Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Parenting and Adoption - Year 10

 My hands were wrist-deep in suds, the two youngest were already in bed, Ruby sat at the table coloring a picture of two friends, one with brown skin and one with "tan" skin, holding hands, with twin bows in their hair.

Across the island, Cory and Calvin were mired in the angst of an almost-tweenager, and for the hundredth time this month, I was lost. What really helps in moments like these? Our words were even, but the temptation to cast guilt was ever-present, and I found myself wondering (again) about the invisible "they's". What would they think if they knew how he talks to us sometimes? They would never allow this. They would command more from their kids. They would know what to do. They, they, they...

(Who are they?)

I scrubbed oatmeal from our breakfast dishes while the discussion turned in circles and I thought hard about how I might have acted when I was ten. I do it all the time. I try to trip into the past and take stock on myself, my experiences, my parents, and all the air between us.

At ten, I found my first best friend and I must have been teetering on the edge of boy-crazy because when Glen - the epitome of fourth-grade cool - got hurt in a recess game of kickball, I tried to make myself cry. It seemed like the right thing to do.

I was one of two teacher's pets that year. Everyone thought Mrs. Artz was so mean with her permed old-lady hair and the way she frowned without even trying. But I had cracked the code, and all it took was staying sweet and trying my best. Sometimes I offered to fill the mailboxes during free time. She liked me, so I liked her back.

Once, I screwed up a quiz so royally that I had to skip recess and re-do it in the hall. Stretched out stomach-down on the gray floors that smelled like old news and fresh starts, I scrubbed my eraser across my mistakes then flicked them away with the back of my hand. And I seethed. After everything was put back together, I stood up, walked to the drinking fountain, and said the F-word. Out loud. To myself. I tried it on, wiggled my skinny shoulders under its weight. It was as exhilerating as I expected, but my cheeks must have flamed like apples, because that was almost thirty years ago, and I still remember it like yesterday.

My identity was taking shape, and I had no idea.
I see myself in that little girl.

Maybe that's why I wig out when I catch my kids at their worst.
They're kids, yes. They're figuring out who they are, and who they want to be.
But I know there are slivers of this reality that will be part of them forever.
It can be painful to watch.

I believe every kid has a few gold threads stitched into his fiber. They're unique, outside the norm. They make him who he is, but they also make him stand out. (There might be nothing more terrifying to a ten-year-old than being different.)

We are dealing with so much "different" right now.
You can take the typical woes, like being cool enough, tall enough, fast enough, smart enough (i.e., not too smart, just smart "enough",) funny enough. On top of that, we're feeling an epic technology deficit, which appears to be monumental to a fourth-grader.

I wonder all the time if this stuff would matter so much if my child didn't still believe he should be living half a world away.

It comes close and ebbs away, but it never, ever leaves.

A few weeks ago I found him sitting in my bed with his nose in a book, which doesn't happen nearly as often as you might think. He read me these lines, "She felt a sudden, deep longing for her dead mother, and then wondered if it was harder to miss a mother you had loved, or, like Dallas and Florida, to miss a mother you had never known."

There were no tears and we didn't parse the words into a deeper meaning.

We didn't have to.

I kissed his head and told him it was beautiful. I promised I would read the book when he was done, and I did.

I don't know what to do from here. I have no idea where these turns will take us.

Our days are mostly just like yours. We laugh and grow and do all the things families do. We belong to each other, and it's as real as the ground beneath us. But some nights are quiet enough to tell the other side of the truth, so we do. Morning always comes, but we can't forget. I have never known this kind of pain, and it isn't even mine.

I believe in adoption with my whole heart. I believe in family and forever-love, restoration and redemption. I believe there is no such thing as, "This is all he knows" or, "He doesn't even remember that." It's an unfair loss, one some kids feel more deeply than others.

I probably sassed my parents when I was ten years old. But I know I was a good girl. A rule follower. I earned love and a good reputation. I was a girl who pretended to be boy crazy when all I really wanted to do was play with my Barbies. I was a child who didn't know how to say no and only had the guts to say how I really felt when I was stone-cold alone.

Those aren't the goals I have for my kids.

I'm still not sure what to do or say or how to fix small problems (hey, eye-rolling) or bigger ones.
But he trusts us. He still reaches out for my hand and he's not afraid of wounding me with the truth.
Our love for each other is gladiator-fierce. (There's so much room in one heart.) We love each other every day, and some days find us at our worst.

On this day, I want to champion all the ten-year olds. Let's remember how weird it was for us and be open to the possibility that it's even harder now.

Find a child who might not quite blend in (oh, how I wish my kids could see the beauty of not blending in!) and show her how the world couldn't function without the particular glint of her gold thread.

Let's honor everyone's story. Let's refuse to default to the sort of parenting that leaves no room for every voice. Let's lead with honor and guide with love.

Because I protect my kids' stories with gladiator fierceness, I asked Calvin for permission to share some of what he's going through right now. Though he sometimes says no, this time he said yes. I asked him, "What would you tell people about adoption?" He answered, "I would tell people that even though adoption breaks your heart, it's in a good way."

If you're an adoptive parent, a foster parent, a bio parent, a grandparent, or a someday-parent, you need to read Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech. It was delightful, heartbreaking, hilarious and full of wisdom. It made me better.


  1. This.
    "he's not afraid of wounding me with the truth."
    I have never known how to put it in words before, but this is the block that stands between my Mom and I.
    We've had a good relationship over the years, but I've always felt like something was missing.
    It's the truth...the unvarnished, sometimes painful but necessary element in a close relationship.
    He might not see it now at 10, but without a doubt he will look back and see the freedom you have allowed his truth to be.

  2. Wow. Thank you, Shannon. I don't have the words, but thank you for what you wrote today.

  3. Yes, Shannan, To all of it. I have a ten-year old. I feel like I'm stepping just a tiny bit into unchartred waters right now... like just barely dipping my toe in. It's hard not to raise up our children with, or in spite of, the shadows of our ten-year old selves. Parenting is so dang weird.

  4. Calvin is brave and intuitive! May those be qualities that grow with him. Praying for you and Cory this morning as you navigate parenting waters that shift and stir with each wave.

    I am perfectly clear that this was not a post seeking parenting advice, so...this isn't advice! :-) One thing we did with all 3 of our boys for eye rolling and deep sighs was to make them do a few push ups! It brought attention to the behavior without it being a huge deal. If they balked then we added a few more....figured they could be "ripped" if they were going to act that way!

  5. My 5 year old is not yet interested in talking about his adoption, birth family, etc whatsoever. I long to talk about it together (and do bring it up in natural ways from time to time) but he's just not there yet and that's okay. I take heart from the story of Calvin reading you the excerpt of that book. I hope that in 5 years (or 10, if it takes that) my son will be able to talk to me about the hard stuff without fearing that it will break me. Or him. Or us. Please tell Calvin thank you for allowing you to share y'alls experience!

  6. Thank you so much for this... We are struggling with our six year old right now. Her adoption was only just a year ago, so we are still struggling with the trusting enough. She is so brave, she is so strong, but she carries so much hurt on those little shoulders.

    Thank you also for the book suggestion - heading to the library this morning for it!

  7. Your words...so true...so bold..."every kid has a few gold threads stitched into his fiber." That is so perfect...let us do our very best to shine & buff those golden threads when the dirty, dingy threads want to be the brightest and remind them of their worth to us , their worth to the world and most of all their worth to our Savior! Praying you through this time!

  8. Oh Shannon, this is my everyday. Thank you for putting words to why I wig out when I catch my kids at their worst. Yes, exaclty, it's so painful to watch.

  9. We are 25 years into adoption and it still hurts and yes, I still believe. Even at it's worst my girls knew what we gave was better than us not adopting them. That doesn't seem like much but on those hard days (and there will be more as they get older) it was the thread I held tightly to. My girls are 29 and 30 and are finding their own unique blended footing. Adoption is beautiful and hard and frustrating but Calvin is right, it's in a good way.

  10. thanks for sharing calvin's heart. and yours. it makes mine bigger for the littles i know who are part of a family they weren't born into. on another note, i try to remember how ten year olds are savvy and trustworthy and carving out their way in the world. it is especially hard to navigate how that looks with the addition of technology. i struggle with the letting go and holding back. my tween and i both struggle. i guess that is the humanity in it all. having grace and receiving it in those tough battles for independence. it helps to know that someone else is searching for balance in parenting a ten year old boy!

  11. I love adolescent fiction from my years of working in school, and Sharon Creech is one of my favorite authors as is Cynthia Voight. I love that Calvin is so in touch with his own feelings. My grandson is like that. My granddaughter, age 11, ( they are bio siblings adopted by our daughter), feels deeply but can't seem to understand or express it. This makes it harder. All I know is, we all love them so much and try our best to let them know that they are one of the greatest blessings God ever gave us!

  12. That last line ~ Calvin's answer ~ made me well up with tears. How true it is of much of life. Hard, but in the best of ways. God is Good. He sees us through all the storms He calls us to. Hugs, Camille

  13. I love Calvin and his wise words. You are so so lucky to have him. I am feeling similarly and I didn't adopt. Kids stress me out. They are such a big responsibility...I keep having to remind myself that I am not the ONLY one responsible for them, thankfully...and I throw a lot of it onto God's lap. I don't know if that's fair or not to do, but otherwise I'll go crazy with the RESPONSIBILITY.

  14. This. As always. Mine is only 3 and we still speak of it so sweetly as growing in Miss Natalie's tummy. But I know my time is coming and am so thankful for wise mamas like you who have walked this road before me and are willing to share both the beauty and the ashes. Might I also suggest, "Pictures of Hollis Woods" by Patricia Reilly Giff…

  15. We adopted a 12 yr old girl last year from CPS. She loves her new family, but she deeply mourns and hates her bio family. It's much easier for me because she's older and I didn't raise her from infancy or toddlerhood. If I had it would wound me deeply. The long for a bio mom they really don't remember. I get it but it would hurt. Having an older child makes all that easier. There are many tougher things involved with Adopting an older child, so I'm glad this is easier. We are considering adopting again, words I never thought I'd utter. But God gives dreams and last Sunday He placed it on both my hubby and my hearts. Adoptive moms need another chamber added to their hearts, we need more room for all the people involved in our child's beginnings.

  16. Gah, Shannan, beautiful.

  17. Such a wonderful story. The path might not be perfectly paved, but sometimes the most fun is in wandering through life with the ones you love. Also - Sharon Creech books are so great! I forgot how much I loved her writing when I was Calvin's age - I'll have to find my copies and re-read them. Chasing Redbird and Walk Two Moons are also great.

  18. I love Ruby Holler! I read it to my fourth grade class every year. The last line of this post made me cry (in front of all my fourth graders...oops). I am simultaneously excited and terrified for the day when I will be able to have these conversations with my son. Glad to have blogs like yours to glean wisdom from for the future. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Both of mine were adopted. My son almost a man and my daughter in those tender early teens...let's say I'm in the thick of it. The strange thing is that my son really isn't curious in the slightest about his bio family. He says, " I'm yours. Period." My daughter started asking questions in earnest at around ten years old (ironic, huh?). I was frank with her, but never put emotion into the conversation beyond what her emotional level was. I also didn't bring anything up unless she brought it up. Now that she is beyond the questions phase for a bit, she says that being adopted is like saying, "you have an aunt/uncle/relative out there." But she says she doesn't feel all emotionally connected to them because she doesn't know them, and she feels complete in our family. We've never made her feel "adopted, partial, emotionally fragile, curious, half, etc..." Her words.... We've always let her hold all the reins, and we've never ridden that wild ride because the whole thing belongs to her, and to him for that matter. "Infertile" was my ride. I rode along in the adoption ride, but they own it. "Adopted" in our family isn't a state of being. It's not a tattoo, it was a sticker on their bassinette at the hospital. It is an event that happened upon their birth. It doesn't define them, but it gave them a depth deeper than others might have.

  20. Loved the blog, loved the comments. I am adopted- and 56. It remains something that makes me different, and not, all at the same time. My adoptive parents divorced when I was 11, my father subsequently had two biological children. We have NOT all been treated equally- and everyone knows it, but no one wants to speak it. My brother - also adopted, struggles far worse than I do with where he fits in the world- but we are fiercely loyal to each other! Hang in there all of you adoptive parents- it is a journey that makes a huge impact in the world- for far longer than you can imagine!!

  21. As always, I'm thankful for your words. When I read blogs/posts/articles on this topic I always find myself worrying. Shannan, we became mothers to our boys at the same exact moment. Even though I know every child is different, I keep feeling like I'm missing something. Like I'm not doing something right and eventually "it" will all catch up with us. Neither of my children seem to "get" or express a sense of loss no matter how many times and from how many angles we've talked about adoption and their individual stories. I worry does this mean they aren't ready to deal with it? Does it mean that I'm not explaining things well enough? Does it mean that one of these days, maybe when they are much older, it'll all hit them in with a heavy blow? My son especially, is such a proponent for adoption. He is very verbally expressive with his thoughts and feelings, however sadness or loss has not (yet) come through. The way he explains it, is so simple and clear (to him). He says that some mamas can't have babies, some babies need to grow in other mama's tummies, and God made it that way for a reason. Even though we've talked about how sad and hard it is for mommies who had babies they placed for adoption and how much those mommies love those babies, I have yet to see him experience any real loss or sadness associated with that. So I worry about what that means.

  22. Oh, his words, your words...they break my heart - in a good way. Prayers as you live this brave life of love.

  23. I love reading your words that tell my story, I am not crazy or alone or wrong I do know that but it's a comfort to come here, like when someone hugs you and you accidentally start crying because you didn't know it but you needed a hug! Xo, jenny

  24. Will save and savor this one. Thank you.

  25. Me thinks Mr. Calvin has an old soul...in a good way. ;)

  26. "On this day, I want to champion all the ten-year olds. Let's remember how weird it was for us and be open to the possibility that it's even harder now."

    "Let's honor everyone's story. Let's refuse to default to the sort of parenting that leaves no room for every voice. Let's lead with honor and guide with love."

    Yes, yes yes! I have not walked down the path of adoption but these words are just exactly what my weary mom heart needed to hear today. Reforming my goals and seeing that gold thread when times are tough...just, yes!

  27. I haven't adopted, but man oh man these words hit home today. My oldest is turning nine in two weeks, and I was mentioning to her that she is halfway done growing up. Halfway done! And I haven't been the mom I wanted to be - I have a hard time really just being there with my kids, and fully engaging with them. I often play the role of the family and home manager and struggle to not always be in that position. And yet, I remember being eight, almost nine. I remember really clearly turning ten, because my Mom had just remarried and we had moved to another state with a whole new family (luckily for me, I thought it was an adventure and was exciting, not a bad thing). One of the hardest things is realizing that my kids are just as much their own people as I was back in my childhood - and finding ways to help them become who they are without squashing out the strange (but often awesome) parts - while also still helping prepare them to become adults.

    I was just saying to my sister on the phone today that motherhood has taught me more about the atonement and forgiveness than anything else, because I really can't go back and start this whole thing over, back before I had messed up countless times. But thankfully, every day I can still go forward, asking forgiveness and depending on the Savior and repentance. But it is so hard - I feel sometimes like I am going one step forward and three or for back every day. Anyway, this is super long and rambly, but this topic just hit so close to home for me (which is funny, because I am 'they' who gave birth to my kids, and I know I meant to do so much more, be so much more - but in the end all we can do is go forward.)

  28. Shannan, I read your words, love your words, resonate with your words. And lately, my sister? You've pierced more deeply. There's a shift, a good shift, even if ever so slight in your connecting. Thank you for your heart splayed on a screen. The rough patches? I'm feeling them as they seem to hold fast more strongly as of late. You remind me, I'm not alone. Have I made any sense? Ha! But truly, deeply, madly? Thank you.

  29. I wish i had a lovely comment - something to make you feel warm and better somehow. I don't. I am adoption - year 21 (almost 22). He is out of the house. At the age of 18 - we asked him to be more respectful or to leave - he chose the door. He never looked back - nor does he care to. He doesn't visit - calls on holidays. I worked 21 long years to raise him the best way I knew how - I did it all - I tried my best - he argued with every ounce of breath in his body - he was so angry. I told him the truth - not all the ugly about his birth parents - but just that he was adopted and if he ever had any questions - my brother was his biological father. My son was a paw bearer at his funeral two years ago. He learned the hard way - don't do drugs. I don't know what I did wrong? My heart aches every single day.

  30. Just yesterday morning Emma told me that is one of the top 5 books of all time and that she can recommend it to anyone and they are guaranteed to love it.

    I'm sending you love Shanny. This parenting gig is tough. One day at a time.

  31. Perhaps you've already read the article in the NYTimes Sunday magazine from Jan 14 "Why A Generation of Adoptees is Returning to South Korea". It was a compelling read about the inexorable pull many adoptees feel toward their home country. And how they felt growing up in this country. I believe the author herself has two adopted children from other countries. Good read.

    1. I did read it. A reader (of course!) pointed me in its direction. Wow, it was a tough one to get through. But I have it bookmarked because I'll probably come back to it here on the ol' blog at some point. :)

  32. Thanks for being real. So refreshing, you know? I too have a ten year old who is trying to figure out who he is...aren't we all?!

  33. Thank you. We have 6 kiddos sent to us from Him through adoption. Our 2 bigs were babies. Our number 3 is now 10 and knew her birthmother until she was 6. I think I see love in her eyes for me sometimes, but often I see "if only". Our oldest is now 14. He and I have an unspoken understanding I have always felt. I have felt like he know with out a shadow of a doubt that God matched us up and all is as it should be. I was reading his texts to his "kinda girlfriend" he asked her if she was adopted and she said "no" and he apologized profusely for asking. Then the texting just stopped and I wondered…why did he ask her that question… What goes through a 14 year boy's head? Is he ok? I will read that book. Thank you and God bless you and all of yours:)