A New Home

“I don’t want to live in this house!”

Her brown eyes filled with tears and sobs shook her body as she let the words she’d been holding in all day tumble out into the space between us.

I smiled and tugged her toward me with a sigh.

I knew just how she felt because I was just like her.

No matter how wonderful, change is change.

And it’s hard.

We had been in our new home for almost a week now and it was just starting to sink in that she was never going back to the little nest we were all familiar with.

The chipped paint, the crude treehouse, the scribbles on the wall…all blemishes yet somehow so familiar and comforting at the same time.

So…in that first wonderful, yet awkward and challenging first weeks of living in our new home, here are some things I’ve discovered can help you settle in.

  1. Go places.  Walking back through your front door and knowing you’re “home” helps it feel real.
  2. Bake cookies.  It’ll fill your house with delicious smells and help ease the strangeness of it all.
  3. Burn candles.
  4. Relax and indulge in a bubble bath…even though there are still boxes to unpack.
  5. Have friends over.
  6. Do laundry.  Nothing like piles of laundry sitting all over the house to make it feel like home!
  7. Take time to dream and organize while you unpack.
  8. Get things on the walls.
  9. Relax on the couch.
  10. Read a book.
  11. Put on some music.
  12. Let it get a bit dirty.

So there you have it 🙂

In case you’re wondering we all quickly got past the new and awkward feelings and are enjoying our new home SO much!

The whole experience did remind me, however, of the first weeks our girls were home to us.

The first weeks with our newborn son.

The first weeks when a new child has come to stay in our home.

It reminded me to be compassionate of the tears and tantrums and grief that generally accompany those first months with a new foster or adoptive placement.

They’ve left everything familiar…

and even if what they left was not very nice and maybe not even safe…

it was still home.

It was that  broken light fixture hanging on by a thread.

The sound of the air conditioner starting up.

The dim blue night light in the hall.

The familiar sweet scent of marijuana covering the clothes and blankets pressed close.

The way she always sang in the shower or the clattering of his hands doing dishes in the evening.

The smudged, stained marks on the bath tub and the thickest red towel that was your favourite.

The stuffy you always slept with that somehow got left behind.

Your favourite pants.

The wallpaper coming off around the edge of your bed where you would pick at it as you were going to sleep.

The sound of the TV blaring in the next room when you woke up in the middle of the night.

To some it would look, feel and smell strange and frightening.

But if it’s all you’ve ever known…it feels like home.

It feels like expectations and predictable.

It feels like comfortable.

Think about what it feels like to stay or sleep in a hotel for the night.

No matter how luxurious it may be…there’s usually still a little part of you that wishes for home when you sink onto that mattress.

The bed doesn’t feel right.

The blankets are a different texture.

The bathroom light is too bright and the street lights cast flickering shadows on the wall.

The sound of the furnace is heavy and stifling…you can’t hear the clock ticking like at home.

Now imagine if you hadn’t chosen to be there at all…

or in fact if you didn’t even know WHERE you were!

Terrifying is hardly adequate to describe it.

We expect so much from these little people sometimes.

AF

Don’t Grow Up So Fast

I am transitioning into a new phase and it’s taking the wind right out of me at times!

My daughters are now 9 and almost 7…and they are growing up so fast.

Last September I was walking my girls down the hill to school every day and watching until the last possible second as they would go inside with their classes.  If I turned my back too quickly my oldest daughter would have a meltdown, crying and screaming at the sight of me walking away.  She was terrified I was leaving her forever.  I will never forget the hard knot in my chest having to walk away as she screamed and cried, trying to run after me down the sidewalk.  It was one the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.  My littlest A didn’t struggle with anxiety over me leaving, but her little soul was still struggling furiously to figure out what had happened to the safe little life she’d loved so well.  We had a long year full of discouraging ups and downs, never being quite sure what was going on inside her little mind.  Daily check ins with an incredible teacher were my lifesaver.  I needed to know what was going on in her world so I could figure out what was going on in her heart.  It tore me apart watching her struggle and feeling like I had no idea what to do!

This September, we are walking triple the distance to a brand new school that all the kids from two old schools in town have moved to.  The old school just down the street is sitting vacant and quiet, and it takes a lot more work for me to wander by my daughters’ school at recess time just to make sure they’re ok.  As if the distance alone isn’t enough to discourage me, the load I’m carrying on my feet these days is substantially more as well!  At 8 months pregnant, walking is getting less and less appealing.

So this August, as the first day of school approached, I was in a pickle.

Last year I spent tons of time at school; volunteering, checking in, bringing whatever it was that had been forgotten.  Barely a day went by when I wasn’t in the school for some reason or another, and it was reassuring to be able to check in on my daughters while I was there, even if they didn’t see me.  With only a bit over a month to go until Baby arrives, I knew that this year was going to look very different than last!  All summer I heard murmurs about bussing schedules and numbers to call to check if your kids were eligible for the bus.  I, however, pushed them aside and firmly stuck to my guns.  We would walk or bike or drive.  I didn’t want to lose that daily connection and I couldn’t quite fathom sending my kids off on the bus every morning and very possibly never walking into the school yard at all for weeks at a time!  On top of that, we weren’t able to find out who my kids’ teachers would be until the first day of school.  I tried to stuff down the worry, but I was concerned.

A week before school started, I got a call from the board of transportation, letting me know my daughters were eligible for bussing and that Bus #534 would be stopping at the bottom of Logan’s Lane every morning at 8:15.

I kept this news to myself, knowing in my gut what both my daughters and my husband would say if I were to bring it up.  Until this point I had not known for sure if we were far enough away to be eligible for transportation.  Now I knew and the picture suddenly seemed pretty clear.

By mid October I would have a newborn, and shortly after that the weather would turn cold.  Snow would bog up the sidewalks and I would be leaving the house twice a day with an infant to pick up the girls in the van.  This would mean lugging a car seat in and out of the house twice a day, leaving the house on time and still only really gaining a peek at the school, not connection with the teachers.

Or…

We could enjoy the nice weather while it lasted, walking and biking, and have a short walk down the hill to the bus stop all winter long while the snow and cold took over.  Baby could stay snug and warm inside as the girls walked up and down the street to the bus twice a day.  No car seat hauling, baby bundling, or interrupted naps…unless I felt up to it.

Sigh.

But oh I fought it.

When I finally admitted to my husband the call I’d received he laughed out loud and said with no room for discussion the girls would indeed be taking the bus all winter and that I had better get them on it ASAP so they know how to use it when Baby comes on the scene!

The girls were thrilled!  They loved the idea of using the bus and immediately wanted to try it out!

So that is how I found myself watching them climb onto that big yellow bus on the second day of school…the first I insisted on walking them!  Big smiles, calling “I love you”, all excitement and confidence.  Since then they’ve gone on the bus a handful of times, though I’ve encouraged that we enjoy this beautiful weather and walk or bike most days.  I need the exercise even if they don’t, and even though they enjoy their independence they do love having me there, too.

Since my ever-growing weed of a 9 year old is a pretty fast biker, I’ve even cut the apron strings and let her go ahead of us all the way to school!  There are two small, quiet streets to cross alone and then one busy one that has a crossing guard.  It nearly made my Mommy heart panic the first time she sailed off out of sight alone, but I also knew in my heart that she was completely capable and I needed to let go!

What amazes me every single day is the huge difference I see from last September, and every day I go away absolutely in awe, praising God for what He’s done for us.  It’s incredible!

Akeisha is thriving on her newfound independence and wants to bike to school alone every day!  Her confidence and enthusiasm makes me so proud.  She is so not my little girl anymore.  In her words, “Mommy, I feel like I’m growing up so fast!”  She truly has grown and matured so much in the last year and the security she feels now has given her wings to soar!  It is beautiful watching her thrive.  I know she is going to love being a big sister to our newest little addition, and I am enjoying watching her grow up even if it tears at my heart some days.  Happiness looks gorgeous on you, my girl!  You have no idea how my breath has caught in my throat these past few weeks as I watch you take on the world with all the confidence and grace you possess.  I will always be cheering you on, and I’m trying hard to keep up to you!  I’ll try to give you the wings you need to fly!

Since Akeisha wants to bike, Alexa sometimes goes on the bus all by herself, which makes her feel about 10 feet tall!  I have to admit I am holding on to her for dear life seeing Akeisha take flight from my little nest!  It’s nice to still have someone who wants me to be there with her, and she readily admits she needs Mommy to be there at the bus stop morning and night.  I love seeing her happy little face beaming at me through the window and waving furiously as the bus pulls away.  Admittedly this is enough to bring a few tears some mornings, which we will definitely blame on pregnancy hormones 🙂  On our walks I revel in those moments when she takes my hand in her little one and squeezes our code: 3 squeezes for “I love you.”  Then I look down and she’s looking up at me with those big blue eyes so innocent and vulnerable and my heart skips a beat.  She is so happy these days, and even though life and especially school will never be bump free for Alexa, I love seeing her so happy.  For 15 min all the way to school and 15 min home she chatters non stop to me and I just keep thinking that too soon it will end.  Too soon she won’t want to hold my hand or squeeze me so tight it hurts.  Too soon the chatter will change and knowledge will take over that sweet innocence she carries.  Maybe when it comes I’ll be ready, but for now I am so in love with my little girl.

Both girls are learning how to help pack their lunches, bike and play out on the street without me there watching and sign out books at the library all by themselves.

The first year of adoption we cling so tight, struggling to learn how to be a family and that we belong to each other.  Now in this second year, I see it is changing so much.  They are so much more settled.  They’re ready to grow a bit.

Life looks pretty bright these days.

We are so excited to meet our baby and become 5.  My nesting instincts have kicked in and I am trying to prepare as much as possible on the limited energy I have.

We are so blessed.

My heart feels full and overflowing with gratitude for the grace God has shown to us this past year.  Only He could have accomplished this.  There is nowhere else I’d rather be than here.  Part of me wishes we could just freeze this moment in time.

My girls laugh when I sing this song to them, but it’s one of my favourites these days.

Don’t Grow Up So Fast

You want it all right now, let’s hurry up and wait
Girl, you’re right on time, trust me, you’re not too late
I hate to see you rain, those mascara tears
But you can drown in the water beyond your yearsJust don’t grow up so fast
You don’t want to know what I know yet
Maybe on paper it looks better way up here
Don’t you hurry, try to take it slow
You will get there before you know it
Ain’t just the bad times, the good times too shall pass
So don’t grow up so fast

The world will turn, shadows fall
There’s your pencil marks in the corner on the kitchen wall
Yeah, to remind us all

Just don’t grow up so fast
You don’t want to know what I know yet
Maybe on paper it looks better way up here
Don’t you hurry, try to take it slow
You will get there before you know it
Ain’t just the bad times, the good times too shall pass
So don’t grow up so fast, ooh

Just don’t grow up so fast
You don’t want to know what I know yet
Maybe on paper it looks better way up here
Don’t you hurry, try to take it slow
We all get there before you know it
Ain’t just the bad times, the good times too shall pass
There’s only so much sand in the hour glass
So don’t grow up so fast, ooh

Attachment 101 – Part 2

My last post, Attachment 101, was designed to introduce and explain the theory of attachment. As a short recap:

1. Bonding and attachment occurs as an infant’s needs are expressed and met, over and over and over again.

2. When children do not receive consistent, predictable nurturing the internal message becomes “I am responsible to keep myself safe.”

3. Children with interruptions or gaps in their attachment development are essentially brain-damaged. If you could see a picture of the child’s brain that has been nurtured and cared for consistently versus neglected, abused or moved frequently there would be a physical, noticeable difference in the number of connections formed. This is more than just an emotional problem!

4. The good news is that these missing connections CAN be formed later in life! However, it is much more difficult than beginning with an empty slate. There are deeply ingrained survival skills that need to be destroyed before new concepts can be established firmly.

So…

With all that behind us, let’s keep moving forward.  I’d like to talk about the rewiring process and what that can look like for kids and parents hoping to create a secure, loving environment where a child can thrive. There are many different things parents need to remember when parenting a child who has been hurt physically or emotionally.

I won’t be able to cover everything I’d like to share in one post, so I’ve broken it down into several categories to keep it clear and simple. For today, I’d like to focus on the control issue.

Most children who have experienced a past of abuse, neglect or bouncing through the foster care system will enter their adoptive families with their guards set high. They have been let down by many adults in the past and they have learned to rely only on themselves to survive. In the past, this was an essential survival skill for them. Learning how to keep a distance from people, read adult behaviour and predict major changes on the horizon helped them to cope with the incredible amount of losses they’ve had to endure. It made the inevitable goodbyes bearable, kept the fear at bay and taught their brains how to function under major stress.

Now that your child has entered a forever family, it is imperative that they learn how to let go of that control and hand it over to you. The very skill that made it possible for them to survive will now be their greatest obstacle. They cannot bond and attach to you until they are willing to rely on you as their parent and caregiver. Children cannot go through life depending only on themselves. No matter what they may have convinced themselves of, they are not invincible. They are children. They need adults to guide them, lead them, protect them and nurture them. As adoptive parents we desperately want to play that role in our children’s lives and help them overcome the paralyzing fears they grapple with but often times they will not allow us to get that close.

They are afraid of abandonment.

They are afraid of abuse.

They are afraid of feeling weak or powerless or vulnerable.

They are afraid of opening their hearts and then having them broken.

Unfortunately, there is no easy switch to flip. There are brain connections that have never been formed and deeply rooted instincts that will not be easy to change. Basically, it is up to you at this point to take control of your child’s world unapologetically and be the parent!

This will be the beginning of a war.

They will fight you ferociously on this.

They do not realize you are on their team. All they know is that they are in danger of losing the defences that have always kept them safe. They are terrified of losing control but they are even more fearful of someone else taking control.

Interestingly, we all know this feeling. As adults, control becomes a word that raises red flags in everyone’s minds. We do not feel comfortable submitting to authorities we do not trust. We want to remain in charge because we’ve seen or experienced abusive control in relationships around us. However, if we are to form deep, soul level relationships we will have to let down our guard at some point and allow someone to get close enough to potentially break our hearts.

Infants are dependent on their parents for everything. The only way they will feel loved, nurtured, safe; is if someone has complete control over their life. In this environment, they attach and they trust as their needs are consistently met.

This is what needs to be replicated in your adopted child’s life.

It might take months, years or decades but this process cannot begin until you as a parent take control from your child. They will not hand it to you on a silver platter. They do not know what they need. You do.

Hurting children desperately need to be shown that parents are more powerful than they are. They have terrorizing trauma, deep grief, and overwhelming challenges looming before them, and they need to know there is someone strong enough to handle all that. They need to know that they are not too much for you. They need to know that you are big enough to protect them and help them heal. They need to know that with you in control of their lives they will be safe. You will not lead them into chaos and danger as others have.

This does not mean that we march into our children’s lives and take over every little choice they have. This does not mean we abuse our authority over them or become someone they fear. This is what many of them have experienced in the past.

Instead, our primary goal should be to look for every opportunity possible to lovingly send the message,

You do not have to decide that.”

I will take care of you.”

“I will keep you safe.”

You do not have to fight so hard to survive, baby.”

At the beginning, you will need to move into the parent role before you really feel like your child’s parent. Realistically, you are strangers, but this should not stop you from acting like you are in charge.

Set boundaries.

Be active in your child’s life. Know what is going on and show you will handle the big stuff.

Don’t allow another adult to step into the role that is only yours as a parent.

Give choices, but make sure your child is choosing between a few good choices that you have come up with.

Help them with every little thing you possibly can.

Do things for them that they can do themselves.

Make your expectations as clear and simple as possible, with consequences that are logical and simple.

When they cross a line, be matter of fact about consequences but not harsh or angry.

Don’t pick battles you can’t win.

Every time you act or speak in a way that tells your child you are comfortably in charge, you are cementing a feeling of safety in them. This authority establishment is not up for grabs. You are not asking for their permission to be the parent. Instead, you are lifting a huge load off their small shoulders and placing it on your own without a flinch. As they fight to take it back, be firm but gentle. Never forget their fight is really fear.

Many children go through this same stage of testing authority, and much of this will sound familiar. Children who have been hurt, however, have much more at stake in their minds. This is not just testing, this is tearing down the structure by which they have survived so far. Their future depends on you getting this message across to them. It’s not really about eating peas, it’s about being in charge of their life.

The best way for parents to go about taking charge of their children’s lives and sending these safe messages is to parent in a way that is focused on plenty of nurture and plenty of structure.

While children are adjusting to their forever families and attempting to attach, they are under a lot of stress. As most children, they will do best in a home where their days are predictable and structured. This does not mean you need to run your home like a boot camp, but you will need to be prepared to change your lifestyle to accommodate your children’s needs. While they are trying to attach and bond with their new family, children are not going to be able to cope with the flexibility of most children their age. Plan to spend lots of time at home, get lots of sleep and say no to some events or social engagements. As parents, you need to set a pace and rhythm to your home that both you and your children can thrive on. Put up a big calendar that your child can see and let them know what to expect as much as possible. Though you are stepping in to take control of your child’s life, you are not entitled to run it with only yourself in mind. Don’t let your children decide what and how much you do, but make sure you are making the best decision for them. It will take some trial and error at the beginning, but soon you will know how much your child can truly handle.

Making sure your child knows what to expect, is getting enough sleep and is supported by you through each day sets him up for success! It also sets him up to count on you to create an atmosphere he can thrive in. Structure does not mean less fun or less loving. Instead, a structured life for your children will help them to be able to have more fun and it will help your fearful child realize you know what is best for him and will do it!

Explaining decisions you make to your child can be a great way to show them you are dedicated to being a great parent. Let them know that they need to go to bed at the usual time because you know they need sleep to feel good and enjoy the day tomorrow. Let them know that you require them to eat nutritious food because you want them to have healthy bodies and feed good. Let them know they are not allowed to play near the road because it is not safe and you need them to be safe. Let them know that they cannot be left with a babysitter yet because they are still learning how to be a family and they are not ready for that step yet. Though most children tend to roll their eyes or sigh at these parental ‘lectures’, you may be surprised at your adopted child’s reactions. Even though they may not like your decision, they are hearing an important message from you.

I love you. I am taking care of you. I will do what is best for you even if you don’t like it.”

Often children who are starting to feel a shift in their control will try very hard to control all kinds of little details in life. They might ask questions or chatter incessantly. They might follow-up all your decisions for them with comments like, “Yes, that’s what I was going to do.” They will often try to control decision-making, play the parent to a sibling or come up with an idea just a tad different from yours. Though this can be frustrating, try to remember they are feeling nervous and anxious about the feelings of love growing inside of them. I often say things like,

That’s ok, you don’t need to be in charge of that.”

I’ll let you know if you need to know.”

I’ll think about it.”

With a smile and a gentle tone, this clearly conveys the message that you are in control and you will take care of things. It doesn’t have to be a reprimand or lecture, which will most likely throw you onto the battlefield, but your child will get the clear message they do not get to decide or be in charge.

My daughters will often later quote back to me the reasons I have given them for decisions that they didn’t necessarily appreciate in the moment. There is a measure of awe and joy in their voices as they say,

You want us to be safe, right?”

You tell us to eat healthy food ’cause you don’t want us to be sick, right?”

You’re afraid we’ll get hurt if we do that!”

Unfortunately, for an older child parenting in a highly structured manner may cause misunderstanding in other parents. Don’t let this stop you from doing what you know your child needs. While another child may be ready to walk to school on their own, tuck themselves in each night, get a drink or use the bathroom on their own, comb their hair or have a play date at a friend’s house…you need to realize that your child has not come through a chaotic life unscathed. Be sensitive to your child’s feelings, but don’t let what other people are thinking stop you from giving your child the structure they depend on to cope or the boundaries they need to attach to you securely.

While you are pouring in all this structure, however, you need to be spending just as much time giving your child nurturing…but that is a whole new, exciting topic that I will cover next time 🙂

For today, remember:

*Be the parent!

*Hurting children desperately need to be shown that parents are more powerful than they are.

*Take charge of your child’s life confidently and gently.

As I was writing this, I couldn’t help thinking of the many times I struggle and writhe in my Heavenly Father’s loving care. I can look back and see times in my life where I fought against His control, terrified that if I lost control of my life it would result in devastation. But when I finally give up and surrender to those big hands, that strong voice, that enduring love…I feel so safe. To know that He is in control of my life, orchestrating my every move, is such an incredible feeling. There is nowhere I could be safer than in the centre of His will for me.

When I see the especially bright eyes, the relieved tones and the purely joyful words of my daughter after an especially tough battle…I know that it is the same for her. In my love, she will be safe. And someday, she will experience a perfect love that is so much greater than mine. A love that is truly powerful beyond all measure and wider than imagination.

This song by Westlife reaches my soul and makes me weep. To know that this is my Father’s heart cry alongside my own small Mommy desire is breathtaking.

“Safe”

Hard to find a way to get through
It’s a tragedy
Pulling at me like the stars do
You’re like gravity
Even if the wind blows
It makes it hard to believe

How you gonna love?
How you gonna feel?
How you gonna live your life like the dream you have is real?
And if you lost your way
I will keep you safe
We’ll open up all the world inside
I see it come alive tonight
I will keep you safe

Doesn’t even matter to you
To see what I can see
I’m crawling on the floor to reach you
I’m a wreck you see
When you’re far from home now
Makes it hard to believe

So how you gonna love?
How you gonna feel?
How you gonna live your life like the dream you have is real?
And if you’ve lost your way
I will keep you safe
We’ll open up all your world inside
Till you come alive tonight
I will keep you safe

We all fall down
We all feel down
Cause rainy days and summer highs
The more we pray the more we feel alive

How you gonna love?
How you gonna feel?
How you gonna live your life like the dream you have is real?
How you gonna love?
How you gonna feel?
How you gonna live your life like the dream you have is real?

And if you’ve lost your way
I will keep you safe
We’ll open up all your world inside
So you come alive tonight
I will keep you safe

I will keep you safe
I will keep you safe

Attachment 101 – part 1

One of the big themes discussed in adoption today is ATTACHMENT.

At the core, this is the biggest issue facing adoptive parents and kids.  It is at the heart of all our desires for ourselves and our children.  It is the biggest difference setting us apart from biologically created families.  So what is this thing called attachment?

Let me paint a picture for you.

Think about that sweet little baby you know who is less than six months old, living in a loving, functional family.  He has entered this big wide world and yet he is so dependent on another’s care.  That voice he heard while in his mother’s womb murmurs in his ear, soothing him when his tiny face scrunches, red and screaming.  When he cries, he is quickly picked up and held close to that warm body that feels so familiar.  Mother has an intuitive sense of baby’s needs, even when she’s exhausted from lack of sleep.  When he’s hungry, he is held close in her arms and fed warm milk from a bottle or breast, often gazing up into his mother’s face as he drinks.  Rarely do her hands feel rough, hurried or anxious as she handles his fragile body.  He is gently bathed regularly in soothing warm water.  Mother is right there beside him washing his little body with a soft cloth and talking to him.  She may even set up a tiny heater in the room for when he comes out of the water, wet and cold.  He gets wrapped in a warm towel and massaged with lotion from head to toe.  Sometimes he is held while he sleeps, his mother simply enjoying the weight of his body, the smell of his skin and his tiny features relaxed in sleep.  Everyone delights in cuddling him, examining every little expression and watching his body grow.  His first cooing noises are rewarded with smiles and delighted attention from the adults who adore him.

I don’t mean to put a rosy glow on all this.  I know there are long days, short nights, hours of screaming and aching breasts for some.  But that mother you know, even when she feels overwhelmed and exhausted, will probably be making sure her baby’s needs are met.  He will still get all that tender care, protection and physical presence he needs to assure him someone in this big, wide world is taking care of him and thinks he’s the most important little person on the planet.

The very first thing baby will learn is that he can trust his mother to meet his needs; that his cries will be met with response.

When he is hungry, she will rush to get him food.  When his bottom is red and sore she will soothe it with cream.  If he cries for hours, she will worry, wondering what is wrong.  Above all else she will protect him with her very life.  She will go to extra measures to make sure the infant seat is properly installed and latched.  She will think twice when she gets behind the wheel those first few times.  She will always know where he is and what he’s doing, and will take care to be sure he’s safe.  As he grows, sits, rolls over, crawls and stands she will make sure his environment is safe.  She will feel a flutter of panic in her chest when he bumps his head, falls down the stairs or face plants into the ceramic tile floor.  Baby quickly becomes attached to his mother because he knows she is the one he can rely on.  Hers are the arms that will soothe in that familiar way.  Hers is the face that gazes at him, smiles at him, talks to him and kisses his chubby cheeks.  Through that first year of life, mother and baby are almost one.  They spend almost every waking minute together or in very near proximity.

This is the way God intended families to be built.

He knew we would need that assurance that the world can be a safe, happy place and that we are precious in someone’s eyes.  On that foundation we grow into children that are ready to learn, explore and create.  Our need for love and security has been met, and continues to be met.  Every event following those first basic patterns of care as an infant develop in us an ability to trust another human.  We will need this to survive.  We will need this for our brains to function properly.

Do you think it would make a difference if one day baby cried and cried for hours, but nobody ever came?  No warm bottle to ease the ache in his empty tummy.  No gentle arms to soothe his distressed cries.  No gentle voice murmuring words of comfort in reassuring tones.  No gentle bath times…instead his skin turns crusty and dry.  His bottom soon gets red and sore to the point of blisters that rub open and bleed, while his urine and stool stain his clothing for hours.  Maybe someone comes…sometimes…but the arms may or may not be gentle.  They may rock and soothe one day but hit and jostle roughly the next.  Faces come and go, but no consistent caregiver seems to feel responsible for baby.  For days, baby may cry until his throat is sore and his voice raspy…but eventually he will stop.  He has learned crying does not get him anything.  He will lie silently staring, listening to the sounds of his unpredictable environment.  Maybe yelling, maybe the thumping beat of music much too loud for baby’s ears, maybe the drone of the television or radio…and sometimes simply nothing.

Or maybe baby is cared for tenderly for the first 6 months, year or even 2 years…and then one day that person is gone.  In a new, strange environment he is alone and fearful.  The faces are unfamiliar, the smells and routines are all wrong.  Instead of stories and soft blankets at bedtime in his familiar room, with the night light glowing in the corner, it is dark and cool and just so different.  The blanket is scratchy instead of soft.  The room is large and open instead of small and cozy.  There are no stories, only a quick kiss and the door closing while unfamiliar lullabies play.  He has fun in the large back yard with the swing set and pool, but he misses the familiarity of that one person who held his world together.  This person doesn’t know when he’s hungry, tired or overwhelmed and he has no idea what she is going to do next.

She is a stranger.

Over the next few months, things slowly start to fall into place.  He learns new routines, new habits, new ways of getting attention and affection.  Just as he’s starting to trust that this person can fill the void…she disappears.  Suddenly he is in a new place again.  How could she leave him?  Once again, he must get used to something different.  Everyone seems happy and excited, but he is scared.  Who will take care of him now?

Will they leave too?

When?

Where?

How?

Is this what life is like?

After 3 or 4 moves, he will learn that there is only one person he can really depend on, and that is himself.  He is responsible to meet his own needs.  Relying on other people is simply too painful.  Eventually, they will leave and he must be able to cope on his own.  Though he may not be aware of this thought, his brain is establishing these patterns and they come with a great cost.

We know in our hearts that this does make a difference.  God never intended children to fend for themselves.  They are vulnerable.  They are needy.  Parents are commanded in scripture to love, teach and provide for their children’s needs as best they can.  God illustrates himself as a loving Father to us, giving us the image of a caring, gentle, strong protector.  We struggle as mothers, as fathers, to parent our children the way we know God desires.  We talk about unconditional love, sacrifice, wisdom and joy.  We desire the best, and we struggle to reach the ultimate.

Yet so many children are growing up without these fundamental needs being met.  They do not know who they can trust, and they are constantly on high alert.  Their brains operate in panic mode a majority of the time, constantly looking for signals that will warn them of pain, danger or loss.  Because they are so busy trying to survive, there is little brain power left to learn, explore or create like normally developing children.  There is tons of scientific research that supports this theory.

A child who has not formed healthy attachments is essentially brain damaged.

This is a fact.  Look it up.

The more I learn the more I am in awe of the Creator God I love.  He did not create us to function as individuals.  We are designed to need each other.  In our families, in our churches, in our communities…we thrive on healthy, loving relationships with others.  All these relationships are built on trust.

The good news is that these missing connections CAN be formed later in life!

Our brains can learn to make those new connections…but it is so much harder than the original plan.  Instead of an infant starting with an empty slate, you are now trying to rewire or reteach the brain to ignore the survival skills it’s relied on for 3, 5, 10 or even 20 years.  It takes time, patience and unconditional love.  Trial and error.  And every child is different.

Does every child who has been adopted struggle with attachment issues?

No, though most do to some degree.

What does this look like?

The struggle, the rewiring and the success?

I’d like to explore this a little bit in the next few posts.  I am by no means an expert, but we’ve learned an incredible amount through seminars, workshops, friends, adoption professionals and most of all some very precious little kiddos in the past three years.  It’s been an intriguing journey, and has helped us be so much better prepared for the challenges we face today with our two daughters.  I am passionate about sharing with others the issues adoptive families face daily because I believe that awareness is the key to success.  The more people understand the root of the issues we face and develop skills and empathy, the better the outcome for my children and every other adoptive family.

There are millions of children waiting for families who will dare to love them despite their challenges.  Their are also millions of families who feel they are not equipped to care for these children.  I firmly believe that education about adoption and adoption issues could change the lives of many of these children and families.

Jesus did not turn away from the messiness of life.

The hurt,

the terror,

the overwhelming rage,

the grief as deep and dark as ink,

the injustice that leaves us broken.

In the middle of it all, He was there.

I pray for the courage to love even when the cost is unimaginably high.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phillipians 4:13

Right now my daughters and I are memorizing a child-friendly version of the 23rd Psalm.  You cannot imagine what it does to my heart when I hear them during their play time reciting these lines of incredible comfort and love about their Heavenly Father.  This is taken from the Jesus Storybook Bible.

God is my Shepherd

And I am his little lamb.

He feeds me

He guides me

He looks after me.

I have everything I need.

Inside, my heart is very quiet.

As quiet as lying still in soft green grass

In a meadow

By a little stream.

Even when I walk through

the dark scary, lonely places

I won’t be afraid

Because me Shepherd knows where I am.

He is here with me

He keeps me safe

He rescues me

He makes me strong

And brave.

He is getting wonderful things ready for me

Especially for me

Everything I ever dreamed of!

He fills my heart of full of happiness

I can’t hold it all inside.

Wherever I go I know

God’s Never Stopping

Never Giving Up

Unbreaking

Always and Forever Love

Will go, too!”

AF

 

I want to be ALONE!

Ok.

So this is me being honest and letting you all know that even though we’re pretty excited about our new family of 4…we’re normal.  Not every day is rainbows and shimmer.

Right now I am hiding downstairs in my jammies while my husband builds a tree house with the girls and let me tell you I am just drinking in the quietness here!  Some days I am full of energy and happiness and amazement…and other days I’m just plain old tired.  Also…my personal bubble is nonexistent these days which sometimes makes this Mama Queen of the Grumps!  Wiry little arms hugging, pulling, yanking and poking at me all day long.  Affectionate?  Yes…but Mommy is not always in the mood for affection.  Mommy is not always in the mood for silly, nonsensical chatter and stinky morning breath in my face.  Mommy is not always in the mood for bony little bodies jumping on me.  Mommy is not always in the mood for whiny little voices following me all over the kitchen as I try to get everything done that needs to be done between 5 and 6pm.  Mommy is not always in the mood for markers all over the floor, glue on the table and macaroni bracelets in the bathroom sink.  Mommy is not always in the mood for little bodies climbing up on the countertops and sending a zillion cups crashing to the floor while clumsy hands search for that perfectly pink favourite.  Mommy is not always in the mood for an out of control garden hose spraying my basket of dry laundry.  Mommy is not always in the mood for little voices calling “Watch me!”

Sigh.

Yup.

Pretty normal.

My husband is awesome about this.  He helps chase away the “Mom guilties” that want to come in and just bash me to pieces when I just need to be ALONE!  The other night after the girls were in bed I went out for like 5 minutes to pick something up and I could’ve just laughed out loud!  I felt like a FREE WOMAN!  Of course when I got back 5 minutes later two little faces were peering out the window at me calling…”Mommy!  Where did you go?!”  Like it was the most insane thing ever that I would go somewhere without them!  After all, we are pretty much inseparable…and to bring some balance to this post…I am SO thankful that I am in the position where I am able to be a stay-at-home Mom to my daughters.  I truly am grateful for that, and would not change it for the world.

However…that doesn’t mean my patience level is any higher than yours and I just wanted you to know that it’s real life around here, too!  Bedtime is usually one of my favourite times of the day.  I love to be able to tuck them in, read stories, hear them pray and just feel connected at the end of the day.  But there are some days all I want is to give a quick kiss and then BE ALONE!  Days like this one can make me feel incredibly guilty, because I know there is a Mom somewhere who would love to be able to have just one more exasperating, annoying Monday!  Some days I am that Mom…there are two little faces etched forever on my memory that make me ache with loneliness some days.  I love my girls…but I’ve learned that nobody can be replaced.  Each new little person finds their own place in my heart…a place I didn’t even know existed until they came.  The one left empty will always be just that…empty…except for the memories.  So I understand we need to treasure every second.  Just writing that made me cry.  There is a little buzz cut that used to come lay softly on my cheek every single morning and make all kinds of happy, endearing noises…and every single morning I miss that little buzz cut.  There is a pair of vivid, joyful brown eyes that used to make me smile every single day as they danced to the sound of belly giggles…even on the worst days…and I miss those brown eyes every day.  I did not think it would hurt this bad for so long.  But I’m getting off topic.  The annoyance is already starting to fade!  Lol.  Count your blessings, right?

But I’m not supermom.

And some days I am just plain old selfish…or didn’t get enough sleep…or it’s that time of the month.  Some days I am overwhelmed by the intensity of life with two little girls who need to be loved so well.

Being a mother means you get to see the worst and best of yourself almost daily.  It’s really quite the rollercoaster.  I never knew how selfish I was until I got married.  Then I knew.  Two years later, I became a ‘mom’ for the first time and I learned my selfishness ran much deeper than I’d realized.  These little people in our lives teach us so much more than we could ever imagine we didn’t know!  I like to think, though, that with so much opportunity for messiness and absolute failure there is so much potential for growth!  Every moment I choose to force a smile instead of a scowl, every time I choose to soften my tone…I get a zillion opportunities every day to be like Jesus!  And if I fail…well…at least there are still many more chances to make it right.  And the little people we learn from?  They are so quick to bounce back with a smile and a hug.  They will forgive every time.  They will love you no matter what.  After the worst day, they will still want goodnight hugs and kisses.  After the fiercest tantrum they will smile and say I’m sorry before you’ve even sorted through your own mass of feelings.  That is beautiful.

I’d like to think it’s ok to fail sometimes.

I like to remind myself we all get grumpy every now and then.

This is where abundant grace comes in…for my children and for ME.

Akeisha and Alexa love to hear us say we will love them no matter what.  Always and forever.  Some days I need to hear that from my heavenly Father, too.  He will love me no matter what.  Always and forever.  It isn’t my acts of service or my moments of graciousness or my stunning successes that earn me His love.  He loves me simply because that is who He is.

Thank you, Father

Ps. On a lighter note, the girls have been playing pirates the past few days!  LOL  It’s hilarious!  “Arty AR AR” is apparently pirate lingo.  Outfits are complete with paper eye patches, stick swords in a fabric sheath and paper hats.  So adorable 🙂

 

Adoption Update

Hi everyone 🙂

So I thought maybe I should give a quick update on how things are going with our adoption.

No, that’s not true.

The truth is I AM JUST SO EXCITED I WANT TO TELL THE WHOLE WORLD!!! 🙂

We just had our very first weekend with the girls here at our house and…

it

was

AWESOME!

All four of us have been waiting and waiting and waiting for this.  Our first sleepover.

For Kirby and I it was amazing to have our daughters here in our home with us for three whole days, where we got to be their parents for more than a few hours.

For the girls it was so exciting to be able to play together all weekend in their new backyard, sleep in their new beds, and bring a truckload of toys to their new home…because obviously we don’t have near enough of those!  :/  Overall the weekend went way better than we expected!  The girls were very comfortable and happy most of the time, thanks to all the groundwork that’s been done before this.  We are now familiar people they love, and they’re used to spending weekends in strangers’ houses so this was not totally new.  They also paid a visit a few weeks ago to their new home so they could visualize where they were coming.  We did lots of fun stuff, but also had lots of down time just relaxing and being a family 🙂

I won’t go into every little detail, but I’ll give you some of the highlights.

1) Bedtime.  If you’re a Mommy you will get this.  To be able to do bedtime with our daughters for the very first time was such a gift.  Baths, brushing teeth, reading stories, saying prayers (which are totally new for my kiddos, but they love it), giving hugs and kisses and backrubs…the whole deal is just one of my favourite parts of having children in our home, so I was looking forward to this in a BIG way.  Being in a new place is a bit scary for most kids at bedtime, so they needed some extra loving to settle down and sleep, but that was no problem for us 🙂  Once their restless little bodies were finally relaxed and breathing deeply I just stared at them and felt incredible awe.  Why God has chosen to place in my amateur hands such precious little lives I will never know, but I am honoured and humbled beyond words.

2) On Friday when the girls arrived Kirby was still at work, so they were waiting anxiously for him to get home all afternoon.  I kept hearing, “When will Daddy be home?!”  I’m pretty sure I got a gigantically goofy grin on my face every single time I heard those words 🙂  When he finally did pull into the driveway it was…”DADDY!  DADDY!  DADDY!” and two little girls flying out the door to jump on him and fight for hugs and kisses, just because I am married to the most amazing Daddy on the planet and every single child who enters our home absolutely adores him 🙂  This whole driveway episode is totally normal around here, and it is always one of my favourite parts of the day.

3) We were incredibly blessed to have Kirby’s aunt and uncle give the girls money to buy new bikes and helmets as their homecoming gift!  Thank you Dave & Sheri Shantz! 🙂  So on Saturday we went to Canadian Tire and let Akeisha and Alexa pick out their very own bikes and helmets.  They were thrilled.  We went for a bike ride as soon as we left the store!  🙂  Alexa is only 5 and still learning to ride, so her little legs got tired pretty quickly, but Akeisha is confident and fast on her bike, so after Alexa and I were done she and Daddy went out on another long ride.  I’m thinking we will be using those bikes a lot this summer!  We have a beautiful trail that runs down along the bay that is wide, gravel and perfect for biking as long as you can do some little hills 🙂  It’s one of my favourite places to walk, and it also goes by our favourite park so that’s a bonus!

4) Even though neither of our daughters have had much exposure to the gospel or the idea of God, they are totally intrigued with the idea and love for us to sing and talk about God with them.  We have had good little discussions about heaven, God living inside our hearts, God as a spirit, and God creating the whole world.  Alexa will sometimes ask me, “Will you talk to us about God?”  We are in awe and praising God for the curiosity we see in them regarding spiritual things.  They are like sponges, ready to soak up all we tell them.  We are doing our best to pour the heart and soul of the gospel into them at every opportunity.  This is why we are here!!!!  I feel so refreshed and excited seeing the wonder and curiosity of a child hearing about the things I have taken for granted so much of my life.  In His name there is power!  I am confident that as the girls simply enter our home and lives they will be enfolded in the power, love and security we have in Jesus Christ.  What an incredible blessing!  All the things I have to give to my daughters are nothing compared to THAT glorious truth!

We also had a campfire, went to the park, went for walks and played outside in the beautiful sunshine!

So there’s my little recap of our first weekend as a family of 4!  We are enjoying the ride so far, but know there are many hurdles to come.  Please continue to pray for us and our daughters as we begin this new phase of our lives together.  To those of you who are rejoicing and praying alongside us…your support and confidence mean more to us than you’ll ever know!  Thank you for being willing to believe with us that with God, all things are possible!

AF

Ps. This is Akeisha and Alexa’s favourite song for me to sing right now:

THE BUTTERFLY SONG
(If I Were a Butterfly)
Words and Music by Brian M. Howard
If I were a butterfly
I’d thank you Lord for giving me wings
If I were a robin in a tree
I’d thank you Lord that I could sing
If I were a fish in the sea
I’d wiggle my tail and I’d giggle with glee
But I just thank you Father for making me, meCHORUS

Because you gave me a heart and you gave me a smile
You gave me Jesus and you made me your child
And I just thank you Father for making me, me

If I were an elephant
I’d thank you Lord by raising my trunk
If I were a kangaroo
You know I’d hop right up to you
If I were an octopus
I’d thank you Lord for my good looks
But I just thank you Father for making me, me

If I were a wiggly worm
I’d thank you Lord that I could squirm
If I were a fuzzy, wuzzy bear
I’d thank you Lord for my fuzzy, wuzzy hair
If I were a crocodile
I’d thank you Lord for my great smile
But I just thank you Father for
making me, me