Tuesday, May 9, 2017

parenting. more. and better. and being good livers.

Friends, these past weeks I have found myself holding my tribe close. Maybe annoyingly so. It has made me think about how I parent. And how I used to parent. And what exactly I am trying to cultivate in our kids and our family.

I am not sure I could have answered that very clearly a few years ago.
Because I really didn't know.

Parenting in the beginning. 
In the beginning, I was super concerned about behavior. Are you saying please, thank you? Did you shake hands? Did you introduce yourself without being prompted? Did you leave McDonald's without screaming your head off? Did you accept consequences without throwing a fit? These were my worries.

It was a very superficial way to parent. My kids behaved, most of the time.
But I am not sure they knew why they behaved, except that maybe they would get in trouble if they didn't. And sometimes that is okay. Sometimes not.

The metamorphosis. 
The parenting change came slowly, over time. A molasses-like evolution that is a direct result of our children schooling me in the arts of kindness, compassion, and resiliency. These younger-than-me people taught me about a world beyond my comfortable life and my selfish wants.

It is still a difficult lesson. And I am still learning.
This manner of living  has created a singular focus in our family for people living marginalized lives. Living my white-ish life with all of the privileges is not necessarily real. Assuming that others have our same opportunities is absolutely not real. And living with the people I live with, makes these realities impossible to ignore.

While we evaluated and re-evaluated and adjusted our parenting to better suit our particular children, we tried to pinpoint exact lessons, for everyone's benefit. (especially me, I am not good with subtle lessons.

One constant theme we came 
back to again and again:
We need to know where we want to go
and have a plan to get there.  
This applies to being a kid. And an adult. 
We started implementing this idea in our parenting. 
What kind of kids are we trying to raise here? 
And what kind of kids do I not want to raise? 
And how do we get there? 

Parenting now. 
I do not want to raise whining, sniveling children frightened by every shadow.
Sometimes there are fights that should be fought. Wars that should be declared. Sometimes we must chase the shadows. We must be the light for lives marred and darkened by trials and tragedy.

As Nigel and I are getting older-ish, I am more and more unimpressed with talkers and complainers. I am more interested in do-ers. I want to raise children that DO. Life-livers, not just passive observers.

"I want to raise children that DO.

Life-livers, not just passive observers. 
More and better. 
A few days ago, Corban was having a particularly hard time with Auggie's death, as we all do at times. And I asked him, "Corb, could you have loved Auggie more or better than you did?" Corban responded, "No, but I could have loved him longer." 
 In our situation, Corban's answer is the absolute best I could hope for. That is exactly how I want to live. And how I want my kids to live. As a lover of people. All people. I want to know that we couldn't have loved more or better. That we said yes, even when we choked on the word. That we chose to GO. That we chose to DO. Even when it wasn't ideal.

I don't want the kids to spend their days protecting themselves from the possibility of failure or heartache. I want them to dive head first into this life. To love bravely. Without spending time to think: this might hurt.  I want my humans to know the valuable part of this life is found in what we are willing to give.

This does not mean that we will always get it right. There is no place for perfection in this arena. Only, what I hope, is a true, earnest effort to love people.

The plan. And how to get there. 
The plan is to raise functional, society-contributing adults. Getting there means taking risks on humans. This is how we find and promote justice, peace, joy, and kindness to the generations beyond us. I am realizing there may be no risks too outlandish for the sake of humans in the brutal periphery. I know my children would agree. Kids are always the first ones on board with any scheme that involves people. They want to adopt first, to foster first, to invite people to live with us first...while I drag behind them, weighing the cost and potential disasters, they charge ahead.

We get to there by saying yes. By giving grace. By correcting wrongs, teaching forgiveness. By loving those around us. By doing hard things because that is what is right.

I want to be fearless like the minors that occupy my house and life. I want to love bravely, to choose what is hard over what is convenient. In the end, I want to be able to answer the question "Could you have loved more or better than you did?" with an honest NO.

Parenting is hard. Life is hard. We spend our days fretting about irrelevant subject matter. Being entirely drawn in to unimportant frivolities. I am hopeful that we are getting closer to what matters. Because I really want to paint a picture of service and kindness and justice for our children. Of brokenness and love. A life given up and poured out for another. A life loving well and being well-loved is well lived. And that is where we are going. I hope.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Lasts. And Auggie's legacy.

We are still here.

The kids all have their moments of sadness. And that is okay. We talk about Auggie a lot. He affected so much of our day-to-day activities. And it just feels weird with the gaping absence of Auggie, comes the empty minutes of the day, where I find myself seeking activity or sleep. The wide open expanse of time is foreign. And I am unsure of what that looks like long-term.

Our house is strange to me. I see Auggie's possessions. His tiny clothes. His medical equipment. His crib. His pillows and blankets. I see them, but not Auggie, and I am not sure that will ever be normal. I cling to the little remembrances. Even the things I used to find exceedingly annoying. The last hospital bill. The last of his laundry. The last phone call to cancel his doctors' appointments.

I have lots of odd questions. We applied for Auggie's passport the week before he died. What happens to that? Does he still get one? Will I find his sweet face on a passport in the mail this week? Adam and Asher's passports have arrived. And I assume, if Auggie's passport was approved, that his will be here soon.

Logic and emotion.
I find some solace in the communication from so many that are now interested in the realities of children without families. For some reason, Auggie's death pushed families considering adopting or fostering into families committed. And I do like that.

I have always been logical. My husband finds it wildly irritating. That is what comes as a byproduct of having George as my dad. I know the chances in this life of dying are 100%. No one will escape. I also know that we were told Auggie's life expectancy was likely shorter than most.  But my emotions, my heart...I just want to hold my teeny boy.

In our family, he was spoiled. If we put him down, he pouted and fussed. SO spoiled. I single-handedly did that to him. And I am not even a tiny bit sorry about it. He was attached to a human being almost all day. When we first met him, he hyperventilated every time I picked him up. It was so extreme, that I had to face him away from me for him to tolerate being touched at all. It was all I could do to keep from squeezing him and squishing him close to me. His terror later dissolved into needing and wanting to be around familiar humans at all times. Which is entirely amazing.

I can get angry at the injustice of it all. The fact that Auggie spent 4 years and 7 months being systematically starved, almost to death. He was alone. Entirely alone. He is the weakest, strongest person I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Going forward. And all the questions.
We get invasive questions at times, and that is okay sometimes and sometimes not...I can forget that we are somewhat conspicuous. Our normal is not everyone's normal. So, let me clear up a few things all in one big blob:

Our kids are doing pretty well. We don't need any food, but we do love company. Yes, there are thousands of children like Auggie, he was not the exception. If international adoption is not for you, there are 104,000 children in the U.S. foster system that need a family.  If you really need to bring us something, bring toilet paper or ranch dressing, we never seem to have enough. Auggie's body was not at his memorial service because we allowed our kids to decide what they were most comfortable with...and the consensus was that they wanted him cremated and to be in our house, with us. I don't know if we will adopt again. We might. But I am feeling a little gun-shy at present. 

This will be another last for me. The last blog dedicated entirely to Auggie and grief. His life is over, but his story is not. I cannot re-live and re-think and second guess Auggie for the entirety of my life. Auggie was beautiful and brave. He demanded and possessed courage and patience...qualities that remain elusive and unnatural to humans, and only seem to emerge through sufferings and hurts.

I am not sure I can ever properly explain the impact our boy has had.
I hope he inspired others to step blindly, to reach into the darkness, unseeing, unknowing...
To go and do. 
I stated before that the time is now...but that isn't correct. I was so wrong. The time has long passed, and we have missed the boat. Children are dying. And not dying like Auggie did...loved, warm, protected, fed, with a family...They are dying alone.
This is not okay. This will never be okay. 

Auggie was and is interesting to the public, his life considered a humanitarian anomaly. Even though that isn't accurate. Some of Auggie's story is quiet and reserved and will remain with us. He was our son, our brother, grandson, nephew, cousin, friend. We knew him. His quirks, his likes, his dislikes. His pooping habits. His ticklish spots. We knew him.  And now, he isn't here.

And I am attempting gratitude. Even in this choking grief.
Gratitude for the short life that blessed our family. 
For all the hard things we thought we couldn't do, but we absolutely could.
We learned patience. And courage. Lessons Auggie learned years ago, and modeled so well.
We learned to speak for those with no voice.Whether it was popular or not.
We are learning to choose gratitude, even when we have a hard time feeling it.
We saw our hurting boy be bold and brave. And so we learned we could do that too.
I will hold these lessons dear for the remainder of my life, until I see my son again.
This is Auggie's legacy.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Being okay.

Hello my friends,

It has been one week.
We are okay. Not great, not whole. But we are okay.
And I will call that pretty good for the moment.

I keep going back to the thought that this is not where I expected to be right now.
I expected Auggie to live much longer.
I hurt.

Can your spirit physically ache? I think it can.

The kids have gone back to doing lessons and chores and real life.
And I have too.
We are sluggish at times. But we are getting it done.
One step, one thing at a time.

I was asked if I knew all of what I know now, would I do it again?
Yes. Absolutely.
A million times again.
There are zero scenarios we can dream up in which we would not want Auggie.
Heartache and all. Hospital visits. Ambulance trips. Sleepless nights.
All of it. I take all of it. Willingly.

There is a dark side of humans. One rarely discussed, and often-times underplayed and unknown.
In the states, we see it again and again in the foster system. Abroad, in orphanages, asylums and institutions. Where children are invisible. Hidden away. Where life is marginalized to meeting only the bare minimum (or less) of what is required to live. Much less thrive. This is not acceptable.
But our actions communicate otherwise.

Fairness, unfortunately, has little bearing on what happens in this world. Although, I am not entirely sure that is always bad. Many of us are unfairly privileged. Enjoying and even expecting comforts precious few humans will ever experience. The problem comes when we hold on to these privileges so tightly, feeling life is unfair if we are not readily given and gifted what we want...while knowing masses of humans lack what they need.

Hundreds of thousands of children have no home. No family. No person to call their own.
These children need you. They need me.
Be a voice. Be an advocate. An activist. Be a family.
Refuse to allow this tragedy to continue into another generation. 
We are the ones that can change this

It can be hard and dirty work.
You will lose your heart. You will lose your soul. You will hurt.
But, I promise you, in the end, you will know, it was worth it.
Decide now, that as functional adults, merely breathing in and out until the end of our life is not good enough. It never was. Because a life lived only for you, is not a life at all. 

Right now. I cling to what I know.
I know I am raw. And we are wounded. My mind is foggy and I seem to be forgetting things that I don't usually forget. I know that I miss Auggie. And I know I have to function because we have other sweet kids that are also hurting. This is not just about me.

I know that I want Auggie to be more than just some planetary blip.
I know that one of my biggest fears is that he will be forgotten.
His remarkable story dying quickly, like him.

I know that each of our kids has transformed us in some way.
Auggie is no different.
His needs were so unique. His story so unbelievable.
He was the boy that lived.
And we are blessed beyond measure to have called him son. 

Thank you, friends. For your kind words. Your food deliveries. Your company. Letters. Flowers.
Thank you for answering your phone at unmentionable hours when I couldn't sleep. Thank you for crying with us, laughing with us. Thank you for sharing this unexpected and surprising life with us.

I am so grateful.
Many blessings,


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

March 22, 2017

I left the morning of the 21st to take the girls on a birthday trip to New York and have some meetings with Children's Rights. When I left Auggie was smiling. Happy. Squirmy.
And I kissed his fat cheeks and told him I loved him as we hurried out the door.

That night Auggie became lethargic and unresponsive. He was taken to the hospital where he seemed to rebound a bit. He was then set to be transferred to the large children's hospital. While in the ambulance, en route, Auggie's heart stopped. They did CPR and diverted to a closer hospital to get immediate care for him.

Auggie never regained consciousness.
We are awaiting results to determine cause of death. But right now, it seems that Auggie
had a virus attack his heart. And he just wasn't strong enough to fight it off.

I was on the phone in a New York City hotel room listening to doctors and nurses administer epi-shots and use a defibrillator on my precious boy. I was on the phone when the doctor came over to Nigel, who was with Auggie, to let us know that they had done everything they could. And that he was so sorry.

The girls and I packed up and left for the airport within an hour or so. And found ourselves back home by 10AM on the 22nd.

Today is still the 22nd.
Auggie died today.

I didn't want to be this person.
The person whose child died before them.
But I am.

I was so angry at first. And then sad. And then angry again.
From what I understand, this will continue for awhile. 

I want to get stuck in this question. And I really can. But the true answer is that I am not excused from pain. Neither was Auggie. Or you. None of us are. 

What now...
Now we try to heal. We cry. We laugh.
We tell Auggie stories.
Because there are no new Auggie stories to be made.  
And that crushes me.

We plan a funeral.
And I hope everyone will come and celebrate this miraculous life.

Right now, I want to know Auggie's life had meaning. That there is purpose.
For me, Auggie changed my world.
He is singularly responsible for challenging my faith daily.
He tested my patience. He tested my ability to function on two hours of sleep.

Auggie made me smile. And cry. A lot.
He made me brave.

I am grateful for this brief little life that blessed our family. 
I will miss him. His smile. His squawk. His beautiful face.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

TC. Foster care. His younger-self letter. And all the tears.

For a long time, foster children and foster care systems have been a part of my life. It has been 25 years since I was introduced to my first foster sibling. And 12-ish years since my husband and I became licensed foster parents for the first time.

As a child, I was confused by the grief and fury that I saw coming in and out of our house. As an adult, it completely makes sense.

My oldest son, TC, is an emerging grown-up. I cannot even handle this.
I sometimes still feel like he should still be 9-years-old.
Angry. Sad. Hurting. All the stealing.
Using thievery to make sure he could provide for himself in case I failed to do so.
Covering up his fright with false bravado.

As he has grown older and wiser, 
he has begun working through what being tangled up in foster care means. 
What it feels like. 
What it looks like. 
How it bleeds into adulthood, staining joys with tinges of sorrow. 
Sometimes inexplicably. 

TC sent me this letter a few months ago, while he was wrestling with his reality.
I am sharing it, with his permission (the only way I share things).

Take a minute to see the foster life through the eyes of someone who has been there.
And survived. 

And then multiply. Times about 104,000, 
the number of children available for adoption in America. 

Or multiply by about 400,000,
the number of children in foster care in this country.

While you read, know that every 2 minutes a child will enter foster care.
And many of these children will be separated from their siblings, not just their parents. And remember that there is an enormous lack of appropriate, licensed, experienced homes available. So foster children go into congregate care. Or emergency shelters. Or hospitals. Or caseworkers' office floors. Temporary placements become the permanent plan.

This is not okay.
This has never been okay. 

Read, friends.
And then DO. 

Dear Younger Me,

You are 6 years old right now. You don't really know what is going on. Drugs are coming in and out of the house. You are watching your mom getting abused. You think it's normal. You are always moving. You don't know, but your life is about to change. You are about to wish you were dead. Don't run or hide. Just let them take you.

Don't believe the people that say they love you. Always, always take care of your brother and sister. Don't lose them. Because for the next 2 years, they are going to be the only thing you have. And you will get separated. 

You are going to be going from foster home to group home to mom to group home to foster home to group home. It is a cycle. You are going to feel like you don't belong. And you don't. No one in foster care belongs in foster care. For a long time, you won't know what good is. Even if it hits you square in the face.

You are going to let your past define you. Don't do that.
You are going to lie to people and tell them that you are okay. But you aren't.
Don't do that either. 

You know deep down that our whole situation is tearing you apart.
It's hard. Yes, I know. But you are going to have to ask for help. 
Learn how to control your anger.

A healthy relationship is something you may never have with your mom. You are going to wonder why you lost something you never had. You are going to be sitting in a room, required by a judge, to visit a parent you don't know, while a visitation supervisor is watching, taking notes. 

As you get older, you will think your life is a joke. But that's where you are wrong. Yes, it feels like hell. But trust me, it gets better. You are going to live with a foster family. You don't know it yet, but they will be your forever family. So, get to know them. And like them. I know you've been through some b.s. But, at this point, you are just happy to have food in your stomach, clothes on your back, shoes on your feet, and a roof over your head. 

The thing that will confuse you the most is the question: Do you want to be adopted?
Say, yes. Don't hesitate. 
You know that the situation that you were in was definitely not healthy for you. 
Trust me. It's worth it. 

Yeah. You are going to be struggling with pain and always with the what ifs.
But, just know, you can't fix anything. You are a kid. Mom did what she thought was best. Except for the fact that she's gone. She is not coming back. 

Christy and Nigel are your new mom and dad.
You will say and think: I wish I was never adopted and you don't love me.
Stop. Because if that were true you would still be in a group home or switching from foster home to foster home. You have a SECOND CHANCE at life. Take it and embrace it. 

You will do stupid stuff. It is going to take time for you to know that God has a plan for you.

Younger me, I wouldn't change one thing about our life.
Because we wouldn't be where we are now. 

Love like crazy, because it makes you happy. 
Show your family you can succeed. Because you can. And they always knew it
Be honest. Be kind. Be humble.
And for Pete's sake, think twice. 

We can do this. 


Saturday, December 31, 2016

I am you.

I hear all kinds of things since beginning our foster and adoption journey.

You are a saint. 
You must be so patient.
These kids are so lucky you saved them.

These comments put us in a group of humans in which we simply do not belong. An unattainable group of parental perfection. Impossible.

Let us address these often-heard comments one-by-one:
(my favorite way to address things)

I have never been, nor will I ever be a saint.

If you know me in the flesh, you would agree. I am less sweet and more salty (translation: completely offensive on accident). Too much blunt. Too many opinions. I have ALL THE RUDE OPINIONS. all the time. out loud.

A couple of silly people suggested that I run for office. No, friends. Just no. I would get fired. I am not good at making nice. I try. But I am just very bad at it. very. If being an anti-lobbyist was a real political thing...I could definitely do that. 

Patient. What is that?
If you consider patient giving away all the things the kids fight over. Then sure, I'm patient. Is stomping up the stairs with trash bag in hand and loading said trash bag with ALL THE TOYS ON THE FLOOR and giving them away, patient? I feel like possibly, no.
Lucky to be saved.
The idea that our children are lucky. Eight of our nine have been abused. Eight of our kids have been removed from their family of origin. Through the state or by abandonment. This is not lucky. Please be very aware, that in a perfect world, adoption would be entirely unnecessary. There is nothing lucky about adoption. It is a beautiful picture of redemption within our broken humanity. But it is not lucky. And to say this, especially in front of our kids, is to derogate their experiences. And minimize the life they withstood prior to adoption.

The idea of being saved. Know this: I am no savior.  I am a fractured, in-process human. Just like you. Did we save them from longer time within the foster system? Maybe. Did we save our Amerikrainians from death? Maybe, again. But it could have just as easily been another person, another family.

Our children were offered a family, and now it is up to them to save their futures from the evil, chasing ghosts of the past. Which, unless you have lived their life, is much, much harder than you may imagine. Rational thought processes evaporate in the shadow of knee-jerk decision making brought on by years of abuse, neglect, fear, anger...I cannot save them from their own minds. We can walk them through it. Offer support, discussion, explanation. But we cannot save them.

Normal and Boring.
Sometimes I feel like the saintly-savior-patience comments are a way to separate the "you's" from the "me's." To exclude the you's from the pool of foster/adoptive parental possibilities. It is human nature to put a separation as an explanation or an excuse for why we don't or haven't.

I have known since the beginning that I am boring and normal and slightly rude. There is nothing extraordinary here. We pay bills. We raise kids. We stress out. We have fun. Many Fridays we sit on our tails and watch too much television. Some of us like football. Some of us are excellent dancers. Some of us only think we are excellent dancers. We are overbooked and under-rested. We can be cranky and goofy. We can be your basic run-of-the-mill disaster. We are dorks. We make fart jokes. We are obnoxiously loud at times. We love one another. We have friends. We like road trips. Our family is big, but not as different as you may imagine. There is nothing super special about us.

There is no special-ness in my genetics that makes me more qualified. Nothing amazing. Nothing spectacular. These children are not looking for superheroes. Not perfection. Nothing that is any more beautiful or exceptional than a family.

Parents. Appropriate, responsible, adult humans. I am talking to you.
When did the decision become fostering and/or adopting isn't for us?
That we need a different and better job, house, car...
That idea that we must offer an ideal instead of reality is entirely problematic.

Can't the time be now? In this house? This car? This job?
Being saintly or patient has never been a prerequisite for parenting.

These are lives. Lives of children. Your neighbors. Your children's schoolmates.
And still they wait. In hotels. In hospitals. In the offices of their caseworkers...listening to phone call upon phone call being made to find them a temporary home. Listening. As query upon query is answered with...no, not here, not now...rejection. Time and time and time again.

And for some reason, I still hear the comments of separation....
Good for you...
You are so great...
I could never...
You are a saint, a savior, so patient, so kind....


You see, the problem with the "you and me" separation is very simple...

I am you.
And always have been.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

#8. one year.

One year ago we stood in a tiny Ukrainian courtroom. Explaining to a judge why Auggie should be adopted. Why children need families. Why we should be Auggie's.

One year ago, I was told we may be adopting a terminally ill child.
As it turned out, he was simply starving.

One year ago, Auggie wore two, TWO newborn sized diapers because his legs were too thin for one.

One year ago, I was scared. 
I still can be. So can Auggie.
And honestly, it has been a slightly scary year.
We have had surgeries, many hospital stays, infinite doctoring visits.
We tease him a bit about all of this...he is slightly high maintenance.

It has been a year of ups and downs.
Our plate is full. Our schedules overflowing.
We need naps. A lot of them.

Auggie is still very nervous around new people.
He still startles very easily.
He still hyperventilates a bit. But not as much.

Auggie has been our teacher this year. We have learned about patience and perseverance.
We have learned about hurt and healing.

I have learned that I possess very few answers. I cannot tell you why such tragedies occur in this world. I cannot explain away 4 years and 7 months of too-little nutrition. There is no explanation for the sedation, starvation, and absolute neglect that our boy endured. 

I do know there is redemption. There is life beyond beginnings.
I also know there are many that are not offered any possibility.

Auggie is now 23ish pounds. And 32ish inches long.

He grows.

September 2015

August 2016

He smiles.  Big and beautiful.

 He has people. A tribe of protectors, cheerleaders, helpers, friends. A precious, silly, amazing group.

Every adoption adds new elements of adjustment to a family. Auggie's was no different. I look over these pictures and I remember. I remember holding Auggie for the first time. I remember his bones poking into my arm. His sunken cheeks. His baggy, newborn sized clothing. I remember explaining again and again to people who would ask, how old is your baby? 

I have spent some of the last year being angry. 
And all of the year being thankful.
For this life. This child. This family. 
As in all things, there is purpose. Even in the difficulties.

If you ever wondered if you should adopt...
If you ever need another reason...
From orphan to brother and son.
One year. 

August 2015

August 2016