When the magic fades

It’s amazing to me how quickly the element of a magical experience can dissipate, leaving you in the throes of a magic hangover where we all wander like zombies, falling asleep late, sleeping in late (for some), all sense of routine and schedule thrown out the window. Gone is the tinkling of sleigh bells, the little red Elf has flown back to her wintry home, Santa came to town and left us with a mess of paper and stacks of “stuff” that now has to find a permanent home on a shelf or in a closet. It is incredible how much anticipation and breathlessness is compounded over the course of a month, only to completely disappear as soon as in-laws and cousins board the planes or buckle in for the drives home. The tree is gone, almost all traces of the wondrous, magical day is packed into bright red plastic tubs, correctly labeled and snapped closed to ward off any creatures that may think my 18″ Santa’s beard is a great place to rear their new family.

Our December month was certainly a magical, wondrous experience here – the whole “magic of Christmas” that has been somewhat lost the past couple years as our bio kids grew older, was refreshed in full-force with a 7-year-old experiencing Christmas for the first time! He has loved every bit of it, and the older kids have really enjoyed playing the role of encouraging excitement for someone else other than themselves. Imagination ran wild, many times running the gauntlet of targeted, fire-balls of questions aimed to prick any potential holes in the glittery facade. We decided to let the imagination run, pretty much on it’s own, answering Wesley’s questions with leading questions or thought-provoking questions, encouraging him to come up with an answer for himself. I can see him being a lot like his older brother, and next year we will probably have the pointed, “tell me the truth. Is Santa real?” And, when we get that question, as we did with Braeden, when the truth is asked of us, we tell it.

I found an awesome book this year, called “God Gave Us Christmas” by Lisa Tawn Bergren and David Hohn

it does a fantastic job of relating Santa, God and Christmas all together in a way that even Wes could understand. We read it many many times over this season, I highly recommend it!

We were able to have many “first” experiences this Christmas, first presents opened, first trip to the Zoo at night to see the Zoolights at the Oregon Zoo, first 2.5 hour Star Wars movie in the theater, first Christmas cookies made, first gingerbread house, first ornaments handmade, first family Christmas gatherings, first taste of Anise Cookies (secret family recipe…he loved them – he’s a keeper LOL), and most memorable of all – FIRST SNOW!

Helping make daddy’s famous Christmas morning cinnamon rolls

Gingerbread houses with Aunt Noelle and cousin Lucie

Ornament making with Aunt Laura

Christmas cookies!

Christmas Jam session with Uncle Reid, Grandpa Steve, and Spencer!

On Christmas Eve, despite the weather forecasters’ predictions of rain and blah, it started snowing while we were in our morning Christmas Eve service! It was quite incredible – We were inside singing O Holy Night by candlelight (another beautiful first, accompanied by a wash of fresh tears for a mama so thankful to be holding candles alongside my Haitian son and his Daddy, brother, and sisters), and we walked out of church to a wintry wonderland of snow falling, white powdery fluff on the ground, and grinning, giggling Wes, who couldn’t even believe what was happening! We drove home as fast as possible, busted out the snow gear and he proceeded to play in the snow for probably close to 6-7 hours over the course of the day, even into the dark with his cousins when they joined us for Christmas Eve dinner! It was an incredible gift for a first Christmas, and the kicker was that it was still there when we woke up on Christmas morning, giving us our first White Christmas in a very, very long time!

On the 23rd, we brought home our newest FURRY family member, 8-week old Maggie, a chocolate, standard-sized Australian Labradoodle. She was met at the front door with screaming Wes who couldn’t believe we got a puppy all our own, and teary older three, who were just completely melted at the sight of her. She has fast become everyone’s newest obsession, and the way that everyone is coming together to care for her and play with her is very sweet! She is highly entertained by our 2.5 year old pup Ollie, who thinks she is the best thing since dog food, and has to be put in isolation at times just to leave her alone! πŸ˜‰ Bella, our 11-year old grumpy grandma dog, on the other hand, thinks she is the worst thing to happen to this family since Ollie came home, and refuses to give her the time of day, avoiding her like the plague! LOL

Wes handled Christmas gifting like a champ, we gave him a quick intro on how to be polite with gifts, even if it is something you don’t want, like underwear or a barbie (he thought that was funny), and after a couple awkward go-arounds with his first gift or two, he figured it out. We decided we would see how he was transitioning with American life before we made any decisions on Christmas and whether or not we were going to eliminate gifts this year, or change our normal routine for Christmas morning or gatherings. He was doing so well, that we decided to proceed as normal, being prepared to be flexible should we see anything questionable arise. We got through everything with zero issues, other than a tiny bit of normal kid crabbiness due to late nights and overstimulation. He was excited and a bit nervous to see how Christmas in America played out – it was very different at the orphanage, but I think he was satisfied with the result, and decided he might like to stick around to see how next Christmas goes…the countdown has already begun. haha πŸ™‚

We’ve had a very nice break from the constant sports and practices and coaching, although at this point everyone is very ready to get back into their normal routines, needing their friend-time, and workouts, and court-time. This morning Wes woke up super excited because it was sunny outside (how come it is sunny in December??!!) and is already chowing through breakfast so he can “practice” shooting baskets on the sport court outside before he goes to his playdate later today!

We are continuing to see a blossoming of his personality, now coming up on 7 months home, he does continue to wrestle with the challenge of unknowns – but he’s learning to try something, (or be asked to try something) newΒ  before he makes a decision as to whether or not he likes it.

Praying for a fantastic new year for all of us, and all of you – please continue to keep in touch and ask questions, and we’ll continue to update here!

I’ll post pics in a few min from my phone!

Blessings,

Laura

Elves, Santa, Jesus, and balance

This is a weird world we live in. I’m totally seeing Christmas from a new vantage point and it’s certainly gotten weird, and not just because I live a sneeze away from Portland (for reference, Portland has gotten weirder and weirder in the past 20 years, to the point that there are bumper stickers driving around on Toyota Priuses and Subaru Outbacks that simply say, “Keep Portland Weird”). Vancouver is going through its own growing pains, but Portland has fallen in my opinion. I drive down there to shop or take the kids roaming and I don’t even recognize all of the places I grew up in. Most likely that’s due to the tent cities on the side of the freeway and the Hipster Santa in the mall (real life story, people. What’s so wrong with a regular Santa who eats Christmas cookies and milk and hands out candy canes? Why do we need a Scotch drinking, mustache waxed, fair isles sweater wearing Santa with rolled up jeans and trouser socks and penny loafers who hands out packets of weed? (okay, the weed was an added creative liberty, but I wouldn’t be surprised) Let me tell you I had a very weirded out 7-year old who immediately said, “Mommy that’s not real Santa, let’s go.”).

Sorry. Rabbit trailing. I feel like Christmas as a kid was so much simpler. I know it was, in actuality, much much simpler – there was no Santa magic in our home, Santa was just a cheesy name on the from tag that meant Mom was trying to be cute. I didn’t think anything of it as a kid – never really questioned Santa or whether or not his existence (or lack thereof) would ruin my own. Christmas was filled with family gatherings, lots of food, cousins, tights (the ONLY time I would wear tights, {shudder}), and a pair of mom-sewn Christmas pajamas. We baked Christmas cookies, made homemade gifts for others, and drove Peacock Lane with a carful of kids. We parked on a bluff and watched the Christmas ships on the Willamette River, sucked our candy canes into dangerous saber-points of peppermint, and hung our tube socks on Christmas Eve. We watched black and white Christmas classics, It’s a Wonderful Life and Holiday Inn, and celebrated Advent every day throughout December, an activity planned for each family dinner or breakfast of the day. We made paper chains, and thanked the Lord for many, many things. We sang Christmas carols during church each Sunday, went caroling with our Fellowship Group in the neighborhood, and lit candles at the Christmas Eve service.

Christmas was always fun, but more than that it was always something that gave me warmth, hope, and a soft reminder of who Jesus was to me – not to my family, or my church, or my friends, but to me.

Fast forward 25 years, to a new world of Christmas where iPhone X is at the top of your kids’ Christmas lists, regardless of whether that’s even a practical thing to list (it’s not), and the Elf on the Shelf is competing with baby Jesus to bring joy to the world on these not-so-silent nights of Christmas. Somehow flying, glow-in-the-dark reindeer become the heralds of a little king’s birth which is usurped and trumped by a large, ruddy nosed, cookie eating old guy (very unhealthy role model for children today, I might add…surprised we didn’t have a healthy-plate makeover for Santa’s diet when we re-did our school lunch menus…), who sneaks in your house at night, and sees everything that you do – (does Santa see you in the bathroom? No. What if you pull your sister’s hair in the bathroom. Yes. Ew. Creepy.) – and somehow this gift-giving crazy-man takes over everything.

Most parents probably don’t realize how much of the bare bones of Christmas is getting pushed out each year by more and more of the froofy magical made-up stories and excuses for consumerism. I hadn’t either – until I all of a sudden had a new 7-year old who has never experienced Christmas like this before. America in general is a complete overload of the senses – but Christmas? Right now I’m starting to wish we lived in a remote village with nothing but a rudimentary nativity scene and a candle and a scrubby pine with popcorn strings and a star.

How did Christmas get so crazy and over-the-top far-fetched? I’m sitting on my couch with a set of Elf on the Shelf eyes boring into the back of my skull as we speak. Wesley was so concerned when the Elf showed up December 1st, and the onslaught of questions we received all of a sudden had us wondering – is it okay to allow your kids to believe in this stuff?

We’ve always dealt with our kids’ questions over the years with returned questions. “Is Santa real?” “I don’t know – what do you think?” etc. With Wesley, he has an engineering mind, and strategery (I know that’s not a real word, but Monty Python said it so I’m using it) is his right hand man. He wants to know the details of how Santa gets here, how he comes in side, and why he doesn’t use the front door. How does he make the dogs not bark, and what exactly is he bringing again? Do his reindeer really fly and why is every book about Santa a little different? Does the Elf go into your room and does he go tell Santa stuff when you leave the house or only at night?

Funny how he has no questions about baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds other than, “Mommy what’s a shepherd again?” It’s all so straightforward – and there’s no muddling of facts. Mary and Joseph traveled a long way, there was no room in the hotel so they had to have baby Jesus in a cave (or barn) with the animals. Jesus was the King of the world, even though he was just a baby. He came to save all of us, even the people who aren’t nice. God sent him because He loved us very much – end of Christmas story. There’s not a billion different ways to tell it – and maybe that’s my biggest frustration with today’s version of Christmas.

For a child who is entering the American Christmas Story for the first time ever – what is it important to me that he know? We’ve wrestled through a ton – he’s doing amazing, our family is rocking the 6 month mark for sure! But we are constantly revisiting – what do we really want Wes to know or learn right now? What are the froofy non-essentials and what is a make-it-or-break-it lesson that needs to be taught? What are the parts that really matter and what things could we just let go? How much of the magical made-up version of Christmas is a fun add-on to childhood and where is the line crossed at leading him on into a world of consumerism and materialism and stuff that is just a flat-out lie? How do you balance that as a parent – is it wrong to allow your child to believe in Santa when you have never actually said “yes, Santa is real”? Our older kids eventually got to the point where they decided for themselves that Santa wasn’t real – but how is that different for a child who is new to all of this? Who hasn’t grown up with all the stories, or the Christmas morning stockings, or the Elf that comes for a month and does crazy things, etc.? We are realizing that just because something was okay for some kids, doesn’t mean it’s beneficial for every kid – it doesn’t mean it’s NOT, it just means it’s worth asking the question – and being aware.

I don’t necessarily have the answers right now – but it is a good question to allow ourselves to explore – many, many times over. We’re working on it.

We hit the 6-month mark this morning. Just another morning, but I realize that an encouraging thing for other transitioning families is that there does come a point where you realize, “wow, we just hit 6 months – that flew by!” When you’re in the first few months home, it’s like having a baby – you count the days first, “He’s 9 days old!” (really? Not a week and a half?) then the weeks, “He’s 8 weeks old!” (actually, he’s 2 months, but who’s counting?) and actually for transitioning families it’s more like “I can’t believe it’s only been 9 days” and then “I think it’s been 12 weeks already…(count on the calendar)…cue fresh fountain of hot tears and exhausted blubbering…It’s only been 8 weeks!!!” and then one day you wake up and get to the grocery store and realize that you calmly and naturally told your new child “no” about 33 times in a 10 minute trip to 33 different items and you had no pushback other than the normal “aww, mommy, why?!” and you mentally count and realize it’s been 4 months since he came home. Then you blink, and all of a sudden it’s Christmas and you’ve nearly forgotten that he hasn’t been a part of your life for your family’s whole existence.

It does get easier, the days don’t necessarily get shorter, but the minutes are less calculated, and the hours pass quickly. The anxiety wanes, and typical parent-of-four-children responses surface – like today’s exasperated outburst to drawing a sharpie angel on his own palm…it was a very nice angel, but we don’t write with sharpie on our hands! – and he shrugs off the reprimand with a small pout and moves on. I no longer count days between meltdowns, we haven’t had an issue with that since the middle of August – he’s learning very well how to self-regulate and emote in healthy ways, uses verbal communication and even says, “I’m sorry” when prompted – and has asked for forgiveness. These seem like small things, but there were many months where I just had to settle with my heart and accept the fact that he may never learn to say I’m sorry, and he may never learn to tell someone how he feels – and that needed to be okay.

We have transitioned into bedtime rituals where he seeks out the physical comfort of snuggles and hugs, and practically welds himself to us as he falls asleep. We’ve heard “I love you”‘s and seen true compassion in action several times over.

We definitely have our side-splitting laughter moments, funny things that just randomly “click” for him and come out as random bits of conversation – like his new favorite conversation is about babies and “lots of kids” because he saw Cheaper by the Dozen and thinks that somewhere between 12 and 20 kids is ideal for our family. LOL He asked me what babies wear when they come out – and I said, “honey, they are naked when they come out.” To which his eyes squeezed tight and he shook his head vigorously and said, “Naaaaaahhhhhhhhh….” and then looked at me quizzically like I was joking – I assured him that no, they really do come out naked, but then the doctors put on a diaper and some little jammies to keep them warm and he responded with, “Well, maybe you should swallow some shirts and pants so he can put them on before he comes out.”

πŸ™‚ Yes. We all had a fantastic laugh! πŸ˜‰ I’m just a little concerned that he keeps saying “You should…” instead of “the mommy should…” and then in the next breath tells me that we should have 12 kids, but we should only adopt again from Haiti if it is some kids that he knows already.

Sigh. I thought 4 was a good number…I’ll have to intercept Wes’ prayers for awhile…

I’m sure more posts will follow as we get closer to Christmas – it is very fun to see Christmas as fresh and new again, but it is definitely a wake up call to all the extra stuff cozying up to Truth that may need some pruning.

Oh, also – a moment of silence for the loss of 18 months of photos and videos of our adoption journey from my phone. We have some of our trips backed up, but somehow a couple weeks back, 18 months of my photos and videos disappeared from my phone and my icloud with no reason or explanation. Hours-long support from Apple and recovery attempts from external software have turned up nothing.

So – if you happen to have photos or videos that I’ve sent you at all in the past 18 months, I’d love it if you could send them back to me – especially those from the past 6 months of being home. I shed many frustrated tears and have come to grips with the reality, but yet another reason to simplify. I’m getting a poloroid and digging out my 35 mm camera from high school and going to start hoarding physical photos. Does anyone still own a VHS camcorder?

Blessings, and Merry Christmas!

Laura

family tree farm

 

 

Ungratefulness vs. Reality Check

Today was the last day of a 2-week Clay series, I called it “Clay Week” but in my head it was pretty much H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks Week(s). Almost every teacher who dropped their kids off at my door took one look and said, “Wow, you’re brave” (Translation: “you are one buckle short of a straightjacket, Lady!”). It wasn’t thatΒ bad, but it was definitely borderline insane. Today was the toughest, with an extra added class as a reschedule from earlier in the week, which meant I had zero prep time, zero lunch, zero time to pee, and spent my 10 min turnarounds flinging clay crumbles off the table, and trying to carefully maneuver around creative drying spots for the multitude of snowmen, dragons, one-legged lunch ladies (yes, there is one), ornaments, and mini-football fields (yes, one of those too). I’m just praying this air-dry clay holds up…I have a feeling I’m going to have a lot of one-armed snowmen.

Every time I start to think that I can’t possibly make it in this career the rest of the school year, I run into a student at the store, a soccer game or the park, and the way their faces light up and say, “Hi Mrs. McGreevey!!!” makes me inwardly groan and say, “Darn it, God. Why do you insist on proving your point that I’m right where you need me to be at the moment?!” πŸ˜‰

Today, I overheard a conversation between two boys while they were rolling out their clay, starting out very lighthearted and conversational, and escalating into fervently adamant rebuke. It started something like, “I’m going to make a bell shape ornament and give it to Taco Bell…maybe they’ll give me a free burrito if I give it to them!” to which the other 3rd grader burst in, “You don’t give someone something because you want something in return! You give something because you just want to give it!” Sigh. These are the moments, when I’m prompted by a child, to think a little bit deeper on something that’s eating at me.

Just this morning, Kris and I had a very short, passing conversation that had haunted me all day – just a bit unsettling. He was relaying a brief overview of a recent conversation he’d had with a good friend about adoption. His friend had had an encounter with yet another adoptive parent (yes there are a lot of us out there! LOL) who had voiced that they were having a hard time with the fact that their child (adoptee) wasn’t grateful. I said, “Grateful for what?” Apparently that their child wasn’t grateful for the fact that they had been adopted. Kris laughed and told me that his immediate response was, “When was the last time your biological children (no matter what age) said, “Mom, thanks for giving birth to me!” I concurred, echoing his amusement, because I know that there are very few children who would actually be given the label “grateful” for anything that they have – whether it be food, family, housing, location, etc. etc. Kids just don’t get it.

But that conversation got me thinking – how many adoptive parents are battling this emotional struggle months or even years after their kids come home, just wanting their kids to turn around and say, “Thank you”? What unspoken (or sometimes verbalized) frustrations do you have surrounding your child’s perceived “ungratefulness” for “everything you have done for them”? Is this striking a chord in your heart? It may be tweaking just a little bit of ugly in your gut at the moment. You may be nodding your head and saying, “Yeah, totally, my kid just doesn’t get it – they don’t appreciate anything they have now, they aren’t grateful for where they are vs. where they would have been if we hadn’t completed this adoption,” or “Why can’t they see how difficult their life was, compared to how awesome it is now, and appreciate that difference?!”

Can I say something that might sound harsh?

Why do you need them to?

If your motivation for adoption was to give – to give love, to give family, to give unconditional opportunity, to give hope – I’m assuming your commitment to giving all of this to your adopted child wasn’t “I’ll love you but only if you love me in return”, or “We’ll be your family, but only if you accept us as your family”, or “we’ll give you unconditional opportunity but only if you actually utilize it”, or “we’ll give you hope but only if you give us something to know it was worth our while”.

But let’s circle back to my 3rd grade boys’ Art Class conversation. When we give, it should just be because we want to GIVE; gifts should be given freely, without expecting reciprocation. So when you give the gift of love to your biological children, are you emotionally distraught when they don’t say “thank you for loving me”? or “Thank you for being such an awesome mom/dad”? Probably not. They are kids, they see the world different than we do – as they age their brains will mature and maybe some day they will realize just how awesome you are – probably when they are 35-70 years old – and they might tell you. So why do we sometimes get our hearts in a twist when our adoptive kiddos don’t reciprocate with a heartfelt thankfulness for their new family situation?

I’ll tell you what I see in my 7-year-old. He says “thank you” when given a gift, when given his food, or something that he’s asked for, like a glass of water. But his life prior to Adopted Life for him was so completely normal, he may not see the true reality of his situation until he’s an adult. Kind of like if you grew up in a low-income family like me, I don’t remember ever thinking that I was embarrassed of my house, or the neighborhood I lived in. I don’t remember being embarrassed that I had to ride the bus to get to where I wanted to go or that I lived in hand-me-downs or bought my own clothes from discount stores, Goodwill, or Fred Meyer when I really saved enough of my babysitting money. It didn’t occur to me until I was an adult that there was at least one Thanksgiving where the Thanksgiving Food Box appeared on our front porch, and another one at Christmas with small gifts in it. It was just normal life, and I was a happy kid. This is how I imagine Wes’ view of his past life is. He talks about his orphanage with matter-of-fact-ness, about his friends and stories of things that happened with a nonchalance assumption that everything was absolutely normal. He would probably tell you that there was never a time when he was really hungry, but I know there was. His “family” was the 120+ people at his orphanage, he wasn’t “alone”. We didn’t “save” him from anything.

The truth is is, there is nothing I expect him to be “thankful” or “grateful” for – besides learning thankfulness and gratefulness from this point forward just as my bio kids have been learning since they were old enough to grasp the concept.

I want him to eventually understand that he is blessed to live in a modern day “land of plenty” with opportunities, with thousands of schools to choose from, with plenty of jobs, with technology and networking, with food, with clothing, with amazing friends and an incredible family – but not because he’s adopted. Simply because he is alive, and is a citizen of the United States, just in the same way that we teach our bio kids to appreciate the same things for the same reasons.

If Wes turns 38 and is married and has children and is working hard and calls me up one day and says, “Mom, I just wanted to say Thank you for bringing me into this family and for …” I’ll stop him right there, and I’ll say, “Wesley Wadnelson. You’re welcome. For loving you. Because you’re my son. And there is nothing I would rather be, than be your mom.”

There are days, many many many days, as a parent that are completely thankless. But just because our kids don’t tell us thank you for dinner, and thank you for tucking them in, and thank you for driving me to youth group, and thank you for buying me a homecoming dress, and thank you for packing my lunch, and thank you for doing my laundry, and thank you for cleaning up my puke, and thank you for…(you get the idea), it doesn’t mean that we just up and quit being a parent and go on strike. But we also can’t expect our kids to fully understand, whether adopted or biological, the extent to which we have sacrificed livelihood, income, relationships, free time, brain cells, sleep, etc. etc. so that they could grow up the way they did. They are kids. And many of those kids will continue to be kids in that regard until they are on their deathbed. So be it. But please don’t make the mistake of thinking that your child is ungrateful because they don’t recognize how good they have it here, or how amazing you are as an adoptive parent. It’s just “normal” for them. It may be the “new normal”, but it’s normal just the same, and they’re just a kid.

I hope this makes sense. I encourage you to teach gratefulness in other areas moving forward, being grateful for their home, their family and their parents is one thing, but being grateful for their adoptive family having “saved” or extracted them from something lesser is an expectation that I believe should never be placed on your adoptive child. I don’t ever want my son to feel that he “owes” me anything. If I am expecting gratefulness from him regarding his new Adopted Life living situation, I’m expecting him to “owe” me thanks, and that’s not fair. His life here with us, as a part of our family is unconditional. It is forever, no strings attached. My gift of motherhood to him is open-ended, non-confined, and full of UN-expectation.

I love you because you’re my son. You’re my son, because I love you. And there is nothing I’d rather be than your mom.

Period.

And all this talk about gratefulness and teaching them to appreciate what they have – we think they just don’t get it, and then Wes comes up to me today and says, “Mommy, can I bring some food to school? I want to bring it for the people that don’t have some.”

HEART WARM.

I don’t mind if he never feels grateful for or exhibits thankfulness for his adoption. In fact, I would rather he not. I would rather he just be thankful that he has a super cool mom that he loves, that is fun and silly, who sings with him and laughs with him, who corrects and teaches him, who encourages and inspires him. For me, that’s enough – and I hope that can be enough for you as well.

~Laura

Honk if you like Novocaine!

I can’t believe it’s been a month – the past 30 days have flown by with the gusts of wind that sweep up our forested hillside, bringing a torrent of feathery helicopter seeds spinning into the grass. It’s fun to watch, but the quiet awe and appreciation of something that so exquisitely reflects our God’s genius starts to tread the edge of annoyance in a few months when all those seeds start sprouting new trees in my lawn. Yes. I’m the one that spends 3 hours on a crisp spring afternoon hand-plucking maple babies from the grass. I started counting last year and I counted 300-something then got tired of keeping track. At that point I just started keeping track of what everyone else in the household was doing at that moment since they weren’t out plucking babies next to me. Grrr…

It is definitely fall here in Vancouver! Our woods are full of flaming, mustard-hued, rustling leaves. Wes has quietly observed all of the changes in the trees as they move from bright greens to yellows, browns, oranges and reds. These changes are something that he’s seeing for the first time – and you can see his eyes taking it all in. We’ve spent hours at the neighborhood park playing kickball (complete with bases, and our entire family playing – boys vs. girls – somehow the boys always clean up the score), and throwing the football in the driveway. The crisp air prompted a trip to target to pick up a pair of “man tights” (man sport leggings) also dubbed “Mights” or “Bites” (boy tights), for Wes to wear under his soccer and basketball shorts. He amazingly doesn’t seem to mind the pouring rain or the cold! On days when the downpours are incessant he comes home from school, hops out of the car and runs around the driveway with no coat yelling at the top of his lungs, “IT’S RAINING!!!!!!! IT’S RAINING!!!!!!” and insists profusely each morning, “Mommy, I do NOT need a jacket. I’m not gonna get cold!” Just wait, kid. This is nothing. πŸ˜‰

All four kids are racking up the miles on our cars this month – Braeden started driver’s ed last month and has been hopping in the driver’s seat every chance he gets. Amazingly enough, I’m not nearly as nervous as I thought I would be! Well, okay, that’s a tiny bit of a lie. The first few times in the passenger seat I was writing out my living will and testament in my head. But at this point, he completes driver’s ed next week, and I feel pretty confident that our lives are safe in his hands for the most part. Wes continues to give him a run for his money, winning the prize for the “most vocal backseat driver”. “YOU GOTTA SLOW DOWN, BUD!” or “DUDE, YOU’RE ON THE LINE, MAN,” are common outbursts from his booster seat…Logan has started basketball for school with Kris coaching the 8th grade girls team, and Abby has started her 6th grade basketball team (Kris also helping on/off), and Wes began playing on a 1st grade boys basketball team (again, Kris helping on/off) with boys from his school which he LOVES – and this is in addition to overlapping soccer for a few weeks. Insanity, is what it is. And we wouldn’t have it any other way πŸ™‚

We continue to deal with the same parenting issues with Wesley that we have been through with our older children when they were seven – respectfulness, telling the truth the first time (instead of giving the “joke” answer”), sharing, and finding a compromise instead of doggedly holding to only one opinion. We are finding joy, more and more, in realizing that these behaviors are so much more about just generic, 7-year-old discipline/teaching-moment issues than they are about un-doing his past bad habits or healing a trauma. We still have moments that we recognize an orphanage-style response, or habit – teaching him to pick up after himself is going to be a lifetime of learning, for sure! – His tendency to flick a wayward bit of trash or food across a table or across a room if he doesn’t want it near him is common, or stash his trash somewhere close by instead of making it all the way into a garbage can. Although – again – it gives us relief to remind ourselves that we deal with this same behavior in our biological children as well, and they are 5+ years older than he is! I guess, if this is any encouragement at all to families going through a transition process with their adoptive kiddos – just remember that not all behavior is trauma or hard-past-related. A lot of the issues you’ll deal with are normal, age-appropriate behaviors and when I thought about it from that perspective, it became a lot less anxiety-producing for me. While it is important to understand that some behaviors are age-appropriate but also exacerbated by past trauma, it is equally important to understand that not all the negative behavior you’re seeing is going to need to be UN-done – some of it just needs to be done a first time.

This week, Wes had his very first dentist treatment (AKA Cavity Fillings). I was super anxious that he would be stressed out and nervous and refuse to go in, or fight the hygienists trying to stick stuff in his mouth (AKA NEEDLES). Not so. This kid practically dragged me back to the dentist chair, picked out his movie (Kung Fu Panda 3), put on his special glasses and opened up his mouth wide. He calmly obliged when asked to put the silly gas elephant nose on and breathe deeply, and then proceeded to tell me I could “go out and wait for him” in the lobby until he was done. LOL – a constant battle to teach this child that he DOES, IN FACT, NEED HIS MOMMY. πŸ˜‰ Today I told him (while he was throwing me the football decked out in a Spiderman costume) that even Spiderman kisses his mom, to which he said, “Ugh, I KNOW, Mommy!” However, something softened his heart today, because I got multiple kisses at a few different times today – all complete surprises and not asked for! Anyway, when he finally tromped out of the dentist room with the nurse, carrying a highlighter-green, rubber monkey that lights up when you fling it around, he attempted to smile at me. His lips were tinged with puffiness and his smile ended about 1/2″ into his lips. He looked at me and said, “Mmmy, muh lipppthss are not wuuuhkng!” and proceeded to attempt to slide a mini wooden paddleful of vanilla ice cream into his mouth. When his lips finally landed on the spoon, they were dripping with melted cream and flapping all over the mouthful. Braeden was there with me, waiting, and we both burst into peals of laughter. Of course, like a good mother, I whipped out my phone and started videoing the spectacle. We’ve had many laughs over that video since, but he was such a trooper! He was dead-set on going straight back to school despite his sleepy lips. He couldn’t say “f’s” or “p’s” and could only smile halfway. His nose was tingly and when he had to raise his hand to make a quick exit in class he said, “Mrs. Hippbppbbbbbs, can I go to the bafffppppwoooom?” He still laughs about having to go to the “baffwoom” and says that his lips were so sleepy they made a toot noise when he tried to say it. I guess I don’t need to worry about him being afraid of the dentist. If anyone is in Vancouver – I highly recommend Adventure Dental for all kids dentistry and orthodontia! Amazing people, and it is so worth it for my kids to not mind going to the dentist!

Work for me is busy, exhausting, challenging, but getting easier as I get my bearings and figure out how to manage a classroom of children. I’m not sure I was cut out to be a teacher, but those kids do find a quick way to my heart, darn it! Plus, last week we did a coloring and design element with our Mola making project so each class period I let myself sit down among my kids and color! Color Therapy. It’s a thing, I’m sure.

In addition to working at the school, my ECommerce business, BΓ©l Lavi, is also gearing up for the Christmas shopping season. My office at home and, unfortunately, my dining table, are being overrun with inventory – metal wall pieces, Christmas ornaments, leather bags, jewelry, etc. I get super excited to see it all come in, but nervously pray that it goes back out in boxes with paid shipping labels to customers! πŸ˜‰ If you’re at all interested in checking out what we have going on, please visit www.bel-lavi.com!

Kris’ work is busy as usual, but he’s such an amazing steward of his time, and somehow finds a way to balance his crazy work load with coaching, parenting, and still finding time to be the best husband on the planet.

Well, my eyes are fluttering, and I have another day of teaching about Van Gogh to some 2nd graders and Kinders, making chalk sunflowers! πŸ˜‰

Blessings to you all,

Laura & family

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! πŸ˜‰ 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… πŸ™‚ 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…

LOL

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 πŸ˜‰ – 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. πŸ˜‰

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. πŸ˜‰

Blessings,

Laura

 

 

After 7 different blog title attempts, Braeden says, “mom, just start writing it and figure out the title later.” Just when you think you’re in your own little world…you find out someone else is in there with you. πŸ˜‰

I’m sure everyone is wondering, (hopefully pleasantly), “why are you posting again so soon?” I know it’s only been a couple days since the last post – but after mulling over my words and sleeping on a few run-on sentence ramblings I realized what is bothering me so much. I think so many times the updates from other adoptive families that I read, and the questions people ask of us, center largely on the new family addition – the adoptee – and whether the child’s transition process is deemed a success or failure. The black and white lettering on the screen and recounting of days/nights are like necessary oxygen to our lungs as adoptive parents, but many times what is missed is the foundation, the glue that quite literally keeps each day rolling one into the next.

For us, this foundation – besides first and foremost being God our Father Who daily gives us grace and a fresh spirit to make wise decisions and love without bounds – this foundation is the collective body of our 3 other kids. As I overheard Kris recount on the phone earlier this evening, they “gave up their entire summer”, which is so true. Even though we warned them that this first summer home from Haiti would largely be focused on Wesley and family time, they all without complaining sacrificed countless sleepovers, friend activities, sports events, all sense of normality and comforting experiences, to spend in complete and total “Wesley’s World”. They spent evenings creating traditions of reading bedtime stories, bike riding on summer nights, inventing silly inside jokes, bonding, bonding, bonding, burying each other in sand, jumping waves, teaching moments and concepts like money, value and the importance of saving (he is currently hoarding his $42 that he’s saved all summer with the intention of purchasing his very own ukulele!). They have bravely withstood the absolute wrath of a 7-year-old and his grumpy excommunication from good grace, and stood there waiting when he turned back around – simply to show him that they will never leave. They have endured annoying tagalong additions to their big-kid sleepovers and activities, endured long hot days watching soccer games, and banded together for emotional support while Kris and I dealt with meltdowns in the other room. They have laughed at countless silly jokes that make no sense, watched Minions and Lego Batman umpteen times, and played 47,000 games of spiderman chutes and ladders. All of these activities and more make for an entire 3-month span that revolved around a new member of their family that wasn’t a cute, cooing, entirely dependent baby that you could stick in a crib and rock to sleep if you were bored…but one that pounced on you at 7:00am insisting that you wake up, always got first pick, and never got the same punishments that you received when you were 7.

These kids have shown a maturity far beyond their years, consistently believing in the bigger picture – and fully understanding that each fraction of a moment that you spend and invest into this little man shapes the little man he will become days, weeks, months, and years from now. Their perseverance has been humbling, their honesty and truth have been inspiring, the laughter unavoidable and contagious, and I have never been able to see my 15 year old son wrestle with a younger boy the way that he does with his little brother. After 15 years he is finally able to be a “big brother” to a BOY – which is worlds different than having sisters, because you can’t have fart wars with your sisters, and you definitely can’t punch a sister in the arm without mom or dad grounding you for a lifetime. I cannot tell you how many mornings I curiously go upstairs to look for any rustling signs of life only to find the two boys giggling and wrestling or playing their game of “hey, dude. Get off my bed!” while they pin each other down. As many pseudo-brothers as Wes had at the orphanage, there is no replacement for a living, breathing, loving big brother who would protect you at all cost and has literally given up his “normal” existence for your companionship and partnership for the rest of his life.

The girls are the best big sisters a kid could have. Abby and Wes are the best of friends, playing and exploring constantly, and also the first to bicker and fight (youngest, closest in age, a complete given, and Abby is used to being the youngest and got her “position” messed up!). Logan morphed from being the “babysitter” personality into the coveted oldest sister position over the past month – she moved from simply entertaining to fully engaged, let’s roll around the floor and be silly and have a dance party and dive off the diving board like a chicken – sister. Wes loves these kids incredibly – although he would probably still never admit it – at least not to us, and this kind of deep-rooted emotional exchange would never have happened had our kids not just dropped everything and focused on bonding with every fibre in their being.

I listened to my first, tearful, honest communication from one child about how sometimes they wished we didn’t have a 7-year old – that it was frustrating and that sometimes they felt like I forgot about them or didn’t see them, because I was so focused on making sure Wes was okay. I knew this conversation would come eventually – it doesn’t make it easy to hear, but at least I wasn’t completely surprised. But it did remind me that we aren’t perfect. I can’t be the perfect mom, wife, or friend – but when someone calls out a behavior that isn’t ideal, I would be dumb to not take that as a challenge to learn how to do something better, to change, to grow. And so, I listen, I love, and I try to make changes. I pray for strength, wisdom and grace – for patience even though I know that’s the #1 thing never-to-pray-for.

The past 3 months have made their mark, and shaped a new boy from this little man. Wes arrived smiling and pleasant, eager to take on the world, but unsure of how to do that any way but alone. Over the last three months he’s learned to depend on other people – his family, to seek refuge and help from his siblings, to laugh with others, to cuddle up and just sit in the quiet of an embrace, to receive praise (we’re still working on this), to accept challenges and reprimands, to adapt, to grow, to become stronger, and more confident. He is learning to love – and to forgive, to bestow grace and dole out mercy.

These days are beautiful, even though when the breeze blows the right way you can still catch the fragrance of pain and broken places that linger in the cracks. We’re getting there – but we are getting there together – as a family unit – all of us.

The McGreevey SIX.