What does “family” really mean?

Just when you start to feel settled, God will totally throw you off your game with an eyebrow-raising curveball. It’s like a crap-shoot – you know the pitcher has one, but you’re really not sure he’ll actually throw one for you. Let me just burst your bubble really quick – He has one – and He’ll throw you that junk all day long. Sometimes I think it may be just for the fun of the spectacle from His view up top! 😉 Just kidding.

It’s been almost 6 weeks since Wes’ last fall-apart fit/tantrum. Longest we’ve ever seen – and he’s by far the happiest kid we’ve seen yet. I would say we’re in the “honeymoon stage” of the transition, but honestly, we’ve seen some pretty hairy stuff after some pretty great days – so I really don’t feel like it’s a collection of faux-glory-days – it really seems almost normal. I still battle anxiety at times, but nothing like I was. We’re full-swing into evening sports and struggling through trying to get dinner on the table when both parents are working and then chauffeuring constantly. Some days it feels like I’m juggling a half-full gas tank with a broken, leaky spout, a few balled up kleenexes that fling unmentionable greens with every toss-up, a two-bite piece of a peanut butter sandwich and a half an organic beef pepperoni stick from Costco (they are amazing, BTW) – all while just trying to catch the edge of the beef stick package in my teeth so that I can actually get some protein in my system, without the added booger-snot sauce and eau-de-gasoline (At the moment I’m finally balancing things out with my final serving of fruit. What? Wine is made from grapes, duh! Besides, the grapes were moldy so this is the next best thing.)

My job is absolutely crazy, for 3 full school days per week, but I’m loving it. I think I already said this, but I have about 180 new best friends…and today I received my first piece of artwork – a gift to me by a 2nd grader who wanted to share the love. It is a colorful masterpiece, including the words “I love Art!” in bubble letters across the page. I already sticky-tac’ed it up next to my desk. I’m sure that is going to be the gateway to a wall full of artwork by my students… 🙂 Today, I had a memorable first. I have been working super hard to learn all the kids names, and I think I’m near 75% correct already, so every time I see kids in the hall, I practice their names. Anyway, today after class, I met up with a little one waiting outside the restroom for her buddy. She smiled up at me and I said, “Hello, ______ (name omitted for PRIVACY!!! LOL), how was your recess today? Was it fun?” to which she grinned at me and said, “Well, I pooped my pants at recess, so ummm…” so I got down to her eye level and said, “hm. Well, maybe it wasn’t THAT fun, then…did you get some clean pants?” and she said, “Yep!” and I said, “awesome!” and that was that…


I also realized that if anyone wants to get me a nice “I love my art teacher” gift, you can drop off a life-size bottle of hand sanitizer. Or maybe a subscription box. Just keep ’em coming. Do you know how many kids I have had to choke down a vomit blob in my throat and say, “Oh, _________, please, let’s keep our fingers out of our noses,” and then a split second later “{gag} {insert dry heave here} please don’t eat that. If you’re hungry I’m pretty sure your lunch time is after Art Class.” Oh gosh. I can feel my wine (I mean, my fruit?) creeping up my throat. Pretty sure there’s a drip just dangling from my uvula. Uvula. What a weird word. Seriously, they couldn’t come up with anything different?

Did you realize yet that this post was just going to be highly entertaining?

SIGH. I really do have something important to say – honestly I’m just not quite sure how I feel about it, so I’m not sure how to address it. So back to the game and the awesome curveball…

Wes loves us, we know he does, even though he refuses to say “I love you” or “Love you, too!” in response to us saying “I love you” (although in the past week, Logan has garnered a few “love you, too”‘s and Kris, tonight, got an accidental “Love you to–!” before he realized he was saying it and abruptly stopped and snapped his mouth shut)…I had a nice, quiet, in-the-dark conversation with him at bedtime the other night and whispered to him that it was okay if he didn’t want to say “I love you” to me, because I know that he shows me every day that he loves me with his hugs, his kisses, by obeying mommy’s directions, by being helpful, and encouraging. I said, “you show me every day that you love me, so it’s okay if you don’t want to say the words.” We feel like he’s SO close – like he’s really just fighting the principle of “I said I wasn’t going to say it, so I can’t say it” – even though it has become something that is so natural to respond with.

He calls Kris and I “Daddy” and “Mommy”, never anything else, not dad, not mom, not hey you, not by our names. It’s always some varying degree of volume, (usually turned up to 11), with a varying degree of urgency (usually the “I’m going to pee my pants!” type of urgency no matter what the level of need). He calls Braeden his brother, and the girls his sisters, and doesn’t balk when they refer to him as their brother.

However his hang up is odd – and honestly, probably not so odd as it feels – but to us it is odd. He has always offered up a correction when we say that he is our son. I say I have two sons, he tells me I have one son, Braeden. He knows I am his mommy, but if I say “we are your family”, he says, “I have a family in Haiti.” We say “You are going to stay with us forever” and he accepts that – however it is the becoming one with THIS family here in our home, that seems to give him the most brain-wrenching conundrum. It is always matter-of-fact, doesn’t seem emotionally disturbing to him at all – but he is convinced that he has a family in Haiti. He tells me he has a Haitian Mommy, and some days he mentions a daddy. He says he has a brother (as far as we know he does not), and says that he has a family in Haiti, and he does not have a “new family” here.

Today I tried a new course of the conversation and told him in response, “Yes, you do have a Haitian birth mommy who lives in Haiti. Now you have an American Mommy and Daddy and you are our son here forever.” I told him that when he’s 15 like Braeden, I will come up and tuck him in and give him hugs and kisses and pray with him just like I do with Braeden. He didn’t offer up any challenge to it.

It is the oddest thing. It seems to be that he accepts that this is his lot for the duration of his life (and he loves it, don’t get me wrong – he definitely is not unhappy about this “arrangement”), and he is perfectly happy to live with us forever, but there is a definite distinction between US and THEM. THEY (meaning this somewhat fictional “family” in Haiti – that he hasn’t seen since age 3, and probably has only figments of memories from), are his FAMILY, and we are simply…I’m not sure what, exactly. This is where I get confused, and maybe, quite honestly, is where he is also battling his confusion in his 7-year old brain. If you, or his teacher, or his friends were to ask him, “Who is your mommy? Who is your daddy? Who is your family?” I’m 99% sure he would answer, “Laura, Kris,” and then list off the people in our household. However, if I get into a heartfelt, serious conversation with him, and I ask him who his family is, he would probably tell me his family is in Haiti.

After almost 4 months home, how do I, as an adoptive mother, process this? I feel like I should be hurting over this confusion, but I think I’m still in this reeling bounce-house of hopping emotion – not really sure how I SHOULD feel. I’m his mommy. But, I will always acknowledge that there is another mommy who loved him in a way I could not – which was to let him go in the hopes that it would be the best thing for him eventually. Praise the LORD this little boy was matched with a solid family structure like ours – but it doesn’t negate the pain of loss that will need to be processed through. I also am very aware that because of the orphanage situation, there is no telling what kind of stories or “line” they told the kids throughout the years after they got relinquished by birth parents or abandoned due to death/illness/other extreme situation. We really don’t know – but I’m sure of one thing – my child was NOT emotionally or verbally prepared for adoption. He was not coached, educated, or taught what was going on, other than that these really happy white people came several times to play with him and bring him treats and toys and wanted to hold him all the time. He knew that eventually he would go live in America with us – and I honestly don’t see him “missing” or acknowledging that he is “missing” the orphanage. He mentions going to “visit” Haiti or asks what time it is in Haiti occasionally, but that’s about it. If Haiti is brought up in conversation, it is 99% of the time because we bring it up. We do our best to keep his heritage and culture “alive” and talked about – because we don’t want him to forget. This is why the family thing is so hard for me, I’m sure. I don’t WANT him to forget his past, to forget his people that he loved and who loved him. I think it is so important for ME to remember all the people in my life who have loved me – I wouldn’t want to take that away from my child. However, what do I do as a Mommy who desperately wants her adoptive son to understand the place he holds now, as a permanent member of THIS family? He’s not a guest, he’s our son. He’s not here on permanent vacation, this is his HOME. How do we truly become his FAMILY without pushing ourselves as a replacement? In his 7-year-old mind, he hasn’t LOST anything – he’s simply in a different world, a parallel universe – one where he can have this cool Americanized experience, grow up to be a Police Officer (yes, that is what he wants to be…make a mama proud!), earn allowance every week and play soccer on a team – (more importantly to him, SCORE GOALS!). His other universe still exists for him – I think as I process this in black and white I’m understanding that it’s okay with me for now. I don’t want to replace his birth mom – I can’t. I didn’t carry him in my belly for 9 months, I didn’t nurse him or teach him to walk, I didn’t cut my very heart out by making the most selfless decision possible and let him go, signing my name on the dotted line that I was no longer the responsible party for his little being. Regardless of whether I could have or could not have done all those things that she did – the bottom line is I didn’t. So I can never be an adequate replacement Mommy. I think that’s hard for me. I think sometimes I think I want to be the only Mommy, and that I probably feel a little threatened that he isn’t willing to just let me have my larger-than-life moment of Mommy Glory and be the ONLY mommy.

As much of an emotional struggle as that is – I know that the answer is that in time, he’ll process through it – and it doesn’t have to be today. My job today is to let that little boy fall asleep knowing without a doubt that even if I’m only 2nd Mommy, or American Mommy, or Blan Mommy, my name still has 5 letters in it that won’t go away – “M-O-M-M-Y” and that this M-O-M-M-Y loves him very very much. It is also our job as parents to continue to operate and love on, teach and instill that we are a FAMILY of 6 – 6 letters for 6 people – and that it is okay if he has more family in Haiti – who knows, maybe they will come live with us someday – that just means he has a bigger family and that is special too!

So, what is family? What does family even mean, really? Is it solely limited to the people who birthed you and are related by blood? Probably not, I think most of us would agree, especially in a situation like adoption 😉 – so then, is it just the people who you call Mommy, Daddy, brother, sister, grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts, etc.? What about when relationships get messy, or divisions happen, or an ocean and an entire continent drive you apart? What if one person lets go of another – does that mean they aren’t family anymore?

I would love to say that Family are people who love deeply, selflessly, and/or are loved in return deeply and selflessly. Unfortunately you probably each thought of the one or two “family” members who don’t quite fit that bill, or the 73 family members who are defying my very flower-child definition of family at the moment just by taking a breath and blinking their crusty excuses for eyelashes (because I know that if they are in such juxtaposition to my definition, of course they have crusty sleepy seeds just clinging to their eyelashes…all anti-family-atic people do).

Maybe this is simply a challenge left in your hands then – what kind of family do you have? What kind of family do you WANT? What if you were to be the kind of person you’d want your definition of family to be, even if it wasn’t reciprocated? What if your determination to love selflessly changed the entire make up of your “family”? Here’s another curveball for you – What if your family is not blood-related but simply people who love you ridiculously, and who you love in return? Because I don’t for a second think that if you don’t have blood-related family that you’re relegated to living a loveless life wandering the desert of lack-of familial relationship. 😉

This is an extremely long post, I’m very sorry…, and now throughout this post I’ve consumed TWO servings of FRUIT. Can I call it a “smoothie”? It is a REALLY smooth smoothie… I’m a Jamba Juice addict for sure already, but this is a huge business-boosting idea. Someone should pitch it. Just compensate me in free smoothie cards, it’s okay. Seriously, they just put a franchise location (FINALLY) on my route to school/work…and now I’m back to square one, where I was when I worked at Nordstrom…all my paycheck going straight to the goods. When I’m not buying watercolor palettes and extra hand sanitizer for the Art room, I’m buying a Small Peanut Butter Protein: sub almond milk, sub soy protein, add extra peanut butter Jamba Juice smoothie. (just copy and paste into your online order for me, thanks in advance!) I think I drink more smoothies than coffee right now and that’s saying a LOT.

Whew. Bedtime. And, time for reading glasses for the rest of you because I’ve officially ruined your eyesight from the word-count. One of these days I’ll publish this thing as a whole and then you won’t have to read it on a backlit device screen.

I’m also adding in here (as I just proof-read it) that I acknowledge there are no pictures. This is a painfully wordy, pictureless-post. I am okay with that. Just wanted to put that in writing. 😉





2 thoughts on “What does “family” really mean?

  1. Ryan says:

    Masterfully written. Your assessment of Family is spot on. Yes there is the obvious blood line relationship. But equally important are those vital relationships of people that walk with you through life, the good times and the times of struggle. We love you guys and will continue to pray that God will continue to open Wesley’s eyes, his heart and his mind to the fact that he has a family that loves him unconditionally.

  2. Eryn kesler says:

    Great post- we’ve wrestled with the same questions. About 6 months ago we went through a phase where my girl was asking about her “real mom”. Or you’re not my “real” mom. And that’s after 7 years!! It’s such a journey, and I’ve found different phases of her development bring new ways of her understanding and processing her story. Just keep rolling, try not to be offended when they question your role as mommy, and answer the questions they may have. Someone gave me helpful advice once …to simply answer the question being asked. Sometimes the whole story feels so big, and I begin to overthink…how do I explain this whole complicated thing?? Then I remember to simply answer what she asking, one question at a time.

    It IS complicated. It IS hard. There IS big loss. So much to process.

    Our girl says I love you but most of the time only can barely tolerate kisses. Not her fave! Lol. Just this year she let me kiss her lips … but doesn’t love it. There’s still healing to be done.

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