the 4 week ordeal without permanent damage.  Pure excitement on JJ’s part….we would have expected some apprehension even now……..but NO, he is psyched!  I am pretty sure that he will be very nervous at first but after a few days, he will have the time of his life.

Bruiser will probably have as tough a time as my husband will.  It will be very interesting to see how it plays out.  The boys are constantly
interacting with each other, albeit 95% of the time they are fighting.  But in their very own special way…this is how they show each other they care.

So it is my gut that overnight camp will provide an opportunity for individual growth for both of our sons, all the boys (including my husband and dog) will go through moments of separation anxiety……and definitely will provide both my husband and me some time to regain our sanity.  Oh…wait I take that back……..I will be home with 4.5 year old twins 24/7….sanity will have to wait a few years until the twins are old enough to go
to overnight camp.

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