June 26, 2012

Kindness and Tortellini

The Terry kids just seem to have a knack for always being at the right place at the right time.  Since we are still in house hunting mode, tonight we took our weekly drive through the country looking at houses and land and dreaming about places we'd like to live.

In a neighboring city, there is a development that got started right before the housing market crashed.  You can tell they had big dreams for this neighborhood.  It was supposed to be the premier development in town- with horse riding trails up and down the rolling hills. In theory, it was good- it just didn't work out that way.  As it is now- there are a few houses back there and an enormous stable and horse training area.  As we drove by the training ring, we noticed that there was a woman who was saddling up her horse.  We decided to get out (except for Miles, who was dead asleep in the van) and watch the woman exercise her horse.

Here in Kentucky, there are "horse people" and "non-horse people".  We belong in the "non-horse people" category.  We don't really know a thing about horses other than that they look gorgeous in the fields all around our town.  We live in the Saddlebred Horse Capital of the world and my poor husband has never even been on a horse.  

Anyway... there we were huddled up around the fence watching this woman trot her horse around.  She was nice enough to bring her horse, Tortellini, over to the fence to say hi to us.  She gave the kids permission to walk around back and go through the stables and see all horses that were being boarded there.  They were totally in heaven!

Then, the clouds parted, the angels started singing and we rounded a corner and saw...

... this darling little pony named Daisy.  I kid you not- it only took about 0.3 seconds before I heard, "MOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!  Can we have a POOOOOOOONY??????  Oh my gosh Mom, we NEEEEEEEEEED a pony!  Look how cute!!!!!"

I convinced them that we don't have room for a pony in our one car garage and that maybe we could discuss this later.  Noah said he'd just ask Santa for one.  After all, Santa did bring them a guinea pig so live animals are no obstacle.  *sigh*

We were totally pumped up about getting to tromp through the stables and love on all the horses.  As we were walking back to Kamron and Miles (who was still asleep in the van) we stopped at the fence to watch the  woman exercise her horse a little more.  She started trotting the horse back to where we were.  I totally expected her to ask the children what they thought of the horses in the stable.  Instead, that awesome stranger said, "Do you want to ride?"  My kids lit up and could not stop grinning.  They were rendered totally speechless and they stared at me to answer for them.  There was a little bit of questioning in their eyes as they looked at me- as if to say, "Mom!  Do not screw this up for us by saying no!"

Of course, we said yes and that sweet woman put the kids on the horse and let them ride.  

We gave Tortellini lots of love and his owner many thanks and the kids walked back to the car saying, "Best night EVER!"

I love how a simple drive through the country turned in to such a treat- and how the kindness of a complete stranger made two kids the happiest kids on the planet!  Sometimes the goodness in people just blows me away.

June 18, 2012

Here, There and Everywhere

Wow!  I am such a slacker blogger lately!  Summer tends to go at only one speed for us: warp speed.  Every summer we swear that we are going to slow down, but we like to travel and have fun too much to actually do it. Here's a little bit of what we've been doing:

We went to a family wedding.  It was the first wedding we've been to in a looooong time and the kids were all about it. It was outside and the children ran and danced and ate enough cake to kill a person.  They had so much fun that they've asked on numerous occasions if we could go to cousin Jamie's house every Saturday night for a wedding/dance party.

Yes, that's Miles climbing the tent.  (with Papaw Gary)

GranMary had us over for homemade ice cream and a game of kickball.  This is my mom kicking the ball- NOT a zombie trying to jump over a bear trap.  How cute is she?

Sadie and Noah had their very first swim meet.  They are having the time of their lives being on the swim team this summer.  They wake up every morning just counting down the minutes until it's time for practice.  I am proud as a peacock watching them try something new.

We took a day trip to Cumberland Falls State Park.  The waterfall blew the kids' minds.  If any of them ever gets a wild hair to get in a barrel and go over the falls, I can guarantee it will be Miles.

The self timer on our camera caught what may very well be my new favorite family photo.

We have been spending a LOT of time at the pool with our friends.  Noah and Miles' besties (Kilee and Josiah) are a brother sister duo.  We just adore their family with all of our hearts.  Monica (the mom) and I are kindred spirits and we just giggle like school girls whenever we get together.  They are leaving our little community and heading to Haiti to go into full time ministry in about 6 weeks.  While we are so excited about the new life they have ahead of them in Haiti, selfishly, we are going to miss them like crazy.
 Miles and Josiah
Noah and his (hopefully) future wife, Kilee.  

Sadie and her girls perfecting their "George Washington" hairstyles.  

Kamron's company had their annual meeting last weekend in Gatlinburg, TN- a little tourist town in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains.  We are so fortunate that he works for a company that values family and allows us to travel with him.  We also got to see him get an award and get recognized for all of his hard work over the last year.  We are so proud of him and how he provides for his clients and for us!  We had a great time in Gatlinburg- but on the second day, our kids were worn out and their behavior deemed them ineligible to be around other humans.  We skipped out on the company dinner and drove out into the Smokey Mountain National Park.  I considered feeding the kids to a bear, but alas, we didn't see any.  We did, however, see about 4 or 5 dozen deer.

We also saw lots of serene, little streams to play in and several old buildings built by early settlers.  

For his next trick, he'll turn his leg into a ghost!

And a few more from the last couple of weeks...

After all of our adventures, it's good to be HOME!  Now, excuse us while we CRASH!

June 12, 2012

Lessons I've Learned About Toddler Adoption

Pull up a chair.  I'm about to impart some wisdom up in here- informal style because that's how I roll.  So- I get a lot of emails asking for "advice" on adopting toddlers.  First of all, if you've been here for any length of time, this cracks me up to no end- because if you know what a flawed mama I am, then you know I am totally NOT qualified to give advice on parenting in any way, shape or form.  But I'm going to do it anyway because you all always ask so nicely. Consider this your warning- this is a long one!

Toddler adoption is cuh-razy.  I'm going to type it again because it's worth repeating. Toddler adoption is cuh-razy.  But parenting in general is crazy, right?  I think that the biggest shock to me was that we ended up with a toddler.  When I showed up in Congo to adopt our son almost 2 1/2 years ago, we thought that he was going to be about 9 months old.  His foster mama put him down on the ground and that "9 month old" walked across the room to me and opened his mouth and flashed a full of teeth- two year molars and all.  That's the beauty of international adoption from a third world county where records aren't kept very well and street children don't carry their birth certificates around.  By looking at Miles, I would have guessed that he was 6 months old.  After all, he only weighed 12 pounds and he was teeny tiny.  Turns out that Miles was somewhere between 2 (one doc even said 3) at the time that we picked him up instead of 9 months old.  

All that to say- we wanted a baby.  We asked for a baby.  We never thought that we were "equipped" to adopt a child that wasn't a baby.  But the child they placed in my arms was EXACTLY what was right for our family, even if it scared us at the time.  It wasn't what we expected- it was even better.  We just didn't know what we didn't know when it came to adopting toddlers.  We thought that a baby was right for us because that's what we knew.  We knew babies, we were comfortable with babies and there were rumors flying around in the adoption community that babies were what was "desirable".  People- I'm here to tell you that toddler adoption rocks.  And toddler adoption is messy, and full of hurt, and wonderful, and trying, and it will make you want to pull your hair out and laugh all at the same time.  But that's parenting!!!!

Ending up with a toddler instead of a baby was such a huge blessing in disguise for us.  It has opened our eyes to older child adoption and I'm not sure that we would ever be embarking on a journey to adopt an older girl out of the foster care system if Miles had been the baby that we had hoped for.

Here are a few of the best lessons I've learned along the way about toddler adoption.

1.  DEVELOPMENT VS. ATTACHMENT:  When my two biological kids hit 2 years old they hit what I dub the "I do it self" stage- aptly named for the zillion times that they said, "STOP MOM!  I do it self!" whenever I tried to put on their shoes, or dress them or brush their teeth or pretty much anything else I tried to do with them.  All of the books I read about adoption talked about trying to take our adopted children back to this place of nurturing them like an infant to teach them security.  I think that I took this too far.  This is great for things like rocking to sleep, and bathing.  But the other stuff- like giving him a bottle? Did not fly around these parts.  I took it intensely personal.  The books said I was supposed to be doing all these things for my son to help us bond and he didn't want any of it.  I thought that meant that I was doing it wrong and that he hated me.  Nearly two years removed from it, I see that he was just going through the normal stages of development that a toddler goes through- just like my other kids did at the same age.  He was naturally trying to assert his independence and I was holding him back.  I assumed that if he didn't want to melt into my arms and let me feed him like a six month old that I was doing it all wrong.  Turns out that 2-3-4 year olds don't find mom feeding them with a spoon airplane style very amusing.

There are still great ways to build attachment without always "going back to infancy".  Rocking and reading at night is a great one.  Rubbing lotion on Miles was one of the things that he let me do that helped promote bonding.  He often tried to do it himself- but realized that it felt good to have someone massaging lotion into his back and legs.  At first this was too intimate for him if I tried to make eye contact while applying lotion- but in time this became something I could do with him while we practiced making eye contact.  Give yourself grace and don't take a natural quest for independence as a slap in the face!  Do what works for you- what you read in a book is not always the right thing for your child!

2.  Early intervention is our friend:  most states offer early intervention programs for kids under 3 or 4 years old.  Most of our adopted kiddos (especially ones who experiences neglect) are often really overwhelmed by sensory input.  Imagine how people holding you feels if your body has never experienced that.  Or how overwhelming police sirens are when you've never heard that kind of noise.  Or how bright the lights in Target are if you've never even had electricity!  Sessions with an occupational therapist can be extremely valuable when teaching kid's bodies how to process all the stimuli we have here.  Both of our boys greatly benefitted from early intervention.  Early intervention also provides speech therapy, physical therapy, behavior therapy, nutritionists, psychologists, etc.  Sometimes early intervention is just what a kiddo needs to help them get over the hump.  All those therapists can give us parents great strategies to help our kids thrive!  If you google the name of your state coupled with early intervention you can find the number to refer your child for an evaluation.  (or ask your pediatrician)  Remember to keep your expectations in check.  Kids who have been in care are often developmentally delayed.  Give them time to catch up.  Don't expect Rome (or a tower of blocks or talking in sentences) to be built in a day.

3. Take care of the siblings.  Adoption is an endeavor that affects the whole family.  I found that when our son came home, EVERYONE was all about him- often to the neglect of our other children.  When we went anywhere, everyone wanted to know about Miles and I think that most people forgot that we had two other incredible children who needed and deserved just as much attention.  They were going through the crazy transition of adding in a sibling who had a whole host of issues going on and they had big feelings about it.  About 3 months after Miles came home, we noticed just how much our other kids were suffering through the transition. (NOT suffering because we adopted, just not coping well with the adjustment)

Sadie began pulling out her eyebrows and eyelashes until she had pulled them ALL off.  We worried so much about how Miles was transitioning that we honestly did not consider how it had turned our entire family upside down.  Not realizing this sooner is one of the biggest regrets that I have about our entire adoption journey.  We got our kids involved in therapy.  They needed someone who was removed from our family to talk them through it.  They needed to learn healthy coping strategies and ways to talk to us parents about what they needed.  They needed a safe space to talk about how they felt about having a little brother who was sick all the time and who got a whole lot of attention everywhere we went.  Getting everyone in therapy was AWESOME.  It really helped us all get on the same page as a family and helped us make sure that everyone was being taken care of and was heard while we figured out how our new family was going to work.

4.  Have a script:  People are dumb.  They are well meaning, but they are dumb.  Complete strangers will say very insensitive things to you when you have a family whose skin doesn't all match.  And our adopted toddlers?  They know what people are saying and they are watching our every move and how we respond.  Let me paint you a picture:  Woman walks through the grocery store with two kids in a cart and one kid walking next to the cart.  One kid is screaming, one kid is trying to run away and the other one is whining about not getting her favorite cereal.  Stranger walks up and feels like this is a good time to talk.  Stranger says, "Oh my gawd!  You have your hands full!  Is he adopted?"  Ahhhh, is he adopted.  Seems like an innocent question, but it really singles our son out.  We have taught all of our children to say, "We are an adoptive family."  That simple phrase lets my toddler and the stranger know that we are all in this together.  Usually that question is followed up by more questions that get personal really quickly.

It is not the job of my kids to be poster children for adoption.  It is their job to be children.  However, I do realize that many times we may be the only family that looks like ours that some people will ever talk to.  So we try our hardest to be gracious- even when it's not convenient.  When questions get personal, (How much did he cost?  Do you get to keep him?  Is his real mom dead?) I cut off the conversation.  I don't want to educate someone about the intricacies of adoption and appropriate adoption language in the middle of the cereal aisle.  Here is my script:

  •  I love to talk about adoption and how wonderful our children are!  But, as you can see, it's a little difficult to talk about it in front of the children!  Here's my card.  Please feel free to email me and I'll be happy to talk to you about it!"
This shows my kids a way to be advocates while also being appropriate.  It also lets the asker know in a nice way that this isn't the time to talk about it and at the same time gives them a suitable place to ask their questions.  If people are genuinely interested, they actually do email.  The ones who are just being nosy don't.  It's a great way to weed out gawkers.  My card looks like this.

Since I use these cards when I speak at conferences or churches, I included more on it than is really  needed.  But if you just want something simple that has your name, email and blog address (if you have one) to hand to people you meet along the way, you can get some freebie cards at Vista Print.  I can't tell you how many times this has saved me from being rude or having an awkward conversation in front of my children.
6. Trauma is real.  All kids have fears, but our adopted children have fears that are very, very real for them as a result of their past experiences. They have fears of being abandoned, being hungry, being abused and all sorts of other things that children who have grown up with a loving parent who meets their needs don't have.

All toddlers go through stages of wanting to hit other kids.  We have to teach them that hitting other children is not appropriate.  With Miles, we had to teach him, by word and by deed, that moms and dads also don't beat up on their children.  He had those fears because of past trauma.  Miles was scared of animals.  Miles was scared of black women.  He tried to do things to our other children that had been done to him that were not things that you do to your brothers and sisters.  His past directly played into how he functioned in his daily life.  Seemingly small things would trigger uncontrollable tantrums in him.  We had to learn to be accommodating of these things.  We also had to teach him how to give a voice to these fears.  ("Mommy and daddy keep me safe.  They will not let animals hurt me." or "When I was in Congo, some people scared me, but mommy and daddy's friends are nice and will not hurt me."

Two years later, Miles still has trauma triggers.  For example, when we went camping the last time, when it got close to bed time, Miles started acting strange.  He sat down in his chair and whispered over and over, "Mommy and daddy keep me safe in my bed."  What we realized is that he didn't think that same amount of safety applied when he wasn't sleeping in his bed and was instead sleeping in a tent. Those fears creep in and affect his behavior in some really strange ways.  As parents, we have to learn to be patient and realize that even as time goes by (even as years go by) that our adopted children have experienced losses that we can't control that will affect them on very deep levels.  I totally recommend reading Parenting The Hurt Child and The Connected Child for some great strategies for coping with trauma.  I can't do justice to how trauma affects families in a couple of paragraphs, but just know that this is a very real thing and our kids need help learning to cope.

7. It's okay to ask for help. Sometimes we all get in over our heads. Too often we feel guilty and feel like we are never good enough parents.  For an entire year, I felt like I was not doing an adequate job of parenting Miles.  I thought maybe he would have been better off in a family where he would be the only child.  Or that he would be better with a working mom so that he could be in day care since he thrived in more structure than I ran my house with.  I lived with that guilt for far too long before I talked with our family therapist about it.  Saying how I felt out loud made me finally realize that although I am not a perfect mom that I am the perfect mom for the kids that I've been blessed with.

I find that as adoptive parents we feel like we have to act like we have it all together even more so than parents of biological children.  After all- did we not have to prove our worth as parents in front of countless agencies, social workers and embassies?  So when things get hard, we feel like people are going to judge us more harshly.  Know this- ADOPTION IS HARD.  BEING A MOM IS HARD. (No matter how your children come to you)  It's okay to not know how to do it all.  Reach out to other people.  None of us are meant to do this alone.  Suck up your adoptive mama pride and ask for help.  There is something magical that happens when us moms drop the pretense with one another and just be vulnerable.  We actually get to a place where we can learn from one another and can be better moms to our kids.

8.  Honor memories.  Toddlers don't come with a blank slate.  As a mom, this was a hard one for me knowing that my son had a whole other life before he came to me.  I had to learn that honoring that life that he had does not make me less his "mom".  It makes him know that his first culture and his family deserve respect and that he can talk about it and feel about it however he wants.

Toddlers come with little brains full of memories. Miles swears to me that when he was in Congo, he went to the river, caught a fish, "rolled it up"(his words) and then took it to his mom.  This is the one memory that he comes back to over and over.  He talks about it fairly often.  I'm almost certain that this story could not be anywhere near true.  But this is his perception of his life and if that is a memory that he wants to hang onto, I'm going to let him hang on to it.  Our children's stories, birth families, birth cultures and their memories deserve to be honored.

8.  Celebrate the joy:  One of the most awesome thing about toddler adoption is that these little people already come to you with some really awesome personalities.  I think that sometimes in adoption, we tend to focus on the things that we want to fix or help our children heal from.  We sometimes (myself included) get so focused on attachment and healing and trauma that we forget to marvel in our kids. Sometimes when I look at Miles my mind just gets blown at how neat of a kid he really is.  Someone else is responsible for coding his DNA with all those intricacies of his personality, but I'm lucky enough to get to be the one that nurtures those aspects of him.  And that is truly cool!

I can't recommend adopting children that aren't babies enough.  Sure, it comes with a unique set of challenges, but what parenting situation doesn't come with it's own unique challenges?  Toddlers and older children are so deserving of families.  Even though our adoption story hasn't always been a fairy tale and our transition was hard, I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat.

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