Deep Thoughts at the Zoo

One day while visiting the zoo, my kiddos started to engage in a conversation about being babies. My 3-year-old daughter said something to the effect of “when I was a baby, I was in mommy’s tummy.” In an instant, my 5-year-old son, said “No, when you were a baby, you were in your birth mom’s belly.” The conversation kept going from there and my son gently reminded his sister that she really was in her birth mom’s belly. My husband and I would acknowledge them from time to time, but also took the moment to try to gauge what their level of understanding of their own history is.

All of these deep thoughts from two preschoolers while eating ice cream at a zoo quickly caught the attention of a young couple sitting at the table next to us. I noticed they were trying to listen, but also did not want to make it obvious. Every once in a while they would grin at things my kids would say. I suspect perhaps they have never heard young children talk about birth mommies and adoption before.

Life as an adoptive family is different from biological families. The topics of birth parents and adoption pop up at various locations and times in our lives. Sometimes the questions and comments made by our children are random and occur when least expected. Other times, we will purposefully engage them in discussion about their unique stories as adopted children.

We try to take advantage of these teachable moments if we can. For example, my kids were playing with a baby doll one morning in our living room. My husband asked, “Did you adopt that baby?” My kids replied “Yes!” They were so excited to proclaim this. Adoption is exciting. It should not be something that is a hushed topic in the home. Children might just perceive it to be something shameful if adults act like it can never be talked about.

We are not experts on adoption. We are just two parents who love our children with everything we have. We want to make sure they appreciate their histories as much as we do. Honestly, sometimes we feel the need to have teachable moments as adoptive parents!

It scares me a little to wonder if at any time in their lives they will resent being adopted, feel insecure about who they are, or even about the love we have for them. The more we can grow their roots with love, honesty, stability, and grace, the better off they will be to face anything in the future. I know this is what parents strive to do for all children, but as an adoptive parent, I’m a little more sensitive to the need for this.

Recently, my daughter said to me “one day you will show me a picture of when I was in a belly right mommy?” Sadly, my answer was no. I do not have any pictures to show her of the time she spent in her birth mom’s belly. Sometimes, I wished our lives of mommy/daddy/children-hood were not so complicated. Sometimes I wished we didn’t have to talk about adoption and birth parents or any of that stuff; yet, I believe these things are also what make our family special.

I’m finding that the older they get, the more they want to know. This only makes sense. I wish I had a way to read their minds – get into their heads fully so that I could explain it all to them in a way that brings clarity and comfort. I try to take my cues from them. Often, I can sense where the conversation is going but that doesn’t mean my words are eloquent. My words, regardless of how well they are used to explain things, may never completely fulfill my children’s longing to know more.

Words may never fill in the cracks of their histories for them. How could my words do this when I do not even know all the necessary information to give them a complete history of their birth families? It does not seem fair that children who are born into the world, separated from their birth families, and adopted end up losing so much of their roots and family histories.

Then there’s my history to take into consideration when talking about their adoption. My surgery and inability to have children is obviously a part of the story. But, I never want them to think that the only reason they are my babies is because I could not have a biological child. I never want them to believe they are second choices…never. They are not. They are here in my life by the works of God and by the hands of many.

Perhaps I’m just over-thinking it all. I don’t know. All I can do is pray about it, learn from others, model honesty and grace to them and take it one day at a time.

…and…maybe just learn from them while they are sharing their deep thoughts at the zoo.

My Inner Momma

“He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord!” – Psalm 113:9

I’ll admit it. I was once scared to be a parent. I believe this fear may have started after my hysterectomy at age eleven. I suppose that a part of me wondered if I would know how to care of babies and little ones since I did not have the capability to carry a baby in my body. That seems sort of ridiculous, but it truly was a concern of mine.

The notion that my natural maternal instincts exited my body when the organs did is something that was never too far from my thoughts. I’m not really sure why and perhaps it was because of my young age, but I just assumed that the female organs went hand in hand with the ability to be a good mother. These thoughts stayed with me throughout my growing years and even right up to the moment when I became responsible for caring for a child.

I was not quite sure if I really knew how to mother a child. Babies always made me a little nervous, and I never really volunteered to babysit or care for children. It could be that most women feel this way before becoming a parent. I don’t know for sure. The sense of my own ability to instinctually be a mommy had been damaged somehow. I believed that I did not have what it took to be a mother and for some reason, I was not meant to be one. I feared that I would have to work harder at it and it would not come as natural.

Reality hit me the moment I became responsible for a life other than my own. My first care of a child came when we accepted temporary guardianship of my nine year old second cousin. Immediately I just knew I was meant to be a parent despite my medical history and the insecurities that followed. Something awoke in me. The inner momma that had been suppressed by life experiences began to speak, and I liked the sound of her voice.

I went from being aloof about trusting my parenting abilities to craving becoming a parent. Parenting became this complex, tiring, and joyful yet completely fulfilling experience. During this time, I started picturing myself as a mom. Growing up, this is something I never was able to do following my hysterectomy. I barely allowed myself to visualize being a mommy. I had moments when I would dream up my fantasy child, but truthfully, I never saw those dreams coming to fruition.

My husband and I knew that if we did not at least try to become parents, we would risk regretting it much later in life. I needed to parent. While raising my cousin, I felt more alive than I ever had before. The experience of caring for him lit the fire in us to become foster and adoptive parents.

Once we started fostering, it seemed that the most natural part of foster parenting our children was actually parenting them. I know that sounds so strange. The legal system does not lend itself to feeling natural. The placement of our kids was not normal in that we went from being childless to instant parents with just a few phone calls. Driving our son to visit his biological parent, handing him over, and then walking away always felt so surreal. Visits by case workers to our home every few weeks to make sure we were safely taking care of the kids felt invasive even though we appreciated them for doing so. Compared to all of the other experiences foster care provided us with, parenting them was definitely more organic.

I never knew really how easy mothering would come for me. My instinct to nurture never really left. It was not damaged from the surgery. It was not taken away with the organs. It just needed time to blossom. The inner momma in me found her voice, grew her wings, and took flight on the most amazing journey available to us on Earth….the blessed journey of selflessly putting ourselves second in order to care for and love on children.

Fearfully & Wonderfully Made

It is hard being a kid these days.  Their actions are usually fairly age appropriate, and yet, they are told to work on their “behaviors” on a pretty consistent basis.  I really do not recall as a child being reminded to “make good choices” or being told “you need to work on that behavior”.  I was disciplined and taught the correct way to interact with others, but it was done from the perspective that children will be children.  My actions as a child were not taken so seriously and certainly were not thought to be truly indicative of the adult I would end up becoming.

My son is precious, but boy he is a pistol!  High energy, fearless, creative, smart, and strong-willed are a few of the words that define him.  Let’s just say he has had his fair share of “behavior management” in preschool.  I often wonder how his perception of himself has been shaped by the continual reminders in the preschool setting to make good choices, earn rewards, “stay in the green pocket”, or any other motivational system put into place to keep kids in line.  I’m NOT saying that I disagree with these things as I know they have their place in helping children.  I just feel we expect children to be little adults far too often.  My son told me one time that he gets stressed out about school…seriously.  He’s not even in Kindergarten yet and has already felt stressed by the expectations of the academic setting.

Back in 2010 when he was close to four years old, we were painting together at the table.  He had been having a difficult time socially, didn’t mesh with the teacher, and was actually asked to leave the preschool.  In an effort to comfort him, I said “You know mommy loves you very much.” He said, “I know”.  Then it hit me.  I told my kids all the time how much I loved them, but far too often I failed to tell them why I loved them and what makes them unique.

In that moment, I grabbed the paintbrush, piece of construction paper, and started to paint a flag for him.  When he asked me what it was, I said “It is your flag.”  He giggled as he was not really sure what to make of it.  After I was done, I explained the meaning of it to him.  The blue represented his favorite color.  The middle letter in the flag is the first letter of his first name.  Above his name is a pink stick figure which represented the fact that he is a good big brother to his little sister.  The cross in the corner was because he loves going to church and singing about Jesus.  The orange dog symbolized how much he cares for our pets.  The bike below the dog was there because he loves riding his big wheel and really anything that has wheels.

The music note was for his love of singing and enjoying music.  The happy face was because he makes so many people smile and laugh.  The star represented the fact that he loves outer space.  And, the heart, well, it was not only because of how much he loves his family, but because of how much love he has brought to our home and to our hearts.

After explaining this, my curly, blonde-haired cutie could not stop grinning from ear to ear.  He grabbed it, ran to his daddy, and said “Daddy!  Look at my flag!”.  I know I am not the best artist and the flag is quite elementary, but it did so much in that moment to lift the spirits of my child and show him the reasons why he is loved so much.  Afterward, we went to his bedroom and hung the flag on his bulletin board.

Two years later, the flag is still there.  It still serves as a reminder to him of the unique factors that make him who he is.  I am not a perfect parent and I certainly fall short many times on having the best words at the right moment with my kids.  But, there are those times when the right opportunities come along to make an impression on my kids that will not be about their “behaviors” but, more importantly, about their beings.

That simplistic paper flag that is tacked to my son’s bulletin board holds a deeper meaning than it appears.  It reminds my son of the time his mommy painted his flag.  But, most importantly, it serves as a visual reminder for me to show through my words and my actions that they are fearfully and wonderfully made.

“I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” – Psalm 139:14

Dear Infertility

Dear Infertility,

Hello, it’s me again. You know…the little girl you once made to feel inadequate, the teenager you once strived to isolate, and the adult you almost accomplished stealing joy from. Well, I’m here to tell you what you cannot do.

You cannot diminish moments of laughter that echo in my mind for days following. You won’t determine my capacity to love other people and children. You no longer make me feel less of a female or parent or anything else you once tried to convince me of.

You don’t stalk me like you used to. I don’t think of you when I see babies anymore. I actually enjoy going to baby showers now. You used to tag along uninvited just to make me feel uncomfortable.  You are not invited, anymore.

You no longer cause a wedge between me and the loving Father I believe in. You used to do that you know. I used you as an excuse to not listen to Him. He is bigger than you will ever be.  He reminds me what His plans are for my life, not yours.

You cannot take away forgiveness. You do not replace hope. You obviously offer very little grace, but I do not look to you for it anyway.

For the most part, you were one of my darkest secrets. I hid you away for so long.  Funny thing now is that I’m exposing you to the world. You have become my motivation to write, to reach out, and to love.

At one time, I was incomplete. You filled an ever-growing void with even more sorrow, but not anymore. I will never use you again as a way to justify my lack of purpose or meaning in this life.

Dear infertility…this is not goodbye. I can still use you to be a more passionate person. I can still reminisce of you as a reminder to try and love my children more each day than I did the day before. I see you trying to pull others down and I recognize you right away. I use this as motivation for being a more genuine and empathetic listener. The tears I cry now are not for me, but for those of whom you are trying to take over.

Dear infertility…you have not stolen my ability to have a bountiful life. I have a full, rich life that involves children despite your attempt at taking that away. My life is no longer barren. You did not create a wasteland in me. Oh, I won’t forget you. How can I really? You have traveled with me the vast majority of my life, but you are not my life. Ironically, you have caused me to view life as being precious.

Dear infertility…this is not goodbye. This is me saying hello to all the things that you will never be.

Playing in the Dirt

 

 

I don’t know why, but it really bothers me when my little boy bolts out the back door stepping around and jumping over the various arrays of toys just to head straight for the small and somewhat insignificant dirt pile near our patio. By the time his session in the dirt has ended, he is covered from head to toe with it. His bright blonde hair shows every spec. We usually head straight to the bathtub for a nice scrub down. After his bath, you would never know he was covered in dirt from his time outside.

I usually will say to him “Please don’t get in the dirt. Mommy doesn’t want you to”. He replies with “okay”. However, he still heads straight out the door right for it. It is as if he is compelled to play in it! One day while watching him twirl his stubby little fingers through it, I got to wondering if God feels the same way at times about us playing in the dirt. He may not want us to, but yet, we go back to it time and time again. Or, perhaps He wants us to get a little dirty at times. It is quite possible that there are many life lessons that we have to learn while in the dirt in order to come out a little cleaner.

As I grew from being an eleven-year-old to a young adult, I noticed more and more that despite trying to stay clear and clean of truly dealing with my hysterectomy and infertility, I found myself struggling to ignore it. I do not recall at what point exactly that I threw my hands up and gave up on pretending that my surgery did not bother me. Through the years I probably attempted this many times and may have succeeded in leading others to believe that I was just fine with all that happened. Truthfully, I was never okay with what happened to me.

Looking back on my experience with infertility, I can say there were definitely moments that I was just moving dirt around from one place to the other. Sometimes I would just sit right in the middle of the squalor that is hopelessness. Other times, when seeing my friends and families enjoy their pregnancies, I felt compelled inside to sling mud around. I would never try to purposefully ruin someone’s moment, but internally, I was slinging the mud from one spot to the other because of despair, anger, and jealousy.

There were times when my sense of purpose for life seemed to be soiled by the trauma of my surgery. Everything seemed to be less enjoyable because all I could do was wallow in my own misery. It was as if the impact of my surgery caused most things in life to be covered in a thin layer of dust; the debris left behind from just one impactful moment in my life.

It was during these times when I had my hands and head in the dirt pile that I probably gained the most insight about my life and the Lord’s will for it. In order for me to get a to a place of contentment and hope, I had to really dig around and take a look at what kept popping out of the “mud”.

I wish I could honestly say that I fully accepted being barren before becoming a mother to my children. I cannot do this though. While fostering them, I found myself still digging around trying to process and take it all in. There were moments when I grieved the fact that I didn’t carry them in my body. I would have never chosen some of the actions their birth mothers did. Other times, I was so frustrated because it only seemed “right” that I should be able to keep them and not worry about reunification…after all, I was doing all the hard work raising them.

Being a foster parent definitely allowed me to discover the full impact of infertility. It was extremely hard at times. I never really knew what I was missing until I held my children for the first time. While I was overjoyed with loving them, I was also being reminded of the great loss I had suffered.

There were other times when I became angry with myself for ever signing up to do foster care in the first place. When it seemed that their cases were heading towards reunification or placement with relatives, I would start grieving their loss before it even happened. I thought to myself “Well great job Caroline.  You’ve lost having a biological child, and now you just set yourself up to lose the only babies you have been a mommy to.” There I was, playing in the dirt again.

It seems now though that being in positions that truly forced me to get my hands and my head dirty probably were the most poignant times when I stretched in my understanding of what had happened, developed in my humility and empathy for others, and grew into a more faithful child of God. I lifted up these dirty hands, this soiled heart, and this dusty life to Him. As I did this my vision became cleaner; or better yet, His vision of me became clearer.

I have decided to make a consorted effort not to stress about my little boy playing in the dirt anymore. After all, it is just dirt. There are much worse things he could play in. I may just shock him one day and actually encourage him to get as dirty as he wants to.

Who knows…I may just get out there and join him!

Give You the World

My children, if I could give you the world, I would. I would grab hold of the Earth, squeeze out the sourness, cruelty, hatred and pain, and then wrap it up in a tight bow and hand it to you. I would take an extra measure to carefully hand pick all the beauty and wonder that makes up the land we call home.

I would make sure the leaves of the trees are so fresh and green that you could smell them. The flowers would always be in bloom and the ocean would be filled with lavish fish that reflect the colors of the rainbows. The mountains would stand real high for you and the valleys would invite you to come explore them.

The sands of the desert would spell your names when you walk by. The tall grass of the plains would blow just enough in the wind to make you think they are whispering to you. The snowy and icy parts of this world would be comprised of the perfect snowman-making kind of snow. The jungles would be ripe with magnificent flowers made up of all your favorite colors. The animals would fill your eyes with splendor.

If I could go ahead of you each step of your lives to clear the path, I would. I would make it to where you never had to feel the sting of pain, the loss of love, and the agony of despair. Or if you did, it would only be the kind of pain that stretches and grows you into more whole beings. Your good dreams, the ones that leave you breathless with joy in the morning, would come to life and every spark of imagination would light a fire in you to create, live, and be anything you want to be.

You would find friendships in all places. Kindness would be the only word used to describe your interactions with others. Everyone would greet you with a smile and tell you how much you mean to this world.  Empathy would be common-place and you would always have a shoulder to cry on. You would never struggle with addictions or anything else that diminishes who you really are. Faith, hope, and love would wrap around your bodies, encompass your hearts, and defend your minds.

I suppose I’m just like most mothers. I want to believe that I will always be just one step ahead of you leading and loving you along the way. I hope that the fond smells of home and the love you feel will never be far from you. I pray that visions of you dancing, laughing, and playing will always reflect in my eyes.

My children, if I could give you the world, I would.

Dad’s Heart-Papa’s Love

I have a great father who has turned out to be a wonderful Papa to my children. My dad is really just a big kid in a lot of ways. He works hard, but also plays hard.  During my childhood, dad was a professional fisherman and in the vending machine business.  He was often gone before I even got out of bed each morning; however, rarely was Dad gone for Mom’s comforting dinners. Afterward, we would sit and eat ice cream or popcorn and watch T.V. together. I used to love to sit on his lap and imitate the goofy commercials that often played in the 70’s.

It was a special treat for me to go with him on his vending machine runs. Sitting in the section between the front seats of his white van, we would blast rock music and sing loudly with the windows open.  Most of the time, he would just make up the words to the songs he did not know. His versions always seemed to be a little less poetic but way funnier than the original lyrics.

The kids in my neighborhood also loved my Dad. He would play “shark” in the neighborhood swimming pool with them. I would hear “Beached Whale!” being yelled out and knew to take cover because of Dad’s antics with the diving board. He taught me how to swim at a fairly young age during our many weekends boating, fishing, and swimming at the lake.

Being able to swim was always very important for him as his father drown when I was only nine months old. When I was pretty young, Dad threw me over the boat into the lake, yelled “kick, kick, kick”, and then scooped me out of the water to the relief of my anxious, and angry, mother. His lack of fear spilled over to me, making me bold enough to try just about anything he came up with.

My dad is not perfect. He can be stubborn and quick to give his opinion. I’m sure like most of us; he has said a few things that he regrets. However, I’ve witnessed how incredibly loyal he really is. Even if his heart is broken over situations, he does not stop caring for his family.

When I was sick in the hospital, he fretted over my situation. He worried like any father would about his daughter’s fight for life. He was ever-present for the three plus weeks I laid there struggling to live. He watched and waited for me to start showing signs of recovery. The entire time he would whisper to me “You’re a little trooper Caroline” as if to encourage me to continue fighting the war that was taking place within me.

Perhaps, he saw a bit of himself in my fight for survival. While in Vietnam, he survived two close brushes with death. The first time, during a monsoon, Dad contracted dysentery. The deathly high body temperature that accompanies dysentery took the life of one of his good buddies while they waited for rescue. There he was, 19 years old, with his whole life ahead of him, slowing wasting away due to high fever, and all he could do was lay there and wait…wait…to be rescued and for any sign that things were going to be okay.

The second time during the TET offensive, an armory of weapons near Dad’s bunker exploded. He was rendered unconscious and had shrapnel buried deep within his knee. Because of all the chaos that ensued while quickly trying to pull the living out of the jungle, Dad was actually considered MIA for several weeks until being identified in a military hospital during his recovery.

One of dad’s memories from the war is that of spending Thanksgiving in a “hole”. Barrels of strawberries were dropped onto the muddy ground around him. Even though he and about ten other soldiers were being shot at, Dad bravely belly-crawled to the berries, scooped some in his hands, and then crawled back to the hole that had become his safe harbor from the gritty, life-taking atrocities surrounding him. I wish now that I could have whispered in his ear “You’re a trooper Dad” while he huddled in a hole in the jungle of a war-ravaged foreign land far away from the love and safety of his home and family.

Dad has always been a little outwardly stoic about my surgery and even his time in war. But, I’m sure he has cried more than I will ever know about his own battle and the illness that I battled during my youth. He watched his baby girl go from being a healthy muscular dancer to skin and bones. On top of that, he was put in the position of raising a daughter who would never have biological children. Throughout my growing years, his support never wavered. He was quick to give his opinion if he disagreed with my choices, but after-all, that is what dads are supposed to do. He made sure I had the opportunities to explore my talents, interests, and goals in life.

Okay…now flash forward many years to the year 2006. Dad rushed to my home as quickly as he could to see for the first time the precious baby boy placed in our home as a foster placement. I remember telling Dad “We are just fostering him. We may not be able to adopt him” multiple times so that it would sink in. I think Dad nearly fell in love the minute he looked at him.

Throughout our time fostering my son, Dad grew closer and closer to him. My son kindly referred to him as “Papa”. The two quickly became best buddies. The entire time my Dad knew that he may not be able to hold his “grandson” for life so he wanted to make the time he had with him special. Fostering was difficult on us but at least we understood what was going on with the legal case. Dad did not and could not know due to confidentiality. I am sure he worried about losing the grandson that he had fallen in love with. When the case moved to adoption, Dad was elated. His future fishing buddy would not be going anywhere and he would be able to finally officially introduce him as his grandson.

Dad was also very eager to hold our daughter when she was placed in our home. Her foster care case quickly turned into an adoption, but still Dad had to wait for her to “officially” become his granddaughter. She too loves her Papa. She gets so excited when he arrives at our house, runs to him yelling “Papa!”, and jumps in his arms.

I’ve said it before, but it is worth saying over and over. I love the fact that my children were predestined to be in our family. My Dad was predestined to be their Papa. He loves them, encourages them, and is a big kid when they are around. Dad may be a little heavier than he was in his early years. His sparse hair is grayer than it used to be. He doesn’t get up as quickly as he did before. He still may be a little stubborn at times, but, one thing that hasn’t changed is his heart and his love.

He continues to be the Dad I remember growing up who softly held my hand during times of illness. He is the fun-loving, giggle-making, and toy-buying Papa to my kids that they so deserve to have. He is fiercely protective of them and whole-heartedly in love with them. My Dad’s heart is reflective of a Papa’s love.

Exodus 20:12
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”