Precarious Joy

chris.JPGIt’s not every eighteen-year-old guy who decides to take his sister to prom …. Then again, Chris isn’t your typical eighteen-year-old guy. And this isn’t just any sister … it’s the sister he hasn’t seen for six years for reasons beyond anyone’s control. Except perhaps the PA Juvenile Court System. But this is a day for joy, and so let’s not muck it up with the details, shall we?

One of the few things both the judge in Michigan (who granted our adoption) and the one in PA (who presided over our case when Chris was 11) agreed to was that once the minor children turned 18, it would be up to them to decide whether to get in contact with their birth family members.

On his 18th birthday, he was on the phone with his first mom. I dialed the number for him. And when it came time to choosing a prom date, there was one girl he most wanted to spend it with. And they both look happy, don’t they? Continue reading

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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!

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.

Easter Blessings

As thousands of new Catholics celebrate their reception into the Church, those of us who were received in years past look back with a mixture of gratitude and wonder. In particular, we wonder where has the time gone?

christopher-comm-brother-and-sisterIf I needed a visual, I have only to look at my children’s faces and see it. This one, taken for Christopher’s first communion in 2008, captures a time of sheer joy and innocence. They had been officially “ours” for just three years. Three years since they had been baptized, and had joyfully shouted “We have a new name!”

Fast forward nearly a decade, and …  Here the kids just received a surprise from my Chris and Sarahfriend (and theirs), Maria Johnson, handmade Franciscan rosaries. Seeing this image, I am reminded of the many friends (like Bego) who reached out to us over the last twelve years. And I remember how the kids have grown into their own faith. I smile as I watch Chris entranced in the flame of his own taper at the Easter Vigil, and thrill at the sound of Sarah standing next to me in the choir, belting out the high notes better than I ever could have hoped to do myself.

For Craig and me, it has been a journey of blind trust and faith in God, too. We have learned how limited are our own resources, and how bountiful are God’s mercies. We have experienced the power of prayer to create small miracles and change hearts. And we have learned how unique and unrepeatable is family life. To take small victories where we find them. And that the point of parenthood is not to turn small souls into replicas of ourselves, but to help them become — as fully as possible, in good times and bad — the best versions of themselves.

Wishing you and yours the richest blessings of the Easter season.

A Severe Kind of Mercy

As I contemplated writing tonight’s post, I read that Moammar Gaddafi’s youngest son and three grandchildren were killed in a NATO missile strike. The general survived, the report continued. On the other hand … how does anyone survive a loss of that magnitude?  

Ordinarily the news might not have made such an impression on me. However, I recently took my children to see their birthparents, who had not seen any of their four kids in seven years.  It was supposed to be another seven years before Chris was supposed to see them, but Christopher’s birthdad had been having heart trouble. Craig and I talked about it off and on for months, until he finally — reluctantly — agreed to a single visit.  We didn’t want Christopher to miss seeing him altogether.

As we walked into the home, Christopher became very animated, shouting, “I remember! I remember!” He ran upstairs to his old room, which seemed not to have been touched since he left it. All his toys and toddler-sized clothes were still there, as though he would be home to stay any minute. As though the little boy he once was had been frozen in time.

It was the same with Sarah’s room. The crib, the rocking chair, the baby swing … Everything was still there. Quickly their birthmom began digging through toys, handing them to the kids until their arms were full as the birthdad left the room so the kids didn’t see his tears. On the way home, I contemplated what I had seen and wondered if I’d done the right thing. 

Then, as if in response to my unspoken thoughts, Christopher piped up, “I can’t wait until I turn 18, so I can move back with my real family.”

I swallowed hard, trying not to show how his words had hurt. “You already live with your real family, Christopher.  You will always be part of our family, no matter how old you are. That’s adoption.”

He thought about that for a minute. “Well… maybe I can live in the middle.”

This “living in the middle” feeling was understandable, and I didn’t take it personally. I have read of adoptive families that  successfully integrate birthfamily members into their extended family. Even so, my son’s comment made me wonder: How can a child who has contact with two sets of parents grow up feeling anything but “in the middle”?

A few weeks have passed, and I’m still not sure it was the right choice.  Time will tell.  What I do know is that once again Sarah is sleeping with us every night, and Christopher has been having nightmares in which I disappear and he can’t find me. I agreed to the visit out of love . . . and yet I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t a severe kind of mercy.

God’s mercy can also seem severe sometimes. This is the side of grace we don’t often consider. When Craig and I were presented to John Paul II in 1999, while in Rome on our honeymoon, I distinctly remember looking into the man’s clear blue eyes and thinking that I’d seen heaven there.  He could barely walk, and was a shell of the vital man he once was. Six more years would pass before he was finally laid to rest. Six more years of walking through that valley of the shadow, one painful step at a time.

However, the man Karol Wojtyla had embraced the job God had given him to do: to take up a particular cross that would uniquely reflect the self-donating love of God to all his children. As Pope John Paul II, he reminded us how utterly we need that hard-won, amazing grace every day of our lives. Even, and perhaps especially, when that way grows difficult, when it would be easier just to give in to despair and bitterness.  It is an uncommon kind of mercy, which drives the nails into the cross we have been called to carry.

As we celebrate the beatification of John Paul the Great tomorrow, let us remember the Divine Mercy that guides each of us all the way to heaven.  Together, as a family, in good times and bad, let us recall the act of grace emblazoned on Faustina’s image:

Jesus, we trust in you!

For Parents Who Wait: St. Thomas More, Patron of Adopted Kids

The other day a friend of mine was asking me about St. Thomas More, the patron saint of adopted and foster children. His feast day is June 22 — but as Advent is a time of “waiting,” and adoptive and foster parents are prone to wait, I thought I’d share this little true story with you today.

Before our children came to us, Craig and I visited London and saw the Tower where St. Thomas was held prisoner by Henry VIII. As part of the tour, the guard took us to the crypt where the head of St. Thomas was interred. Craig and I knelt before the ornate box that bore St. Thomas’ name, and asked the saint to pray for us, and for our children’s angels to protect them until it was time for us to receive them.

Watching us silently for a few moments, the guard finally admitted that the head wasn’t in the box – that to protect it against vandals, it had been buried in a space in the wall behind us. I placed my hand on the wall, and told St. Thomas that if we had a son, he would be named Thomas.

As it turned out, Craig later admitted that he wanted his son named after HIM, or at least to have his initials, and I honored his request … But Christopher knows he has his confirmation name already picked out for him!

Foster and adoptive parents need to be especially flexible and open to changes to “the plan.” And yet, like St. Thomas, we also need to be prepared to stand for truth, and to guard against the negative influences of society. As foster parents, we are often called upon to mitigate the negative effects of our children’s early experiences. Loving discipline, combined with large doses of patience (of which I am naturally in short supply, but God provides!), will help to ensure that however rocky their beginnings, our children will blossom to become God originally created them to be.

Photo credit: This image is available for purchase here.