Posts filed under Adoption

License to Hug

Remember when I talked about how Elian pays us back in smiles?  Well I think he is ready to start exploring other forms of currency: He has started to hug! Overall I would say Elian is not into hugging or cuddling.  Cuddling requires him to stay still for more than 2 seconds and let's just say we don't call him the hurricane for nothing.  Still Arnold and I have been hugging him and kissing him and doing our best to coddle him despite his reticence.  I honestly had kind of given of hope that he would ever be interested in hugging us back.

Just like a pot that doesn't like to be watched though, the second I accepted his lack of interest in hugging he changed his mind about the practice and embraced it with gusto.  Elian is not a conformist though, he has his own special ways of hugging.  He starts off with the piggyback hug.  This is where he runs around in back of you and kind of strangles your neck gleefully.  Then he moves on to the full flying bear hug.  He runs at you from the front, throws himself into your lap and grabs your neck forcefully.  He is surprisingly strong for a not-yet two year old.  Sometimes he gets overcome in the moment and follows up the hug by pulling your hair.  I'm not so much into that part, but you know, I'll take what I can get.

I recently came back from a business trip to Atlanta expecting to arrive home to fallout:  a confused toddler who was upset that Mommy left. Last time I left for work he regressed noticeably.  He refused to look at me for 3 days after I got home.  Let me just say that it is hard to leave home knowing that you'll have to re-teach your child to make eye contact (for the fourth time) when you return.  But you know toddlers, just when you get the zig down, they zag.

This time I didn't come home to an angry toddler.  I came home to one that was happy to see me return.  When I got back last week and sat down on him with the floor ready to rebuild our relationship for what feels like the zillionth time I was pleasantly surprised to find out while I was gone my little dinosaur had gotten on the hugging train.  Ten minutes of sitting on the floor and playing trains earned me one neck hug and one flying bear hug.

It's hard to express what those hugs mean to me.  Arnold and I love Elian and for the past six months we've been doing our best to accept that we have to teach him everyday that we are his new parents and love him without the expectation that he will love us back.  To some degree I'm sure all parents do this: adoptive or not.  But for many months we did it knowing that our child needed us to love him through the process of grieving the loss of his foster parents.  For a long time he didn't see us as his parents.  Sure he favored us, but mostly because we were the people he knew the best in a scary world full of strangers.  Sure he looked for us to carry him and feed him but at night he sobbed and called out for his foster mother.  To say that it's hard to love someone with the all-consuming energy that a child requires while simultaneously knowing that they do not yet love you is very hard.  It is heart-breaking and it seems like it will never end. So you mentally set aside the idea that your child will hug you, or love you or call you Mommy because thinking about those things is too hard.  It's too hard to watch other children say "Mommy" or happily give their parents sloppy kisses.  You tell yourself over and over again "I have to understand him.  I have to give him time.  He's just a little person in a big scary world"  But still, it's hard.  It's hard every single day.  You tell yourself not to have expectations, but it hurts every single time he pushes you away.

So the hug is not just a hug.  It's a sign that things are starting to change.  That your hard-work earning the title of parent is starting to pay off.  That you can start to dare to hope that the day your child loves you unreservedly and knows you are his mother is coming soon.

Posted on June 1, 2010 and filed under Adoption.

Make a wish

Last year at this time we were submitting adoption paperwork and wishing for a child. This year I'm celebrating Mother's Day with my husband, my grandma and the most wonderful little boy in the whole world. Don't let anyone ever tell you not to wish or dream.  Grab that dandelion fierce like and send it's seeds flying to the heavens.

Posted on May 8, 2010 and filed under Adoption, Sunday Foto School.

Storytelling Pt. 3

I love this storytelling theme; it’s like the blog topic that never ends! As you know I've been thinking about widening my story.  Letting life be bigger or more complicated, more ugly or more beautiful. But it's not just me anymore so I've been thinking about Elian's story.  One of your  jobs as a parent is helping your child see themselves.  You accompany them on their journey to learn who they are.  You encourage their talents and re-direct their missteps.   You teach them they are loved and worthy of love.  When they are little you are the mirror they look into to find themselves.

So I've been thinking a lot about Elian's story.  Watching him to see who he is... wondering what kind of person he'll become, and par for the course of my personality I'm worried...

I feel sometimes like already the world is trying to impose a story on him.  More than one person has told me how lucky he is to have us as parents.  On one level I agree because Arnold and I rock!  Perhaps somedays as parents we are an epic fail but on other days we kick ass!  I appreciate the sentiment but there is something about these these comments that leaves me unsettled. I worry that the world will force him to have a “poor little orphan” story.   "What a lucky little boy! “rescued” to come to America with such a lovely family."

Blech.  I hate that.

Elian rescued us as much as we rescued him.  Nobody walks up to a newborn biological child and coos “Oh you are so lucky your parents created you”.  Why should my son feel lucky to have parents that love him?  Loving parents should be a child’s right not a privilege for those born in the right place under the right circumstances.

His adoption is part of his story but I don’t want it to be the defining factor in his life.  I want him to be able to be who he wants to be.  To have his own dreams and identity.  I want him to be proud of his roots but not confined by them.  When I was little people constantly said, “Filipino people do this and White people do that.”  Where was I supposed to live in that world?   On standardized tests I would literally have to choose which box to check and none of them represented me. I felt like I was constantly fighting to be myself.

Elian is a Colombian who was adopted into a Colombian-American-White-Filipino Family.  His story is big.  I don’t want people telling him what he should or shouldn't be or who he is or isn’t.  I don't want them to tell him what he should feel about his adoption or how Colombian kids or American kids should act.

But it’s hard, right?  As a parent you have dreams and desires for your kid too.

If Arnold and I had our way Elian will turn out to be either a professional dancer or the winner of Top Chef.  He will marry a lovely woman and give us adorable grandchildren to spoil.  Of course he will be polite, thoughtful, considerate and go to church every Sunday.  It goes without saying we hope he will go to college on a full scholarship, preferably in a city that we would enjoy visiting.  I hear Columbia University in NYC is quite nice.

But you know, I might have to accept that he’ll want to be a professional football player and major in Economics or something similarly uninteresting to me.  He might never get married and decide that he wants to be Buddhist monk.

So what do we do?  How do we help him find his way without dictating his story?  I honestly have no idea…  but I guess asking the question is the first step.

Posted on April 26, 2010 and filed under Adoption, Livin la Vida Loca.

Storytelling Pt. 1

Last week I went to SoCal for a business trip and I took the opportunity to read a book, “Rockabye” by Rebecca Woolf. The story follows her through her unplanned pregnancy and the first few years of her son’s life. In the book she is so honest about the struggles of becoming a parent: the pressures of other people’s opinions, the exhausting guilt, the fear that you are no longer allowed to be yourself, the constant anxiety that you will make the wrong decision and fail your child, the simultaneous urge to run away balanced with a love so intense you think it will break you in two.

I read her book and I felt every single word.

Her book said so many things that were lying heavy on my heart. Things I was afraid to say aloud for fear that someone would agree, “You know you might not be the best Mom for him, we’re going to take him back and give him to a better Mom.”

Nobody can do that of course but it’s there always in the back of my mind, a fear that whispers at me constantly. When you spend so much time having to convince people that you’re a worthy parent with home studies, fingerprints and international background checks at some point you start to believe you deserved the abuse. That maybe you aren’t good parent material and that's why you had to spend a year defending yourself. And when the going gets rough and you’re tearing your hair out that voice gets louder and louder. Last week the voice was overtaking me when I found her book. I couldn’t believe how brave she was to say the things she did. It was so comforting. Apparently I am not totally crazy. Or at least not alone in my crazy.

So then I wrote her an e-mail to tell her how much I appreciated her brutal honesty. It was the first time I’d ever written an author but I was just so grateful I couldn't NOT write and say thank you… but here’s the thing. SHE WROTE ME BACK.

How awesome is that?

Not a bounce back form e-mail. A sincere, thanks for your note and I promise you will make it e-mail.

And that’s why I decided to be a little more honest and courageous on this blog, to share a little more about my real life. Her story reached me at a moment when I was feeling lost and needed her words. And I think that’s the beauty of writing, the opportunity to use your voice to give something beautiful to somebody else. Maybe it’s the birthday card with a personal note or the magical realism that gives everyone in a world a taste of your home country. Maybe it’s the information someone needs to balance their budget or the Jane Austen novel that gives you hope you’ll find your Mr. Darcy. And maybe sometimes, it’s just your story, honestly written, that reaches someone as they’re struggling and gives them the consolation of knowing they are not alone.

Posted on March 29, 2010 and filed under Adoption.

Lent - Update 2

So remember how I'm trying to do the no-yelling thing?  Yeah... it's been going... okay.  Yelling has gone down substantially but my frustration level rose to a crisis level.  A sort of dreading going home, trying to resist the urge to run away crisis level.  It was really, incredibly unpleasant and a little scary for me for awhile.   I honestly have never been so explosively angry in my life and it is a horrible feeling.  Terrifying really.  So there was a lot of hiding out/avoiding home. Does this sound bad?  It was, it was bad.

I don't regret the no-yelling though because it kind of forced an emotional crisis that would've happened eventually. And perhaps this is a normal thing?  I don't know.  I do know that one of my friends once told me that she wanted to "throw her daughter across the room".  And when I was like "Oh ha ha ha.  Yeah it must be hard." She said "No seriously, I want to throw her.  I don't.  But I'm dead serious that I want to do it."  At the time I thought she was joking, that it was just the sleep deprivation.  But now I can say that I know exactly where she was at.  And it is a dark, dark place.

So I started calling in the experts, any social worker I could get my hands on for advice, the blogsphere of adoptive parents and books, books, books.  Our social worker was awesome, she said "I know it's hard.  He's mourning his losses and it's so upsetting because there's pretty much nothing you can do to help him."

I assume that most parents when their child is upset, sad or hurts himself can pick that child up and comfort them because that child knew them for 9 months before he ever took his first breath.  When I pick my child up he screams louder.  Sometimes he goes ballistic over a small frustration as if the small trigger brought back a world of pain that he doesn't know how to reconcile.  Some of this is toddler stuff, some of it is adoption stuff.  I'm not a social worker so I don't know the difference, all I know is that it sucks.

It sucks a lot.

But we did get to talk things out with our social worker and she gave us some helpful advice:  Pick him up as much as you can.  Take him swinging with you.  Do any activity you can get him to do in your lap.   Treat him like you would treat an infant, physically and cognitively he is almost two but the trauma of the adoption gives him a much younger emotional age.  Baby him as much as you can...  We had stopped picking him up every time he asked because frankly he's already really heavy to carry around for extended periods of time.  This was a huge mistake and we paid the price.  So now I basically carry him around all day long.  Soon my left arm will be strong enough for me to enter it in Guinness book of records.  This one simple change however has made a huge difference.  HUGE.  He's calmer, happier and more able to handle everything.  And when he is calmer, happier and more able to handle things, so am I.

I'm not telling this story because it's fun to share my bad moments.  Just seeing all of my mistakes printed out in black and white makes me cringe.  I'm telling this story because I want to be real, about everything.  Elian has brought me unimaginable joy but his arrival has also exposed terrifyingly dark parts of myself.  I didn't have the preparation I needed to help him or the experience of knowing what to do and I am indebted to all the parents (adoptive or otherwise) who freely shared their struggles in books and on the web.  People like to say that "love is enough" but love is fickle and people are imperfect. Love is not always enough. We come with dings and scratches and faulty steering.

Sometimes we need help.

Sometimes your love won't be enough.  Sometimes you'll need help.  And that's why I'm telling my story.

Posted on March 22, 2010 and filed under Adoption.