Mommy Monster … 13 Years Later

extraordinary-mom-small-logo-with-text-2

Thirteen years ago today, the Extraordinary Mom’s Network was born. Just one bleary-eyed mom leaning over her keyboard and frantically shouting into the void to see if anyone in the whole, wide world felt the same way….

One morning when you least expect it, you’ll look in the mirror and find it looking back at you. The phantasm bears a slight resemblance to your familiar self, except… Is it possible that your husband installed a trick mirror while you were dozing, just for kicks? This gal has…

  • Stomach is rumbling from not eating a decent meal since… What is this? May?
  • Throat is raw from screaming like a fishwife, just to hear yourself above the din.
  • In the same set of sweats you’ve worn all week, sans bra. Even to the doctor’s office.

And as the bathroom door reverberates with the pounding of three insistent sets of little fists, you pray the lock will hold long enough for you to sit down for five seconds and have one coherent thought.

Suddenly, it hits you:

This is not what I signed up for. I don’t recognize that ghoulish figure in the mirror. She’s grouchy. She’s wrinkled and rumpled, and so are her clothes. She smells like baby barf. Make her go away.

Easier said than done. But if you watch my back, and I watch yours, maybe we can figure this out together. We’ll get those Mommy Monsters.

To be perfectly honest, my experiment in virtual communication was not an unqualified success. Although I did meet some amazing women along the way who were just doing the best they could at the time. Some true heroes.

I also met individuals who had been so wounded and broken, I soon found myself in the middle of angry internet wars I had neither the time nor energy (nor, in some cases, the experience) to win. And so, when I grew tired of having my head handed to me on a platter, I stopped writing about adoption for a time.

But as the kids have grown older, and I’ve seen the next round of adoptive and foster parents rise up and encourage others to enter the fray, I feel as though I’ve found my second wind. Because after thirteen years, I have learned a few things about what it takes to do this. After thirteen years, I’ve made enough mistakes to recognize a jackpot before I step into it, and had enough successes that I can encourage those who are just starting out.

The Mommy Monsters still raise their ugly heads from time to time. But then, it’s part of being an Extraordinary Mom — extraordinary in the “Eucharistic sense”: One who comes alongside to serve the ordinary mom, to feed and nurture the hungry souls who step into our lives. Heaven knows, we usually don’t feel very out-of-the-ordinary ourselves. But the task we’ve been given … well, that is remarkable indeed.

So, whether this is your first time on the blog, or you’ve been reading for years — thanks for sharing the journey!

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You Might Be A “SN(e)P If …

3659451-you-might-be-a-redneck-hillbilly-memesWhen I’m in a mood, Jeff Foxworthy can always find my funny bone. (Pair him up with Ron White and a generous glass of chardonnay, and I have to pull out my emergency stash of Depends.)

Foxworthy’s “You Might Be a Redneck” shtick  always gets me going … While poverty and ignorance, by themselves, are no laughing matter, he represents a segment of the population who genuinely need a good laugh, and like to laugh at themselves. And if you can’t beat ’em … well, you know.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer this little Foxworthian tribute to another segment of the population who sorely needs a good laugh: moms, and in particular moms of special needs teenagers. When surging hormones (theirs) meets depleting energy (ours), it can be a volatile mix. If we don’t find a way to laugh — well, we just HAVE to find a way to laugh. Perhaps with a little help of a friend, and a generous glass of chardonnay.

So … YOU MIGHT BE A SPECIAL-NEEDS PARENT (SNeP) IF…

  • If the dog dives for cover when the school bus pulls up …
  • If you count the Xanax like you were doling out jellybeans in grade school (one for you and one for me, one for you and two for me) …
  • If you sign the school paper, put it in the folder and backpack, remind your kid six times to deliver it to teacher … then take it out to scan and send it yourself …
  • If you open the mailbox and get more excited over a birthday party invitation (for your child) than the Publisher’s Clearing House guy …
  • If you’re beginning to worry that “independence” is just a city in Missouri …
  • If your calendar is so full of therapists, doctors, teacher conferences, and psych evals that your dentist plays double duty as your gyno …
  • If your child’s psych eval and nocturnal wanderings both keep you up at night …
  • If the only thing that scares you more than your child getting asked to prom is the thought that she might not …
  • If you settle the question who did the dishes last night by rewinding the safety cameras …
  • If your kids’ shenanigans have ghosted more friends than a serial killer …
  • If your child’s notebook has more violent artistic renderings than Scotland Yard …
  • If your idea of a hot date night is to stay awake long enough to find out Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? or Shall We Dance? (or really, anything that doesn’t have a Disney princess in it) …
  • If you blow out the candles of every birthday cake wishing that one day you will get your life back … and hoping that they will launch successfully into theirs …

What would you add to the list?

The Spanking

shadowYesterday over at Without a Crystal Ball, my guest post “You Might Be a Special Needs Parent If…” generated a surprising amount of traffic over here at EMN. My guess is that the ladies came over here, expecting to find more of the same … but the truth is, more often than not I forget to laugh at the ridiculousness that is my life sometimes.

Even though I live with Miss Funny Face, who lives to reinvent herself every day. Smokey eyes, copper eyes, nail polish in every color under the sun (and some she invents herself), hair pink one day and shaved the next. And an ability to change outfits at the speed of light … her definition of “outfit” varying wildly, so that I have to chase after her flapping coattails as she makes her morning break for the bus. Because I’m pretty sure if she’s got it covered on the way to school, it won’t be by the time she hits her first class.

Ah, Miss Funny Face. How I love you.

The teachers send notes home, of course. “Could you please have Sarah leave her jewelry at home? It’s a distraction in the classroom.” “Sarah keeps putting on makeup in class. She needs to focus.” “Sarah keeps using her Chromebook to watch makeup tutorials on YouTube. Please speak to her.”

Oh, reeeeeeeeeallly! And somehow you expect that I’ll have better luck managing your classroom from my home office than you do behind your teacher’s desk? Do tell.

Yes, I can (and do) inspect her backpack, confiscate contraband (to wails and gnashing of teeth over her foul luck in the Motherhood Lottery), and nag her constantly about her classroom deportment. On one memorable occasion, her incendiary response inspired me to resort to my mother’s solution: a couple of whacks with a wooden spoon on a fully padded, fully clothed derriere.  (While I’m not a huge proponent of spanking, I had had it with her. And at the time, it did stop the fireworks.)

Her final word on the subject came the next day: a CPS worker on our front doorstep, with a report of parental abuse and alcohol use (the glass of wine I’d had with dinner the night before), who quickly assessed the situation and informed my surprised daughter that getting her bottom swatted did not constitute child abuse in the state of Indiana.

After the social worker left, we talked with our daughter with as much patience and kindness as we could muster. We knew where the resistance was coming from (though we didn’t say this aloud): she had already lost one family, as an infant. She still had one brother, but they are at the stage that they can’t be in the same room without bloodshed. Even after more than a decade of family life, it was hard for her to believe she belonged.

What we did say was this: Didn’t she know that we love her, that she is the most important thing to us? I’ll never forget her response:

“Ninety percent of the time, I know you love me. The other ten, you abuse me.”

I don’t know what surprised me more: that, as a parent, she gave us an “A” in the most important parental indicator … or that this sense of security was so easily shaken that she still associates discipline with abuse.  (Asked to define “abuse,” she said it was yelling, making her feel bad, making her do so many chores, taking away internet, and making her write lines. Oh, and spanking. Definitely.)

One of the most challenging aspects of raising a child with developmental or neurological issues (whether FASD, PTSD, ODD, ADHD, attachment issues, or other kinds of mental or other developmental problems) is that it can be very difficult to come to a common understanding of reality. Attempting to reason with a child who is at war within herself is an exercise in frustration. You can argue, you can pray, you can encourage, you can reward (or punish, but reward is usually more effective with mine) … but you cannot erase that inner monologue that says the people who are caring for her don’t really love her (in adoption, that often translates to “they aren’t your REAL parents”), and that she is really unlovable, ugly, and powerless. Therapy can (and does) help. But it’s a long road, and there is no getting “around.” Only “through.”

All you can do is hold them until the storm passes … and then move on. Because love (like fear) takes many forms: it’s that midnight bowl of ice cream. It’s that family concert where you cheer her on for attempting to play the same three chords her guitar teacher has been teaching her for a month. It’s signing up to lead youth group, because making friends is scary, and at the end of the day you are her beacon of safety. It’s welcoming her into our bed at the crack of dawn for the bajillionth consecutive day, even when we all know there won’t be any more sleeping for any of us. And, the hardest love of all, it’s taking a deep breath and remembering how tenuous those ties can be, and willing yourself not to give in to the temptation to push her away, literally or emotionally.

It’s looking into those big, brown eyes and seeing … not the angry, snarly teenager who can’t WAIT until she turns eighteen and can leave this horrible place. But the sweet and silly funny face, that happy and cooperative young woman who graces our lives … at least ten percent of the time.

 

Even Then, Even When, Even Still

sarah wildThose big, brown eyes, those kicky little toes, were made for love.

I closed my ears, and heard nothing but the sound of my heart.

That was then, my sweet. Even then, my sweet.

But this is now.

You grew, and the separateness began. You ran past the other moms,

naked in the nursery and untouchable as you belted Amazing Grapes.

That was then, my dear. Even when, my dear.

But this is now.

Up and out, up and out. With each passing day, I wonder how we got here.

We look at each other, and see not a mirror but the Enemy. I want my baby back.

Let’s find a way, dear girl. Even when, dear girl.

And even now.

P.S. Dear Mom, I get it.

 

Want the story behind the prayer? Click here.

An Adoptive Mother’s Prayer

white-roses-3627.jpgWhat they want, I cannot give them, Lord.

What I have, they do not want.

I reach for answers, and come up empty.

A solitary ache steels between my eyelids

and chases sleep dead in the night.

How does a mother love, love truly

if she cannot bear to like?

Slowly, slowly, each labored breath

is sweet anticipation of goodbye.

For now, all I ask

is for the grace of hello.

 

(c) Heidi Hess Saxton 2017

 

 

Lead Me On: The Gift of Audrey Assad

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,
He makes me to lie down in green pastures,
He leads me by the still waters, he restores my soul….
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. From Psalm 23

View More: http://marycarolinerussell.pass.us/inheritanceIn the world of foster parenting and adoption, there are some valleys that are so dark and deep that the very act of passing through them leads an indelible mark upon even the most trusting and devout of souls. The pain of the journey is all-consuming, each day white-knuckling it from one moment to the next.

When at last the darkness passes and you begin to see the light again, you take a deep and thankful breath, grateful just to have survived. And in the next breath, you fervently pray that you will never have to walk that way again.

Confirmation CountdownLast night, just one day after returning with the family from Costa Rica, I was horrified to discover we were heading for the valley of the shadow again. As the details emerged, I burst out sobbing so hard I could not catch my breath. “No, dear God. Please. I can’t bear it.” It wasn’t the same valley, not exactly. But another dark and frightening.

My friend Colleen and I were scheduled to go see Audrey Assad in concert that evening. I had heard Audrey’s testimony about her struggle with pornography two years ago at the Edel Gathering in Charlotte. I prayed that God would speak to me that night.

Inside the church, I took a moment to light a candle … and remembered the time, as we were crossing the first valley of shadow, when I sent my Baptist parents on an impossible quest: I asked them to go to a nearby Catholic church and light a candle for their grandson. Nervously they ventured inside, and the kindly priest explained they had recently renovated the church and taken out the bank of candles. Then he gave them a leftover candle and told them to take it home, put it near a picture of our family, and light it each time they prayed for us.

They did. Then they went back three times, each time the candle burned to a nub. They weren’t exactly sure how lighting a candle would make a difference — it wasn’t part of their tradition. But for me, they found the courage to follow through. And now, as I thought about all that had happened from the lighting of that candle to this one, I took a deep breath and thanked God that he would give us courage to face this, too.

We had arrived early enough to get a good seat, second row center. Sarah was over-the-moon excited, seated between Colleen and “Miss Kelly,” who runs our church youth group. I half-heartedly joined in the rosary that preceded the concert. My mind was numb, my eyes bright with unshed tears. Audrey came out and played a few songs, told a few stories, and suddenly … she began to play a gentle ballad by an unlikely prophet that had gotten me through many a dark night when our son was in his program.

When you’re weary, feeling small.
When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all.
I’m on your side when times get rough and friends just can’t be found.
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…

Suddenly it was as if all the air had been sucked out of the room, and I realized that I was holding my breath to keep from sobbing. Fortunately I had an escape valve in my eyes, a tiny trickle that coursed down both cheeks as I sat there in the semi-darkness, listening as God whispered consolation to my heart. He had not forgotten me or my family.

Audrey started talking about the origins of the song, how songs mean different things to different people — even the songwriter, whose inspiration may have come from a very different source. “But that is the power of music, that it speaks to people where they are, that they can find a home in a song.”

I experienced the truth of that in special way that night. As parents, we work hard to make a home for our children — but we cannot give what we do not have. When we are weary, we have a home in the Sacred Heart, which beats when our own hearts are broken … and was broken that our hearts might beat anew.

Photo credit: Picture of Audrey Assad from her website.

First Impressions

This morning a fat cloud sits on the mountain at eye level as we sit on the porch in the cool of the morning, Colleen drinking coffee and I sipping the precious Diet Coke I managed to liberate from the plane on my flight last night. On the flight, I watched Genius, the true story […]

via Day One: Thankfulness — A Mother on the Road Less Traveled

It was not easy, leaving my flu-ish husband and teary-eyed daughter at the airport. I hug her extra tight and remind her that we will see each other in Costa Rica as soon as school is out. Still, two weeks is the longest we’ve been apart from each other. At fifteen, she should be able to handle it … but inside, she isn’t fifteen. Inside, she still has a way to go.

Selfishly, I’ve been eagerly anticipating this trip for weeks. My sisters remind me that it’s good for me to get this time away, that the kids will be fine. “You don’t get many chances for self-care,” one sister reminded me. Then again, what mom does? And how many could in their wildest dreams take a two-week break from home? How many would even want to?

Well, I do. And I am so very thankful that I can. It’s taken me a while to arrive at thankful, of course. But now, sitting on the porch and listening to some vintage Amy Grant, looking over the sleepy(ish) town of Turrialba, with its exotic foilage and cool mountain air, I look forward to the surprises the day has in store. Tomorrow morning I’m hoping I’ll be up to my neck in babies. But today, easing into the day with my friend Colleen, I’m enjoying the peace.

And thankful beyond words for my dear husband, who made it all possible.