November 19, 2016

When You Need Help

This is probably one of the hardest posts I've ever written.  I've thought about it at least a hundred times in my head and every time I've sat down to type out the words, they don't come.  The words don't make sense.  Probably because my heart doesn't seem to make sense right now.  And while I know that we don't owe anyone an explanation, I think there is freedom that comes from living the truth out in the open.  There have been times where I would have found so much comfort in reading a mom's words about her similar struggles... but there are few, even though I know dozens and dozens of families whose struggles mirror our own.

About 7 weeks ago, our daughter was admitted to a psychiatric treatment facility. Those words still taste like vinegar in my mouth when we tell people.  They are never sure what to say.  We aren't really sure what to say.  Mental illness... well, it's complicated.

Our girl had a hard life before she came to us.  A harder life in those 7 years before we knew her than most adults will experience in a lifetime.  Her story is her story.  It's private and tender and it's not mine to tell.  The amount of abuse and rejection she has experienced brings me to my knees and it amazes me how she's still standing at all.

Adoption is wrought with trauma.  It's not always the happy picture that gets shared from the pulpit on Sunday morning.  Sometimes it is and that is glorious. We have one of those glorious adoption stories living in our home, too.  But in many cases, adopted kids have been through hell.  They've lost their mothers, their culture, their innocence.  And while the world thinks that love will fix these kids and all will be rosy and smell like pine needles, the reality is sometimes very different.  You don't fix heartache that deep overnight with a new comforter and new brothers and sisters, a touch of therapy and tons of love.  You don't replace one mom with another.  Or rip away years of hard history. Histories shape us, for better or for worse.  Those hurts become the fabric of our stories, even when those stories are woven with love. So when your story doesn't turn out like the happy ones from the pulpit, it's easy to feel like you've failed.

We had red flags since the beginning.  Our daughter was adopted as an older child from a previously dissolved adoption.  I should have known that on the first day of our daughter being in our family that things weren't quite right.  On day one she crawled up in my lap, told me she loved me and how I was the best mom she'd ever had.  In retrospect, kids should be scared as hell coming to yet another family.  I now know that those first blissful months were our poor kiddo acting in a way that she thought would keep her alive.  She felt like she needed to be perfect to keep herself here long enough to formulate a plan. How sad and awful that some kids have been through so much that they know to develop those strategies to protect themselves.  So while I thought things were amazing, this kiddo was hurting so deeply.

After that little honeymoon, her survival strategies shifted.  Her brain told her she wasn't safe.  That we surely couldn't love her.  That surely we'd abandon her like everyone else in her life. (From piecing things together, we think we are her 6th or 7th family)  And if that was going to happen, she'd like to speed up that process so we'd just go ahead and send her on to her next family before she got too cozy here.  Her brain told her she was in grave danger here.  When love feels like danger, things are fundamentally broken.  My heart sobs to think of how dangerous and awful love being poured out felt to her.  She reacted the only way she knew how- to run away, to hurt others, to hurt herself, to destroy relationships, to create chaos.  Kamron and I took a heaping helping of hurt and destruction.  But in her eyes, I became public enemy number one.  Moms in the past had let her down- and I represented every one of those. I can't tell you the number of notes I've been given about how my heart is black, how hated I am, how I am not the real mom.  I can't tell you the number of times those words have been thrown in my face.  When the words no longer rattled me, the behaviors shifted again.

From the outside this kiddo looks like the picture of ooey gooey love.  When we walked in church on Sunday morning, she passed out hugs and smiles like her life depended on it.  At school, the same thing.  Out in public, if she saw someone she'd met once or twice she'd climb them like a tree and love the stuffing out of them. And when we'd get in the car to come home, she'd turn it off like a switch. When we would talk to people about some of the problems we were having in our home, we were met with blank stares and confusion because this was not the public self our child put forth.  People thought we were crazy.  We began to wonder ourselves if we were crazy.  I told a therapist that it almost felt like stories you hear of battered wives.  When the husband beats the tar out of her and then comes to her later saying that he's sorry, that he'll never do it again and how much he loves her.  Then she begins to wonder if she was ever really abused at all.  It felt just like that.  On repeat every day.  Until I no longer even knew what the truth was anymore.

We kept plowing on.  What else can you do?  We advocated everywhere we could.  We begged school for emotional support for our child even though she displayed no behaviors there that they deemed relevant.  We sought more therapy.  We cried, we got mad, we doubled down.  We got more firm.  We got more lenient.  We went out in public more because it felt so crummy at home.  We stayed home more because the juxtaposition of home and public life was so wonky, going out hurt too much.   We talked about our problems.  We held them in.  And every time we thought we were getting a grip, our kiddo's survival tactics shifted again and again until we found ourselves treading water constantly.  There are just so many things that have happened that are too tender to share.

Our child entered the hospital for the first time in 2015.  And then a longer outpatient program the same year.  Things got better for a little bit, but then ultimately went back to us living in a state of fear and panic all the time again.  Don't get me wrong, we had some amazing times in the last few years.  If you look through our photo albums it looks like the peachiest life on the planet. Our blessings abound.  But a family is only as happy as it's most unhappy child and it began to take a serious toll.

As things escalated at home, the need for video cameras in our home became necessary.  I stopped sleeping.  I would watch the video cameras all night long every night making sure everyone was safe.  I was so consumed with worry for our other kids.  And our hurting child just shut down completely.  I think she just became tired of fighting for what she thought was survival all day every day and she just became a shell of herself. Often sleeping 4-5 hours at a time during the day just to check out of life.  And becoming so sad and depressed that a major intervention was needed.

As a mom, you want to be a fixer.  I studied.  I researched.  I read every book/article/clinical study. I prayed.  I reached out for answers.  We talked to doctors and therapists by the dozens.  It took me a while to wrap my brain around the fact that I could no more cure my child's depression than I could cure cancer.  And it was then that I knew that if I wanted wholeness, happiness and safety for my child (and all my children) I was going to need to let go and let the people who are trained do their job.  For many months we looked at treatment facilities.  We looked at their models and compared and finally decided on one we knew would be just the perfect place for our daughter to find healing, in hopes that she can come back home and her heart and brain will no longer tell her we are the enemy.  That she is precious and worthy of love.

And so 7 weeks ago, we flew across the country and placed our babe in a psychiatric facility that specialized in helping children with adoption trauma and depression.  They understand her and how to help her.  That in itself feels like a miracle.  After a month of her being there, they have devised an amazing treatment plan for her.  And then they delivered the blow... they anticipate that for her to make progress, she will need to be in treatment for about 18 months.  It's hard to convey what it feels like when someone tells you that it will take 18 months.  It's both validation for what you knew was true and heartbreaking that an innocent child can be so hurt that it takes that long to even attempt to rebuild their system of trust.  The next year of our life will consist of a lot of travel.  We'll be back and forth across the country frequently for visits because if we want to heal as a family, we all have work to do.  There is lots of family therapy via Skype.  And what we hope is a lot of healing.

We had our first visit last weekend and I already see so much progress.  We started adding in Friday night dates where I read books to her on the phone while she's getting tucked in.  We are rebuilding and repairing trust and relationships.  She's learning that she is precious and worthy of being loved.  She's learning that all the things that have happened to her are not her fault.  That takes time.

That is where we are.  Both hurting and breathing in the calm and peace and safety that is permeating our house right now.  It's strange- when you live in a state of dysfunction for so long you almost come to no longer notice just how nonfunctional things are.  Until they snap back to functional and you look back and you wonder how you have survived and held on so long.  In retrospect, I wish we wouldn't have tried to hold on so long.  It nearly took us all down- our daughter included.

Mental illness has such a negative stigma around it.  I don't want to be a family who brushes that under the rug or hides in shame.  We are all in counseling- lots and lots of counseling.  We've all been through a lot.  We love our daughter to distraction and I have learned more about love from her than anyone I've ever met.  She has shown me that love does.  Love makes the hard decisions.  Love looks a lot like work.  Love means letting go and seeking help.  Love feels a lot like offering our tender feelings over and over again even when they are rejected.  And in time, our hope is that love will look a lot like us all being back together again.

November 16, 2016

And Now She's A Teenager

Dear Sadie,

Today you became a TEENAGER.  I can not for the life of me figure out how this is possible since I don't feel a day over 23.  This morning I was remembering when you were born.  You were a stubborn little thing and I was pretty convinced you were never going to decide to take up residence outside the womb.  I waddled into the hospital at 41 weeks pregnant for an induction.  They hooked me up to the pitocin.  And nothing.  Not one single little thing happened.  They finally told me to go home, eat some spicy food and come back in a couple of days.  Listen, love.  I hope if you ever have a baby that they don't send you home from the hospital when you are 41 weeks pregnant.  You will think about just digging a hole in the backyard and crawling in because you will feel that defeated.  

I waited a few more days then waddled back into the hospital determined to will you out of my body.  Dr. Reed came in and took pity on me and broke my water to get things moving.  It's strange the things I remember and the things I've blocked out.  I remember them asking me a million times if I needed an epidural.  I had no insurance so I declined an epidural.  They'd told me that an epidural was $1000 cash up front so with each contraction I pictured myself saving $10 bills.  

Papaw Johnny bought a newspaper and sat in the delivery room reading the newspaper.  I think he was nervous because he didn't talk at all.  Just sat and read and when he finally read the entire newspaper he got up and left.  Dad's don't handle their baby girls in pain!  (I'm sure your daddy will be the same way!)  GranMary and my friend, Jessica, rubbed my legs like their lives depended on it. Daddy was on ice chip and Popsicle duty.  I think I only yelled at him once to get the video camera out of my face.  ( I mean, seriously.  Who wants to have a camera in their face while they try to force a baby out into the world.)  It's all kind of a blur.  

You were finally born after a short 7 hour labor.  Nothing too eventful, which I was thankful for.

November 16, 2003
 Since you were the first grandchild born on either side, you had a constant stream of family and friends that came to witness your perfection.  Aunt Kennethia was so proud to be an aunt that I think she brought every coworker she's ever had to the hospital so they could ooooh and ahhhhh over you.  You were adored like no other child in the history of ever.  You were passed around until I was certain you would be sore. 

You were such a good baby.  You never cried.  You smiled all the time.  You ate like a champ and you slept 8 hours at a stretch when you were only 3 weeks old.  I could have had 4908234 babies if they would have all been like you.  I also feel like I could have 32983602 teenagers if they are all like you.  I keep waiting for you to turn into a monster, but I enjoy you more and more every day.  You are just a fun kid to hang out with.

First day of 7th grade

You are such a kind, intelligent and considerate young lady.  I am so proud of the woman you are becoming.  You are such a joy to parent (however, if you go on a rebellious streak, I reserve the right to retract that statement)  I feel so honored to get to be your mom. You are so loved!


Sadie's Birthday Interview

**** The tradition in our home is for me to "interview" the kids each year on their birthday.  You can see Sadie's other interviews by clicking on 201520142013,  2012201120102009.)  I love watching how their answers change over the years but how the fundamental aspects of their personalities stay the same. ****

Me: If a genie would grant you only one wish, what would it be?
Sadie: I don't really have a wish.  I mean, I think I'd pull off one of those cool Aladdin things where I'd set the genie free.

Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Sadie:  A pastry chef

Me: Do you want to get married when you grow up?
Sadie: yeah.
Me: Do you want to have children?
Sadie:  I think so.
Me:  How many?
Sadie:  Two or three probably
Me:  In years past, you've said you wanted more kids than that.  What has made you change your mind?
Sadie:  I think it's that in our family I like having four kids.  But I know I couldn't take care of that many kids with the job that I want to have.
Me:  You go girl.  Live that dream.

Me: Do you feel different now that you are thirteen?
Sadie: Not really.

Me: What is your favorite color and why?
Sadie:  I like the color orange and it used to be because it was Peeta's favorite in The Hunger Games, but now I just really like it.

Me: Who is your best friend and why do you like them?
Sadie:  Lucy and Kaylee are my best friends.  I think Lucy is a good friend to talk about school and boys with.  And Kaylee, we just talk about random stuff.

Me: What is your favorite TV show?
Sadie:  Once Upon A Time and Gilmore Girls

Me: What do you like most about school?
Sadie: I like my language arts teacher.  She's awesome.
Me:  What is it that you like about her.
Sadie:  She's just really independent and young and just a good role model.

Me: What is your favorite thing about yourself?
Sadie:  I like that I've had the same friends for a long time, but also that I've made some new friends.

Me: What do you think is the most exciting thing that's happened to you this year?
Sadie:  I guess this birthday is the most exciting because now I'm considered a teenager and that feels like a big deal.

Me: What is your favorite song?
Sadie: I'm really into Frank Sinatra lately.
Me:  You may be the only teenager on the planet to say Frank.
Sadie:  Probably so!

Me: What is your very favorite thing to do?
Sadie:  Read and talk to my friends.

Me: What is your favorite thing about Noah?
Sadie: He's very encouraging and I like to play games with him.  He is my go-to person.

Me? What is your favorite thing about Miles?
Sadie:  He's very energetic.

Me:  What's you favorite thing about Scarlett?
Sadie:  She's very creative and she always has ideas of creative things to do.

Me:  Tell me what your perfect day would look like.
Sadie:  Sleep in late.  Stay up late.  Watch lots and lots of Gilmore Girls and carry out Cheesecake Factory.

Me:  Tell me what you think your life will look like in 10 years.
Sadie:  Hmmm, 10 years... I'll be 23.  I'll probably just be graduating college. So I'll need to get a job.

Me:  What do you want your mark on the world to be?
Sadie:  I want to be known for making the best chocolate cupcakes in Simpsonville.

Me:  What do you think was the most difficult part of the last year.
Sadie:  Sister drama.

Me:  What are your three favorite memories from the last year?
Sadie:  I liked going to Destin with our family.  I like last year's Christmas.  It was just a lot of fun and I got presents that I really, really enjoyed.  And probably baking things for my business.
Me:  You've been in business for over a year now!  That's a huge accomplishment!

Me:  What do you think about boys?
Sadie:  The ones at my school... they are not very cute.
Me:  What about boys at other schools.
Sadie:  No comment!!!! (Smile as wide as the Texas sky)

Food: Mexican Food (always orders quesadilla fajitas)
Book: I liked the Lunar Chronicles and The Selection Series that I read this year.
Movie: Finding Dory and The Twilight Saga- but mostly I'm a TV girl
Activity to do on one on one time with a parent:  shopping with mommy and riding to school with Daddy in the mornings
Activity to do with friends: eat lunch together and talk
Sport: softball
Candy: sour patch kids and white chocolate Kit Kats and dum dum suckers
Ice Cream: cookie dough



October 31, 2016

Happy 10th Birthday, Noah!

Dear Noah,

Today you are TEN!  A DECADE OLD! Oh my goodness.  Cue the tears.  Ten feels like a huge milestone.

You had a big year.  More important than anything else that happened this year- you gave your life to Christ.  One Sunday afternoon in July, you asked me some questions about knowing for sure that you'd go to Heaven.  Daddy and I prayed on the front porch with you as you accepted Christ.  It was an amazing moment.  Your Papaw Gary tells everyone he knows that you have read your Bible through cover to cover three times.  He loves that about you and so do I.  

You are just so sweet and tender, Noah.  You have such a heart for other people and you love your friends fiercely.  You spend just about every waking moment with your best friend, Grace, who conveniently lives next door.  I'm not sure what you two would do without each other.  Instead of a birthday party, this year you opted to just take Grace with you for a big outing to an amuzement park. You guys had a blast.  You have such a sense of adventure.  You are a roller coaster junkie and you convinced Grace to ride some big scary ones!  I love the friendship the two of you share.  It is so innocent and pure and fun.

We traveled some this year.  We went to Florida and Yellowstone National Park. We had a weekend trip to Papaw Johnny's boat.  You love to travel and you and daddy often sit down together and look at maps and plan out all the places you'd like to visit.  You got to go parasailing and white water rafting on our vacations this year and loved it!

You also played baseball.  This fall, you and Miles played on a team together.  You mostly played short stop or second base, but one night you got to be the pitcher.  You did awesome!  You even threw a few strikes!  My heart was racing the whole time.  I don't know how mothers do it if their kids ever go to the Olympics!

Unfortunately, this spring our sweet Guinea Pig, Phil, passed away.  We grieved him something awful.  You asked for a new guinea pig for your birthday this year, and your wish came true.  Welcome to the family, Oscar Terry!

You, thankfully, still want to snuggle with me.  You and I are the two early risers in our home.  You set your alarm to wake you up three minutes before mine goes off so that you can come downstairs and make my coffee for me.  When I come out of my room to you holding a cup of coffee it makes my morning.  You always say, "Black coffee with two ice cubes!  Just the way you like it!" with the biggest grin on your face. Then I hug you and squeeze you and pray that you'd stay like this forever.

Noah, you are just a joy to parent.  You fill our home with so much laughter and happiness.  You are precious and special and I want to eat you with a spoon. You are so loved. You are my sunshine. Forever.

Happy birthday, Pumpkin!

Noah's Birthday Interview: 

***Every year, I interview each of my kids on their birthday.  Usually, I ask the same questions every year so that I can watch how their answers change (or don't change) from year to year (2015) (2014) (2013) (2012) (2011)  (2010) (2009).  Sometimes I toss in a few new ones so that I can make sure to catch their little quirks and thoughts! ***

Mom: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Noah: I don't know yet but something that involves animals, most likely.

Mom: Do you want to get married when you grow up?
Noah: Duh.
Mom:  What kind of person do you want to marry?
Noah:  I want them to be like me.  I want them to be smart and caring and loving.

Mom: Do you want to have kids one day?
Noah:  yeah
Mom:  How many?
Noah: One or Two

Mom: What is your favorite thing about yourself?
Noah: I'm funny.
Mom:  What makes you funny?
Noah: Hmmmm, I don't know.  You'd have to ask somebody else.  Why do you think I'm funny?
Mom:  Well, I think you notice things and make funny observations about them.  You are quick witted.

Mom:  How would you spend a million dollars?
Noah:  I would want to travel across the world and see everything.  I'd go to Paris, Australia to see the outback, Switzerland and climb the mountains and eat cheese.

Mom:  Tell me about your personality.
Noah: I think I'm funny.  I think I'm nice.  Well, I hope I'm nice.  I feel like I'm a good friend and I'm nice to almost everybody I meet.

Mom: What is your favorite thing to do at school?
Noah: Read.  And this year I really like writing.  But math has gotten worse this year.  I don't like math anymore.

Mom: What is your favorite joke?
Noah: I don't really know a lot of jokes, I just like making funny comments about things.

Mom: How do you like to spend your free time?
Noah: Playing with my friends
Mom:  What kinds of things do you all do?
Noah:  Talk, play outside, swing and play on the computer
Mom:  You watch a lot of YouTube.  What videos do you love?
Noah:  Stampy Longhead videos.

Mom: What is your favorite thing about mommy?
Noah:  We like to do the same things.  And you are just a caring and loving person.

Mom: What is your favorite thing about daddy?
Noah:  Daddy is... he's just awesome.  He's just awesome in every single way and I just love him so much.  Him and his bald head.

Mom: Who are your best friends?
Noah: Grace Evans, Cynthia and Carolina

Mom:  What are your top three favorite memories from this last year?
Noah:  Going to Florida with GranMary and David and all my cousins
           Getting to play with my friends every day
           When we went to Holiday World with Grace

Mom: What do you think that high school will be like?
Noah: Terrible.  I am not going to want to go.  And Sadie will be in college and that will make me so sad and I will cry and cry that she won't be here.  But some parts might be fun.  Like getting to join all the clubs.  Like robotics and stuff like that.

Mom: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Noah: Probably to Hawaii and surf and then lay on the beach and get a tan.

Mom: If you could make up your perfect day and do anything you wanted, what would you do?
Noah: I'd go to Kentucky Kingdom for a day and take Grace and we would ride all the rides.

Mom:What's one thing you really want to accomplish this year?
Noah: I want to get straight A's all year.

Mom: Describe your sense of style for me.
Noah:  During the winter it's sweatpants and a t-shirt with a sweatshirt.  In the summer, I like just shorts and a t-shirt with flip flops.

Mom:  What is your favorite story from the Bible?
Noah:  I like David and Goliath because it's crazy how God helped David defeat the big bad Goliath and he was just a kid!  It shows how God can give strength to anyone!

Mom: Tell me about your bedtime routine.
Noah:  Mommy screams, "BRUSH YOUR TEETH!"  Then I brush my teeth, find (my bear) Max and take off my clothes until I'm in just my underwear.  Then Mommy or Daddy tucks me in.  Then you guys turn on the TV downstairs because I need the noise.  Then I read my book in bed then I go to sleep!

Current Favorites:
color: red
toy: the swing
movie: Finding Dory
TV show: Once Upon  A Time
food: steak
candy: Reese's
book: The Unwanteds and The Girl Who Could Fly
song: Just Like Fire by P!nk, Send My Love by Adele Can't Stop The Feeling by Justin Timberlake
sport: baseball
ice cream: chocolate


Happy Birthday, Noah!
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