December 28, 2016

Unwrapping Christmas

By this point, I am usually so ready for all the Christmas things to be over.  Sometimes I fight the urge to take down the tree on Christmas night.  The integrating of the presents seems to freak me out and I have a hard time with all the new things laying in boxes.  My mind races about where new things will go... what needs to be returned... who do we awkwardly need to ask for receipts... how much dust has collected under the tree skirt... why haven't I eaten any vegetables or fruits for 2 weeks... how much longer can I live on Christmas cookies and sausage balls before it's considered a problem...

But this year feels so different.  There is a calmness that is permeating my house. I almost feel like Christmas could go on forever and my tree could stay a permanent fixture in my living room and the boxes could just stay in piles all around the house and the kids could stay off of school for eternity. (Surely to God, I've been body snatched.)

So many people have hugged me in the last few weeks and said, "I'm sure this Christmas is so hard with your daughter away getting help."  And yes, it is.  And also not.  It's such a hard feeling to describe.  For children who have experienced high levels of trauma, holidays are hard.  The feelings of rejection and worry about first families and the changes in routines are just too much and it all just bubbles over.  And so our last several Christmases have been spent just managing in the best way we can.  Which is hunker down and just pray for it to all be over soon.

It is such an amazing feeling knowing that this year on Christmas she had the support that she needed to get through it.  In years past, she has slept right through Christmas day.  8-10 hours of the day just spent in bed because everything is just too much.  This year, we got a phone call from an excited and happy girl who was looking forward to turkey dinner, who loved her gifts, and who was enjoying Christmas for maybe the first time ever.  She had been out looking at lights with her therapist, the house got Just Dance 2017 and they were having dance parties all day, and she was just in her element.  What a gift that she was experiencing Christmas in a positive way- even if we didn't get to enjoy it together.  We do have a visit scheduled very soon!


The rest of us have had what the kids are calling "the chillest Christmas ever".  The kids are still on break and we are going on day a million of not getting out of our pajamas.  It is glorious.

The pace is slow.  The time is intentional.  The season feels easy.

This was the year I let go of so many things that brought me stress.  I said goodbye to sending Christmas cards.  I said goodbye to making goodies for the neighbors.  We did *maybe* three days of our advent activities.  As much as I love all of those things, they were things that in the last few years brought more stress than joy and I was okay with letting them go for a season.  It's amazing how freeing just quitting some of the "stuff" is.

I am usually a last minute shopper.  Every year I am frantic in a way that ruins the holiday and flares up my RA.  This year I am practicing radical self care- which included doing the shopping early.  This changed my life.  I was mostly finished shopping by the first week in December this year.  I think that not having that hanging over me helped me enjoy so many more of the little things this year.  I'm not a very good shopper and I struggle to come up with thoughtful gifts.  However, for the last 3 years, I have printed out our family photos from that year and put them in an album and given it to Kamron for Christmas.  It's become a tradition that we both love.  But we had this donut hole of years prior where all of our pictures were still on our computer.  So this year, with all my new found time from getting the shopping done early, I went back in time and scoured hard drives and old computers and sucked off and printed nearly 3000 of our most precious memories and organized them into albums and wrapped them up for Kamron.

When I got finished with that, I figured since I'd already been through every digital file we've ever created, I should burn all of our videos onto DVDs and send off our old VHS tapes to be converted.  Kamron LOVES home movies.  (I know everybody does, but he really really loves them)  Once I started that project, I was so excited about it I couldn't sleep.  I was waking up at 4 or 5 in the morning to burn videos in secret.  I put all the videos in a wooden keepsake box and gave it to my man for Christmas.  He is not a very emotional man, but tears came to his eyes with that one.  And we've had so much fun watching the movies with the kids.

Maybe it is all the strolls down memory lane with the pictures and the videos, or maybe it's that our family is separated this year, but I've mostly been a sentimental basket case about the passing of time. All those hard years with so many little ones... and now I blinked and they all suddenly feel so old and grown up.  I sobbed all through Christmas Eve church because I am certain that Mary stared at teenaged Jesus and thought, "How is this possible?  It feels like yesterday you were lying in that hay filled manger.  Slow down, JESUS!"

Noah is my only kid who is not a night owl.  The others could stay up all night if we'd let them, but Noah and I are both early to bed, early to rise.  Since school has been out, when he gets tired at night, he asks to snuggle and climbs on top of me and falls asleep.  Every single time I sit there and wonder if it is the last time. I drink it in.  I sniff in his sweaty little 10 year old boy smell and feel his deep breaths and stare at his cute old man pajamas and try to relish it... just in case.  When I pick him up and carry him to bed, his legs dangle down so long his feet nearly hit the steps with each of my steps.  I tuck him in and just stare at him.  The days feel so fleeting. They are growing up so fast.  Old ladies who did this before me told me this would happen and I did not believe them.

I'm just soaking it all in this year.  The magic is still there.  They still believe (surely not the 13 year old but she has not made that known so I'm just going with it).  The excitement on Christmas morning is palpable.  This year, time just seems so precious and valuable. Or maybe the break from managing the trauma has freed up enough space in my brain to notice things around me again.  Either way, I have zero chill about the levels of nostalgia right now.

We started off the Christmas season with a huge party for all of Kamron's side of the family.  We started hosting all the Terrys a few years ago and it is just such a good time.  They are such a happy bunch- low on drama- high on fun.  Plus, there are a million of them so every corner of our home gets filled up with amazing food (who doesn't love a good potluck!) and laughter.

It takes two pictures to get capture all the people. 

On the first day of Christmas break, I taught the big kids how to play chess.  They instantly became obsessed with chess.  When we went to my Dad's house for Christmas, he said, "I love chess.  I used to be on the chess team in high school and my neighbor and I would play these long games that would last for days!"  I had no idea my dad even knew how to play chess.  It's so funny to me that at this juncture in life I'm still learning so many new things about my parents.  The kids have had the best time playing chess on the internet with Papaw Johnny all break long.

One of my favorite traditions is our annual Christmas Eve pajama party.  Kamron's family comes over and we have a big breakfast together.  His sister has started making these Saran wrap balls of awesome for the kids to unwrap.  It gets intense as they pass around this ball of saran wrap and string and try to see who can get to the gift in the middle first.  It's just too much fun.  All the grandparents severely spoiled the kidlets this year.

We celebrated a million different Christmases, ate entirely too much, and spent so much connected time with family.  We did all the traditions...

We made the gingerbread houses with GranMary.

We ate all the candy that was supposed to go on the gingerbread houses.

We made the Christmas cookies for about 3.8 minutes before everyone lost interest. 

We wore the matching pajamas.

We went to the school performances (held in the KY state capital this year!)

We laughed about things like how my mom wrapped all the presents in lubricating jelly boxes she janked from work. 

And then we put the people to bed and waited for Santa...

Is there anything more fun than kids at Christmas?

Making all the memories

My amazing aunts.

I am not sure how my tiny peanut of a mom got the role of family turkey carver but she does it like a boss.

The kids bought us presents for the first time this year.  They got aunt Kennethia to take them shopping.  They picked out such thoughtful gifts!  Both boys got Kamron UK hats.  They could hardly wait for Daddy to open them!

Our elf, Steve, found love this Christmas. 

Miles brings the fun to every situation. 

Noah and Papaw Gary facing off. 

Sadie is the best kitchen helper.  Could not have pulled off all the cooking this year without her!

Small town USA Christmas parade. 

We love when it gets cold enough for hats!

Can we just bottle this up forever?  Pretty please? 

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



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