Thursday, May 25, 2017

Journal Entry 6.27.15

Almost two years ago, I was pregnant with Ingrid and we were considering adopting a pre-teen girl from foster care. I started a journal for her then, just as I have for all my biological kiddos. I've shared on here before from this journal, and even though our focus has shifted from a preteen girl to a sibling set and some of the  pronouns or references don't make perfect sense, the thoughts and feelings behind them remain constant. 

Here is another journal entry from June 27, 2015:

"We are finishing up our weeklong beach vacation and all week I have found myself thinking of you. I've pictured you as the big sister in the water wearing a matching swimsuit to your three younger sisters. Would you find it cheesy and childish, or would you revel in this small visual confirmation that you are part of a family? 

I've imagined you cooking alongside me in the kitchen as we prepare our favorite beach foods and wonder what items you'll want to add to the menu. I've envisioned you smiling and laughing as we sit and play cards late into the night. Every time I think of you, I think of this beautiful, special girl who will be so glad to finally have a family who loves her to call her own. But I know that this may not be the case… 

I do not doubt you will be beautiful and special, and I know daddy and I will love you, and pray your siblings will love you and welcome you as one of them… But you may not be glad to be part of our family. You may resent being relocated up to the boondocks of northern Minnesota. You may find me annoying or overwhelming or may clash with the sudden role of big sister. You may try with all of your energy to keep your walls up and vow not to make a connection because you just can't bear to be let down again. You may fight me, physically or emotionally, and find satisfaction of seeing me hurt like you have been… Or you may try and pretend like everything is perfect, hiding your insecurities and putting on a show, constantly trying to earn my affection and praise, and desperately trying to fit into your new family. You may make a show of attaching to me as your mother, but deep down feel distrust and fear that you don't measure up and will never be like a real daughter to me. 

Likely you will fall somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum. You will take time to warm up to us and let your guard down, but will genuinely desire to be part of the family.  You will have your good days and bad days, as I'm sure I will as well. You will struggle with feeling loved and accepted for who you are, and fitting into the cookie-cutter image you believe there to be for a "perfect daughter".

Whatever the case may be, I want to make perfectly clear right now that 
I am here for you. 
I love you. 
I want you. 
I value you. 
I cherish you. 
And I will not give up on you. 

You may find this silly or think I am being insincere. After all, how can I make all these statements, these promises to you, when I don't yet know who you are? Well, I think it's no different than how I feel when I think about the tiny baby girl I am carrying within me right now. I know I am her mother and she is my daughter, but that is all I know for sure. I do not know when she will be born, only the date she is due to arrive. I do not know if she will be healthy, or if she will carry with her a lifelong burden of illness or struggle. I do not know if she will ultimately grow up happy and grateful to be part of this family or secretly wish she was someone else's daughter. But I know that I will love her. And just as with her, bringing you into our lives and family will be filled with unknowns and uncertainties, but you can rest assured knowing that I, your mother, will love you regardless of anything else you may think, feel, or believe - and I can guarantee this to be true."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Final Stretch

We started our adoption journey in December of 2016 pursuing a Domestic Infant Adoption.  Fast forward to March and we changed our course to pursuea sibling set Adoption from Foster Care. Now it is almost the end of May, and if the acceptance of our initial adoption application was like the two pink lines on the pregnancy test, then following this analogy, we are now in the third trimester!  

We've been plodding along since Christmas, busying ourselves with the necessary paperwork, attending the required trainings and education, and reading books and attending conferences on what to expect when you're adopting. Now we are on the final stretch! Only a few more papers to fill out and our caseworkers will be here in 2 weeks to approve our home study!  

The nesting instinct you feel at the end of a pregnancy is also kicking in! I've organized closets and begun cleaning and sorting my way through the house. We sold our dining table and now have one with 10 chairs around it! We traded in our 8 passenger Ford Excursion for a 12 passenger Chevy Express van (I know you're jealous!) I joked with my friends that if they get nervous when they see a big white van frequenting parks and other places that children play, not to worry, it's just me! Haha! I know that joke is in poor taste, but you have to be able to laugh at yourself!

The kids are getting so excited to meet their new brothers and sisters! As we were laying down before bed last night, they were sharing their hopes about this adoption. Teddy wants a brother, BADLY! Natalie wants a sister that is her age, but NOT older than her. Caroline wants a girl named Eela... she is oddly specific.  They talked about going to the pool together and camping as a family; shooting hoops in the driveway and late night bonfires; experiencing the 4th of July festivities and County Fair together; Teddy even suggested that we should adopt more brothers and sisters every year!

They know that we don't necessarily get to choose the specific ages and genders of the sibling set - we are looking at all sibling sets of 2-3 kiddos who range in age from birth-8 years old available for adoption in MN.  We have also made a point of talking about the less "sunshine and rainbows" aspect of adoption, so they know that their new siblings might be sad or mad and might not really act like they want to be here. Some of what we have shared has obviously sunk in because Teddy prayed "... please help my new brothers and sisters to not have fear". 

Adoption is beautiful, but it is also hard. Kids that are "in the system" got there because their situations at home were less than desirable. They have likely witnessed or been subjected to things we only read about in newspapers. But their past shouldn't define their future. 

Can't wait to bring my kiddos home!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Perspective

I'm an eternal optimist. I look on the bright side with my glass half full. I believe that there is good in everyone and that some good can come from even the worst situations.

This perspective was shaken when I found out about my 4-year-old nephew's cancer diagnosis. But I am learning new things about perspective.

You see, my optimistic perspective is just my point of view, but the perspective I am learning about is the second entry in the dictionary definition,

per·spec·tive
pərˈspektiv/
noun
noun: perspective
  • a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.
  • true understanding of the relative importance of things; a sense of proportion.
Knox was diagnosed on a Monday. We all had a pretty good idea that the doctors would say it was cancer, but until we received the text from his mom following the appointment, we hoped and wished and prayed we were wrong.  That was a dark day. Reality hit hard and fear set in. In fact, that was the last day I wrote on here - unable to sleep and thinking about what the future might look like for my little nephew and his family and feeling so angry that this was their new normal.

Now Tuesday was PETscan day and we were all wracked with worry as we awaited the results. This would tell us if the cancer in his femur bone had spread anywhere else in his body. Now to keep things "in perspective", we had just learned on Monday that Knox had Osteosarcoma, a very rare bone cancer that when you take into account his age, is so rare that there may only be as few as 4 children diagnosed with it this year, WORLDWIDE. A quick Google search will tell you that the survival rate of this disease is 70%, and that is not a conforting statistic.  Now 24 hours later, I was keeping myself busy doing laundry when I received a group text message from his dad.

PET scan is clear!!!!!!!

Never had four words looked better! I'm pretty sure I jumped a foot in the air before running to tell my husband in the other room! Other family members recounted screaming aloud at receiving the news.

The diagnosis and treatment plan were still the same, we knew that. But somehow, it was if they had told us all that he was miraculously cancer free! I was filled with such JOY I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. This was the "true understanding of the relative importance of things" definition of perspective in play.

Now since then I have noticed more and more the importance of perspective:

Instead of being heartbroken about the reality that her son would lose his hair,
My sister thought of a way to build community support for him while raising funds for another cause

Instead of being frustrated that he got an uncontrollably bloody nose in the car
She was just grateful she was already en route to the doctor

Instead of being homesick as the overnight trip turned into 2 nights, and 3 and 4,
She was so happy to be in a hospital where they could monitor everything

Instead of being scared as she watched his levels plummet,
She said, "the chemo must really be working"

Instead of wallowing alone in her hospital room, 
She reached out to others going through similar circumstances

She met a little girl who had been born with a congenital heart defect and undergone multiple open heart surgeries as a baby...Whose father had died when she was two... Who was diagnosed with Leukemia as a toddler and was in the midst of chemo treatments... Whose stepfather had been diagnosed with a brain tumor...
...and my sister counted her own blessings

Her eternal perspective colors the lenses through which she views the world. 

Perspective is an amazing thing. 
If you just shift your focus, you may see things in a whole new light.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

cancer

c a n c e r

How can 6 little letters carry such weight? 

They arbitrarily place themselves in between,
forever distinguishing the before from the now. 

They enter our lives unannounced and turn them upside down. 

What once was, can no longer be. 

What was dreamed of, may not come to pass. 

They enter our ears and take over our minds, 
permeating every thought and overshadowing every hope. 

They rob us of our joy, crush our spirits, 
and drain us of our tears. 

They fill us with fear and dread and anger, so much anger. 

They render us helpless and weak, unable to function. 

They do not discriminate, anyone is fair game. 

Even an innocent child. 


Today, cancer has won. 



But tomorrow...

Tomorrow cancer better watch its back...

Because there is a posse coming for it...



Monday, April 10, 2017

Breaking the Cycle

We had our first in-home visit with the adoption agency last week and the ball is now officially rolling! She will be back in May, and between now and then we will complete Car Seat Safety Training, First Aid/CPR Training, and 20 hours of Pre-Adopt Education and Training. We also have a mountain of paperwork that we are working on throughout the whole process. She is still anticipating approval at the beginning of June!  I am praying we are able to match shortly thereafter and bring our kiddos home near the beginning of the summer, so we have as much time as possible to bond with them, and for them to attach to us and their siblings.

We also attended a conference geared toward those who work with "kids from hard places" called Empowered to Connect.  This was an amazing conference that I can't recommend enough, even if you don't interact with kids who have endured trauma! I signed up for it before we began this journey to learn how to connect better to my biological kids!

Here is a brief overview of my takeaways from the conference:

1. Our kiddos brains are capable of amazing things.  The brain is a complex organ with different areas responsible for distinct functions, and all these separate areas need to work together in order to properly function.

2. How the brain functions is affected by a variety of risk factors including time spent in utero, birth, postnatal issues, abuse, trauma, and neglect.

3. The brains of kiddos subject to the risk factors in #2 are different than those of a child who has not experienced these risk factors. Because of this we cannot view all children through the same lens.  Their level of maturity does not directly correspond to their chronological age.

4. The stress and trauma that some at-risk kids endure affects not only their brain, but their beliefs, behaviors, body, and even their biology.

5. Attachment is critical, especially in the first year of life. The attachment style of the parent will affect the child's view of the world and will likely be the attachment style that child defaults to when they become parents.

Those last few lend credence to the phrase  "you are a product of your environment".

-If a child experiences a healthy pregnancy, birth, and has no complications after birth, they have a great start! Their environment thus far has been conducive to good brain development and because the brain hasn't been affected by outside factors or substances, it will begin developing as it should.

-If a child experiences a difficult pregnancy or is subject to outside substances in utero, has a traumatic birth, or has postnatal stressors like extended NICU stays, their brain has already been affected.

-In either case, if this child is then raised in an unhealthy environment, or by a caregiver that doesn't foster healthy attachment; or worse, the child experiences neglect, abuse, or trauma, their brain's development will be greatly affected.

They talked specifically about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) which include the various forms of abuse, neglect, and trauma. Kids who endure ACES grow into adults that suffer the consequences. Unresolved traumas are a breeding ground for mental and somatic health issues, substance abuse, and issues with stress, anger, and sexuality.

A cycle is set into motion in these children's lives without their consent. But the good news is, we can help break that cycle.

We can help them learn to trust and appropriately attach. We can help them begin to believe they are worthy of love. We can help them learn to negotiate their needs, stand up for themselves, and be confident in who they are.

There was so much information shared on how to do this, and as someone who introduced one of the speakers said, "I don't have enough letters before and after my name" to accurately relay all that they shared. But this video, this video, and this book, among many other resources would be a great starting point!

One final takeaway that is valuable to any parent is this:


It is so important to take time to connect with each of your kiddos, one-on-one, for at least 10 minutes every day.  Let your child decide what you are going to do during this time and just focus on following their lead and having fun doing what they want to do! This is not a teachable moment, or a time to ask them excessive questions. It's a time to let them know that you WANT to spend time with them.

And when you say your head down on your pillow at night, you go through your kids one by one and ensure that you have taken this time to invest in them. If you realize you missed out on one, get up and go to that child's room and tell them you missed spending time alone with them today. It will be ten minutes well spent.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Justin's Surprise 30th Weekend

Way back in October, I turned 30 and my hubby threw me a surprise party... after taking me out to eat... after I returned from an overnight hotel stay, by MYSELF... where I went on a shopping spree for new clothes for myself... so yeah he pretty much rocked my 30th birthday celebration.  That same week I laid the plans for his 30th birthday that was 6 months away. This past weekend it finally came to pass!

I woke him up Saturday morning with a cup of coffee and breakfast pizza from the gas station (so romantic, I know) and told him we were leaving in half an hour. He asked "to go where?", I replied "you don't get to know."

I had already packed up almost everything and my bigs ran over to their cousins where they would be staying. We packed up the littles and headed to drop them off at my other sisters in the next town over.

From there, I directed him to another town about an hour away where we stopped to use the bathroom quickly. (He later said he thought we were going to his favorite gun store to buy a new gun. The good wife I am, didn't even remember there was a gun store there, or that it was his favorite!)

We headed back on the road for another couple hours and pulled up to a Great Clips where he was directed to get a haircut. They were booked out so we skipped that and went to a restaurant called Brew. (Just a quick aside to do a shameless plug for this place: it is awesome! Great atmosphere, selection of beer and food was amazing, and everything tasted fantastic!).  He thought this town was our final destination for a minute, but we headed back on the road for another couple hours and eventually pulled into a Sport Clips where he was able to get a haircut.

Then I directed him to our hotel.  We checked into our room and when he went in the bathroom I laid out his dress clothes with a card on top.  He opened the card which contained tickets to Chanhassen Dinner Theater's "Grease". I expounded upon what I had written in the card, explaining how we have always talked about going back to New York to see another Broadway show (we saw Wicked in 2007 and LOVED it) and how we had loved the shows in Vegas, so I thought it would be a fun way to celebrate his 30th birthday. I also mentioned that we were staying for two nights so we could have a little extra time away, and confessed my fib about why he had to take work off on Monday.

We went to the show and it was amazing. Dinner was included with our tickets so we dined first and then the show began. First off, they cast it perfectly - especially Rizzo, Frenchy, and Kenicke - and the play sticks pretty close to the movie plot which I appreciate!  We both enjoyed it thoroughly, and then headed back to the hotel. I wished him a happy birthday again, reiterating how this was his gift and we talked about what we could do the next day to pass the time.

We awoke the next morning and ate breakfast at the hotel... because who books a hotel without breakfast included!? Then we lounged around and eventually went to Target and Home Depot to shop and window shop, ending up at Smash Burger for lunch. Yum! Highly recommend the salted caramel shake! Burgers and sides were tasty, and J liked that you could get a beer with your meal which is not typically the case at these types of places.

We headed back to the hotel with plans to relax and then maybe go to a movie or something later.  Shortly after getting back to our room, I "remembered" his gift that I had "forgotten" was in the trunk. I went and fished it out from its hiding place and brought it back up.  I handed it to him saying "it's just a little something to have as a tangible birthday gift."

He opened the package and found a MN Wild jersey inside. After trying it on and thanking me, we resumed our game of "Oregon Trail", the card game that J had been so excited to purchase. (Sidenote, I don't get this game... probably because I was so distracted by the suspense of J's gift).

As we finished up the game, I was trying to figure out how to get Justin to dig under the tissue paper of the box he had set aside after removing the jersey from it.  I started folding up the top of the box and the tissue paper that he had pulled out and asked him to hand me the tissue paper out of the box so I could fold it as well and save it (yes, I am that big of a loser, so this wasn't an odd request). He pulled the tissue paper out and found the papers hiding underneath that were the tickets to the Wild vs. Avalanche game that evening!

We had great seats, and having never been to an NHL game, we were both caught up in the excitement.  They definitely know how to get a crowd going and it was a fun game to watch! Helps when your team wins 5-2!

We headed back to the hotel for the night and now it is early in the the morning and he is sleeping as I write on here. Why is it that you always wake up early when you have the opportunity to sleep in!?

It was a memorable 30th birthday and it was so fun to be on the giving end of a building surprise like this!  It will certainly make sitting through the 3 1/2 hour Car Seat Training (that is required for our adoption) on his real birthday a little more bearable.

I think I am smelling the free breakfast, better get going!! ;)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Journal Entry 6.13.15

Each child of mine has a journal that was started when I found out I was expecting. In June of 2015, we were seriously considering adopting a pre-teen girl from foster care. I started a journal for her then and continued to write in it periodically for the next 10 months. I was pregnant with my 4th babe when we were considering this and decided that we should wait until she was a year old to reevaluate our adoption plan.  A couple months after that was when we shifted our plan to adopt an infant domestically. And now here we are again, back in the foster adoption world, only this time instead of a pre-teen girl, we are looking at a sibling set.

Tonight, I sat down to journal to the kiddos we hope to add to our family and instinctively grabbed the journal I had started in December of 2016, when we began the domestic infant adoption process.  After reading through my first entry, I thought to pull out the other  journal I had started almost 2 years ago when we were considering adopting from foster care.

Here is my first entry, from June 13, 2015:

"For the past two weeks I haven't stopped thinking about you. I've been dreaming about whether you will be a boy or a girl, if there will be one of you or more, what you look like, and what kind of personality you will have. I've planned and replanned the layout and design of your room, I've imagined going on our first family vacation or picking our first family pet...

 I didn't find out about you in the traditional way. I did not buy a pregnancy test and wait in anticipation for the two pink lines to appear… I did not go to the doctor for labs or an ultrasound… no, with you, it was completely different.

I've longed for you just as I've longed for my other children, but I already know I will miss your first cry as you are transitioning from the warmth and safety of the womb to the bright and unfamiliar world.  I will miss giving you your first bath and will not have the pure joy and satisfaction that would result from working toward your first smile. I will not be there to document you rolling over for the first time or photograph you rocking on your hands and knees as you attempt to crawl. There are so many things I will not get to be a part of - first steps, first words, first birthday... and second, and third… Knowing everything I will miss is almost too much to bear.

 I wonder, as I am writing this now, where you are, who you are with… I wonder what you were thinking, how you are feeling… If you can feel the love I already feel for you…"

Almost two years have passed, and yet every word still rings true. This desire has been burning within me for a long time and I can't wait to bring my kiddos home!