Sunday, November 20, 2011

Making Room

"And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."  Luke 2:7
From the instant He was born, Jesus was identified with the lost souls of this earth.  He was born in an inappropriate place, because there was no room in the usual places.  He and His mother became "at risk", turning a filthy stable into a delivery room.  I assume they did not have a lot of material resources.  Material resources would have likely secured a more appropriate place and attendants.  Yet the owners of the inn gave what shelter they had to offer the poor young couple.  And the poor young couple wrapped their child in the cloths that they had, and made room for Him in the manger.

Making room is what makes or breaks us.  Someone in this world must make room for us, or we may be lost.  Someone must be willing to allocate times, spaces, and resources just for us and our use.  It does not matter if we are a day old or ninety years old.  Making room is the essence of true love.  

In our culture we are not about making room.  We believe that people need a minimum number of square feet, and dollars, and whatever.  We limit how much room we are willing to make, based upon the formulaic mandates of the American dream.

Making room is risky business.  What if that poor young couple sues me because their baby picks up some illness in my stable?  What if I make room and that person robs me?  What if I make room and I find myself impoverished, exhausted, infected?  What if making room leaves me brokenhearted?

Making room implies something that we often do not consider.  Making room requires sacrifice.  If I decide to make room, I must reallocate my resources.  I must give up some of my precious spaces... spaces I have filled with beauty, or usefulness, or things.  I must give up some of my material resources.  It costs to add a place to the table, a seat in the car, a bed under a roof.  Where must I trim my budget to make room for this person?  I must give up some of my time.  My day is already full.  The demands on my attention are daunting, and yet I must carve out the time.  A bed and meal is not enough.  Boarding houses do that.  Homeless shelters do that.  Prisons do that.  Families are different.  Families make room, and this is how they love.

Risky, messy, costly love.  The only kind of love that can save us. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Are You Feeling Old?

I don't believe we give young people enough credit.  Our hearts and minds are moved powerfully when we are young and have very little power of our own.  When we are old and powerful, we find our hearts cold and dull.  It is not strange.  It is the way of the human race.  We must wake up each day and force our old bodies and tired minds to do the work we began when we were young.

We have not changed our minds, or given up, or failed.  We have not necessarily grown older and wiser.  We are exactly the same as we used to be, only now we have the power to do something about it.  

Back then no one took me seriously because I was so young.  Back then I had no money, no education, no experience.  Back then I was scattered and disorganized.  Back then I was selfish and easily discouraged.

What now?  My back hurts when I get up in the morning?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Still Here

I find it unbelievable that it has been over three months since I have posted here.  Even the format for posting has changed, so I shall have to overcome that as well.

Life is moving at a breakneck pace, and I am currently just hanging on for dear life, waiting for this ride to slow down enough to get my bearings.  Life is good, but very full, and very overwhelming.

We are never ready for what is coming at us, but we are as ready as anyone can be.  And then we just have to learn how to do it.  

After a time of doing, we realize we are not very good at it.  Then we get down to the business of disciplining ourselves to becoming a little better at it each day.  

A little better each day is better than wowing the crowd.  But it is tiring, and doesn't leave much time for luxurious activities like blogging.

I miss blogging, and I want to make time for it.  Maybe if I stop showering I can bang out two short posts a week?  No?  

We shall see how it goes.  But for now, the two of you who still check in will know I have not entirely abandoned this endeavor. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness (Among Other things)

A friend recently posted a link to this article over on F*acebook, and I highly recommend taking the time to read it.  It's a bit long, and has a bit of language, but still well worth your time.  I'm posting about this article here today, because it's a topic I've been ruminating on for awhile.  I've read other blog posts and articles on the subject too, but this one really does a good job of tying up all the loose ends.

The quote that resonates with me days later is this: “Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing, but happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.” (Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory at Swarthmore College)  I guess I had never thought of it in exactly that way before, but it's so true, and on so many levels.

Personally I can comment on the folly of making happiness my life goal.  But isn't it what every child of trauma does?  "When I grow up I'm going to do things differently.  Then I'll be happy.  How will I do things differently?  Well, I don't know, but I'm going to be happy.  You'll see."  Happy is like a sore tooth.  Every morning you wake up and thrust your tongue into the sore spot to see how much it hurts.  All day long you poke at it and suck on it, testing to see if it's better or worse.  Every morning you wake up and poke the holes in your life to see if they still hurt, and if they do, then you know you are still not happy.  This of course makes you even more unhappy.

As a parent I can also testify to the folly of making a happy family your idol.  Mainly because it just doesn't work.  You can't make everyone happy all the time, and you'll kill yourself trying.  Or you'll make your kids happy, and feel unhappy because you rather suspect you should have made them unhappy, at least for a little while.

Another line of thought this article brings to my mind, is how this commonly accepted method of child rearing flies in the face of parenting children of trauma...forget parenting children with full blown RAD.  And most of us fall into that trap.  We go to our adoption classes and we think, "Sure things will be crazy for a little while.  But once the kids adjust a bit, I can get down to the business of being the parent I always dreamed I would be."  Never mind that it apparently screws up emotionally healthy kids.

And then we feel like failures because it's  And we get this new, big hole to probe every morning, to inform us that we definitely aren't happy.  

The paradox in my life, is that when I stopped chasing happiness, I got happier.  When I stopped trying to make my kids happy, or even worrying about whether they were happy...well, I can't speak for their internal emotional states, but they seem reasonably contented.  The less I poke at the sore spots, the more I realize how much time I used to spend poking, and prodding, and fretting.  It's not like I've gotten numb or apathetic.  Far from it.  It's just that I've come to expect the sore spots, and perceive them as part of normal.  Pain, fatigue, frustration, anxiety...there's nothing wrong with them.  You don't ignore them, because they have their own purposes, but you don't let them rule over your life.  I'm convinced that growing up healthy means that you learn this early in life.

I was a late bloomer, but still I am blessed to stumble over the truth in my old age.  I am an old, stubborn dog learning a new trick, and that my friends, makes me happy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fruit and Nuts

A few days ago I read my dear friend Christine's blog post about Mother's day, and as I read my head was bobbling up and down in agreement and complete empathy.  You should definitely go read it, if you haven't already, but I'll sum up.  She says that this Mother's Day was bittersweet for her.  That her children still have difficulty dealing with a day to honor someone else.  Sure, they can hold their stuff together, at least until the day after.  Maybe even completely.  But why?  Well, because they know what happens when they trash a special day.  There are consequences, and they have to make repairs.  They have stuff they want to do this week.  Restitution and repair aren't on their short list.  So though it is a victory of sorts, it still has little to do with loving and honoring Mom. 

I submit that it is.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  What does that even mean?

I think about emergencies, crises, chaotic times.  These are the times that love is most necessary, yet so often absent.  We kick it into overdrive.  We do what we have to do to get through.  Sometimes survival is all we can muster the energy for. 

So what happens when you live in survival mode from the day you are born.  Children are naturally self centered, even cherished, nourished children.  They have to be taught to look beyond themselves.  It takes time and patience, and when we see it happening, we know that our children are growing to maturity. 

My first reaction to my traumatized child's survival mode is to say they are completely self centered.  They look out for number one.  They make sure they get their share.  They fight for it if need be.  But this is a superficial understanding of the situation.  My child is not loving their self, because they battle against that same self, at the same time they battle everyone else. 

My child is trapped in a place where they can only fight for themself in this very moment.  It's an emergency, a crisis.  Adrenaline is flooding, fear is consuming.  There is no tomorrow, there was no yesterday.  They cannot even have empathy for their own future self.  They do not care if their actions in this moment will cost their self dearly.  They have no compassion for their own future tears or regrets.  They don't give a damn about the loss that child of tomorrow may suffer.  I have seen them weep for their own stupidity, and cry out how much they hate that child of an hour ago, that made such a mess for them to have to deal with.

Part of growing up, part of learning to love ourselves, is learning to discipline ourselves in the moment.  The child learns to predict an outcome.  They learn to empathize with their future self, understanding how they may feel with that outcome.  They make their choices based on that understanding and empathy. 

Their world begins to expand.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Life is not an emergency.  I am not in crisis.  I can have compassion on myself.  How might it feel to have compassion on another?  I experience kindness.  Can I share it as well?  Reach inside and find that there is something there, other than fear and adrenaline.  The fruit of mature self discipline is sweet, and there is enough for myself, and plenty to share.

Learning to discipline our self for our self, is the budding of the virtue of self discipline.  Learning to discipline our self so that we may properly love others is the mature fruit.  And so while the immature, hard little fruits are still bitter in our mouths, they are there.  Given a full summer of sun and rain, I have hope that they will grow and ripen.

Of course Christine knows this as well as I do.  I am truly preaching to the choir here.  That's what we do.  We speak the truth of our situation, and our heads bobble up and down in agreement.  I know how you feel, I feel that way too.  Then we go our way, thinking about it, turning it over in our mind, probing it for more than our own emotional reaction, probing it for the truth.  My emotions tell me the fruit is a little bitter and hard yet.  I feel the urge to spit it out.  Wait a minute...what am I saying here?  That's fruit mama, that's FRUIT!

Monday, May 9, 2011

For The Working Mom

A sometimes free-form, sometimes rhyming poem by Boo, in honor of my birthday and Mother's Day.  A departure from her usual acrostic style birthday card, it was attached to a pan of rice custard pudding (one of my favorites), that she had labored over for hours, throwing away more than one failure before achieving success.  In the world of RAD, nothing is sweeter than rice custard pudding and a poem on lined notebook paper.

there are so many words i could use to describe
what you do, and how, and why 

now the what, that's most easy to explain
they are very practical things for which you need a rather large brain
cleaning, i would say, is the most heavily done
which you find can also be a lot of fun
(except for cleaning my unmentionables)
cooking you do, more often than not
and when we rave about your soups
your heart becomes softened
sewing, i would say, is your most meticulous job
which you prefer to do alone, away from your children-mob
(and sometimes even dad!)
life lessons you teach are also quite important
you've helped me out of many rough spots
and helped me get my life sorted
(dad is always there too!)

now the how
i think explaining it is a no-brainer
cleaning and cooking with your hands
i've seen nothing stranger
now, the sewing , i would say,
is done with use of your mind
and your hand-sewn jobs
as a result are one-of-a-kind
the life lessons are given with mind and mouth
which are the very same lessons
that you've gone through
with the very same how
(how, meaning solution)

now the why is much more complex
and time consuming
this definitely needs the most explaining
and the most reviewing
there are many reasons why you do what you do
but the first, and foremost
is just because you want to
from this i choose to expand very greatly
because the in-depth reason is actually very stately

the main reason you want to is simply this:
you care enough to want to
you care enough about your family
to want to keep our clothes clean
you care enough about your family
to want to give us the advice we need
and all because you choose to

and the fact that you do all this
with no complaining, whatsoever amiss
makes me carry a great respect
because of the fact that i am so thoroughly impressed
(and because i appreciate your work)

so for the working mom i have this message:
thank you
i hope you know just how much you are needed
and the simple knowledge
just how much you are wanted
for the working mom i say it again
thank you
and i hope you comprehend
the sincerity of this message.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pets...the Bitter and the Sweet

I have always felt sorry for folks who don't love animals.  And secretly I have suspected something might be wrong with them.  I am a true, dyed in the wool, not entirely rational animal lover.  I will labor over whether I should spend an extra twenty cents on a higher fat content gallon of milk, yet a plunk down the insane amount of cash required to buy a bottle of insulin for my cat.  My animals make me happy in a completely uncomplicated, albeit expensive way that humans have yet to aspire to.  This doesn't mean I don't complain and grouse when the poodle steals half a pound of fudge, vomits it all over my entire house, and requires emergency vet care on a holiday.  I do, and loudly.  When the elderly cat slowly claws her way up onto my bed, shredding both my quilt and my leg, I yelp.  But over all, my pets make me smile more often than anything else on this earth.  This may be directly related to the fact that I have a poodle.

Along with the sweetness comes the bitterness of losing them.  Unless you get yourself a parrot or an elephant, you will likely outlive your beloved pet.  This week was a bitter week, losing my sweet mama goat after twelve long years.  She was at least four years old when I got her, so she had achieved elderly status in goat years.  More than four years ago when our girls came to us, life was thrown into the maelstrom, and the pets were neglected in the chaos.  It was a very mild early winter, and most of December that year was more like October or early November.  The problem with livestock and mild weather is this, that when it is warm they choose to sleep outdoors on the ground.  Unfortunately, if it turns suddenly cold, they can actually freeze their limbs.  One morning Baby Boy came indoors, frantic because my mama goat had let out a horrible cry upon rising, and was struggling about her pen.  I ran outdoors in my PJs to check on her, and the girls took the opportunity to begin swinging from the chandeliers.  I was so angry at them, that I made them come outside and buckle up in the truck, and I told them I didn't care if they ate each other, but they were to stay put while I took care of the goats.

I was quickly flooded with guilt, knowing I had not been keeping a close eye on much of anything but the girls, and all of the pets (and humans) were suffering for it.  Thus began a regimen of geriatric goat pampering, that involved thawing out in a crate in my kitchen, warm bottles of water with a twist of molasses, and a blanketed crate in the barn on any night that dipped below twenty degrees.  I was acutely aware that she could have died because of my inattention.  I was also aware that every one of our animals was stressed by the chaos reigning in the house, and that I had ceased to take joy in  the pets, seeing them only as another taxing chore.  Nursing my goat back to health, and pampering her for another four and a half years was the gift of that stressful, remorse filled morning.  I was suddenly, instantly aware of how heartbroken it made me to discard my pets each day, in order to feed the endless needs of my children.  Pet care became my self care.

A few days ago, Baby Boy again alerted me to trouble, and again I ran to the goat pen in my PJs.  The news was not good.  Somehow in the space of one rainy day she had failed to the point of not being able to rise.  We gave her some warm water and vitamins, and tried to entice her to eat.  She sniffed at grain, and strawberries, and soft green hay.  She was fat from winter, and her black coat was glossy and thick with winter fleece.  She looked the picture of health, but I could tell something was very wrong, and that her old lady frame would not survive it.  She laid in her house all day, baaing quietly whenever the other goats would make noise.  She sounded fussy.  I checked on her at bedtime and she was quiet.  She died during the night.

Yesterday I cried on and off all day, and went out in the thin spring sunshine to finish mucking her pen and clean out her little house.  Beloved husband and Baby Boy took her body to the vet for disposal, and Hippie Boy helped me muck the pen.  Mark that down in history.  As we worked, he asked me what appeal all of this held for me, that it did not hold for him.  I shrugged.  I don't know why I love to clean up rotting hay and manure, or stand listening to the movements of these funny little animals.  In my mind's eye, I can see back through a dozen Springtimes, see other barns and goat pens.  I can hear those same soothing sounds, smell the same rotting hay, and see my children playing with the kids.  I can feel the hours spent sitting on a crate, brushing the raggedy fleece out of spring coats, a black head leaning in with eyes closed.  "Please brush my neck and scratch my knobby head."   The lawn is littered with giant gray balls of wool, and I tell the children that the birds will line their nests with them. With my mama goat passes the image of a petite little girl struggling to "herd" her to her pen in the morning, or sitting at the homemade milking stand, racing to finish the milking.  Long gone is that little girl, grown to a woman, and the little boys that sat in the hay to hold the wriggling kids are disappearing as well.  Even the crazed little girls buckled into the backseat of the truck are gone, replaced by quiet, composed teens.

Our pets help us mark time and places, and at no time more than when we lose them.  We remember the day we brought them home, how old were the children, what house did we live in.  Almost every day of their lives, they do the very same things.  They are, after all, beasts.  It is easy to let them blend into the background of our lives in a way that our human housemates will not tolerate.  It is easy to take for granted all the quiet delight they can add to our lives.  Then in an instant they are gone, leaving a hole we did not anticipate. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ode to the Queen Bee

I was suffering through enjoying a snow day with my children, when my phone chanced to ring.  It was a dear friend, who lives far enough away, that she was surprised to hear about my snow.  They were having rain.  Later I hung up the phone, and Baby Boy remarked that I had been on the phone for A LONG TIME.  Yeah so.  And it was a long time, but not nearly as long as we've talked before.  I couldn't begin to number the hours we have whiled away typing emails, chatting on the phone, talking in person, deep into the night.  We haven't known one another since we were girls, but it seems as though we should have.  Memories of childhood birthdays and slumber parties seem built in.  The fact that we grew up in different states and graduated ten years apart makes no difference.

Last year, when I went to Orlando, I wasn't sure why I was going.  Of course now I know how incredibly important my Orlando gals are to me, and how they enrich my life.  I guess I could say, I didn't know what I was missing.  But so many of them (both last year, and this year too) were doing this thing solo.  They felt so alone, isolated, craving one other person to reach out to that would understand their unconventional life.  Part of going to Orlando for me I realized, was to understand how good I had it.  I already had that one person, and they had me.  And even more amazing, we had a history that went back farther than adoption.  We had begun our adoption journeys at roughly the same time, taking different yet similar paths.  Still we knew one another before, and now in the midst, and someday we plan to be old ladies children allowed.

For many years we had been friends turned to sisters.  Our children were born, one after the other, and grew together like cousins.  Our husbands were friends, often brother-like, snoozing on opposite ends of a couch, like mirror images.  We moved, they moved, we moved again.  Sometimes we have lived close together, now spread apart.  Nine or ten years ago we began our adoption journey.  Had they not begun theirs as well, no doubt ours would be a tale of yet another close friendship lost, as lives diverged and drifted apart.  I have always been grateful for this, not fully comprehending the miraculousness of it.  My Orlando girls helped me to see it for the treasure it is.  Such is true friendship.  C.S. Lewis describes this in his book "The Four Loves", and I would not presume to try and say it better.
One knows nobody so well as one's "fellow."  Every step of the common journey tests his metal; and the tests are tests we fully understand because we are undergoing them ourselves.  Hence, as he rings true time after time, our reliance, our respect, and our admiration blossom into an Appreciative love of a singularly robust and well-informed kind.  If, at the outset, we had attended more to him and less to the thing which our Friendship is "about," we should not have come to know or love him so well. You will not find the warrior, the poet, the philosopher or the Christian by staring in his eyes as if he were your mistress: better fight beside him, read with him, argue with him, pray with him. 
In a perfect friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member feels, in his secret heart, humbled before all the rest.  Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters.  He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company.  Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others....Life, natural life, has no better gift to give.  Who could have deserved it?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Deal of the Day

Yesterday I ordered this backpack for $3.99.  Originally $39.95, marked down to $13.99, with a coupon ($10 off) and free shipping with my Bean card.  And we already have one, so I know it's a great roomy pack.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Short Update

I had a wonderful trip to Orlando, and have survived reentry into the real world.  Also, things are heating up with our most recent adoption, and I blogged here.  I have a few things kicking around in my head, so hopefully I'll find time to write them down soon.

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Year Resolutions

Yup, I've got 'em. I don't usually, but something came over me this year. Mainly I am trying to be good to myself. We canceled cable, and beloved bought me a Kindle for Christmas. This is helping me accomplish two of my goals, which are to spend less time melting my brain watching TV, and replace that activity with more reading. The second prong of that resolution is to get more sleep, which is also accomplished by turning off the TV and reading, which promptly puts me to sleep. I need a tether so I don't drop my Kindle.

Another two prong resolution is to get moving more, and eat less crap. This is a bit more tricky, as I HATE to exercise, and I do love me some crap-food, especially after 10 PM. I decided I would try and be moving enough to run/walk the 5K we are planning in Orlando. I've been out running/walking five times since I began. I am aiming for three times a week, and I'm on track with that. I have learned a few things along the way:
  • ALWAYS use the bathroom before leaving to run.
  • Wear warm clothing when running in sub-zero wind chills.
  • Allot an hour or so to thaw out various body parts when returning. Eyeballs and butt come to mind.
  • Do NOT shovel the entire driveway before running, and expect to run for more than a few staggering feet.
  • Did I mention, ALWAYS use the bathroom before heading out to run?
OK. So I think I am a pathetic athlete when it comes to the running portion of my exercise routine, but truthfully I can kick butt on the power walking, uphill hiking, and enduring the frigid wind. And my running is getting a little better. I go a little further, with less desperation. And if nothing else, I reassure myself that Orlando will be warm and flat, so I should be able to fly...right?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How I Loc Up My Kids

Megan at Millions of Miles, who I only know in the cyber world, but who I will soon know in person, asked nicely if I could share what we do to maintain locs at our house. I am happy to do so. Sounds like a good reason for a list.
  1. We started our locs with microbraids. We partitioned off the head(s) into little squares, making sure lines were in the right places for parts for some of our favorite classic hairstyles. For one daughter, the grid has stayed pretty tidy. For another, her locs have sort of migrated to where they want to be. For one girl the blocks are pretty tiny as her hair is thick, coarse, and tightly short, the BEST hair for locs. For one girl, the blocks are bigger as her hair is finer and looser curled. Not the best hair for quick locs, but with time they are shaping up nicely. Some people prefer to start with twists. The braids tend to take awhile to disappear, but they do eventually.
  2. We tighten our locs with a latch hook. We bought it at the craft store for a few bucks, and it has served us well for years. It's hard to explain this process in words, but you can find videos to walk you through it. Basically, as the hair grows, there becomes this looseness at the scalp...kind of like if you left braids in long enough to let your hair grow out. Most of the time it takes 3-4 pulls through with the latch hook to tighten a loc that has been left alone for a month to six weeks. Thicker ones tighten with less, and thinner ones need more. You MUST NOT overtighten, though it can be tempting. It pulls uncomfortably, and chronic overtightening can thin and weaken locs. I always do each "pull" from a different direction, doing the last pull in the direction I want the loc to hang. Many people twist instead of latch hooking. I also take any loose growth and twist it around the appropriate loc before tightening. This keeps the fuzzies down, and lets new growth train itself into the right loc.
  3. My girls only shampoo about once a month to every six weeks. They use shampoo for ladies of color, and this is our method. Locs are hard to get shampoo worked into. If you take a dab and try to work it in, it will remain in one spot only. We take the squirt of shampoo and put it into an old shampoo bottle. Then we fill it up to about the 1/3 level with hot water, and shake it up. The girls gently squirt this over their whole heads, and work the lather down the whole length of the locs. Then they rinse and rinse and rinse and rinse. Rinse until you're sure you have all the shampoo out, and then rinse that much more. Those babies really like to hang onto the suds.
  4. In between, my girls rinse well in the shower, using as warm water as they can stand. This varies depending on what they are doing. In the summer their hair gets a lot of dirt in it because we live in a dusty place. Also the pool water can do a number on their hair. In the winter, it's not so bad. If you don't get locs clean, you can tell. First of all, they can stink. Think wet dog. Also, when you pinch a wet dirty loc between layers of white towel, it will leave a muddy mark. So really, they can't get away with saying they washed their locs when they didn't. Not for long anyhow.
  5. The girls moisturize daily with a homemade spritz. I make it with 5 ounces of warm water, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of conditioner for ladies of color. They tend to spray close to their scalp most, because scalp dryness plagues them far more than dry hair.
  6. They are careful not to wear their hair in the same style all the time, in order to not stress their locks. They also use soft elastics and head bands...nothing that would "bite" into their locs.
  7. They sleep at night with a silky granny cap. And they wear nylon swim caps under their ski caps.
  8. They enjoy hair that gets longer and longer, is all their own, can be styled in hundreds of styles, and can wash and go. Plus it gets compliments wherever they go, from folks of every color.

Friday, January 7, 2011

I Need a Shower...Among Other things

When you have children, no matter how you "have" them, you have ideas about how it will go. Your body has ideas about how it will go. For instance, babies start sleeping more and fussing less, just as you think you are at your breaking point. Nursing hurts so, so bad...and then it hurts a little bit less, and then you can do it in your sleep. Really. Preschoolers cry about everything. Some preschoolers lose their bones when they cry (about everything), and they drop to the ground in a great boneless pile. And then one day, you realize that no one has cried for days. Weird.

When my homegrown children were small, I had a hard time taking showers. I often ate bowls of cold cereal instead of meals. When children napped, I scrambled around the house just trying to get caught up, bracing myself for when that sleepy, fussy voice would alert me to baby's wakefulness.

It wasn't that I didn't like to be clean. It wasn't that I didn't like to eat hot food. It was just that I was always on high alert, watching and listening for my child's need. If I went into the shower, I could not easily stop what I was doing for a moment, to soothe a child or avert a disaster. In fact, I might not hear that a child needed soothing, or that disaster needed averting. Similarly, a bowl or cereal can be put down and taken up again, over and over. Yes, it gets soggy, but no mommy ever died from soggy cereal.

And just when I thought I would never get a shower before four in the afternoon, or sit down to eat an attractive lunch, I began to have those things happen now and then. This is because children grow, and change, and mature. My two month old was not my two year old, was not my four year old, and so it goes.

Then I adopted traumatized children. I went back on high alert. I went back to no showers, and cereal bowls, and scrambling to get housework done when the children were asleep. I was exhausted and bleary-eyed, and chronically under the weather. Nothing about this surprised me. I had planned for it and expected it. My mommy rhythm told me this is how it would be. But then some time went by, and I began to expect the shift, where things slowly got easier. My body seemed to expect it. To be quite honest, it didn't happen for a long time. Long, long past any of my expectations, and even to this day, some of the "easier" is because I have become accustomed to the strain, and not because it has disappeared.

When we have babies, we plan for the hardship...or we do if we're wise. We set our expectations in a place that is reasonable. We cut ourselves some slack. We set up good support systems. And we know that all of it is temporary. Newborns seem like they will be tiny forever, but in the blink of a tired eye...they're off and running.

When we adopt children of trauma, we do all of these things. For a time. And then we begin to despair. We are tired and worn, and we don't know what is reasonable anymore. Temporary stretches out endlessly. Maybe we thought we had supports, and then we realized they weren't supporting us anymore. What then?

We need a Plan B, or C, or D. We need to find other parents who have been stretched beyond that which is natural. We need to have people in our lives who understand the great depth and width of our struggle. We need to love one another, and hold each other accountable, and slowly go crazy together. That is why I am going to Orlando again this year. I am going to see some incredible people I love with all my heart. And I am going to say to anyone there who will listen, "You need to get a little piece of this, and take it home with you. Keep it safe, and treasure it. It will help you to be a better wife and mommy. It will help you to be a better you."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Special K

I'm going to make a departure today, from my series on getting organized, and my usual homey posts, and talk about something dear to my heart. Our three teen girls came from foster care, in another state, which I later discovered, is a rather rare occurrence. It's not that it never happens, but I guess it doesn't happen a lot. So when you begin to inquire about adopting children from other states, often you will get a bit of resistance from the professionals, because they just aren't used to doing it. Or if they have done it, they know that it's one huge pain in the hind quarters, and they would rather not discuss it with you.

My girls were so very fortunate in some ways. More than eight years bouncing around in foster care is no picnic, but they had a handful of people that were consistently involved with them. Their GAL was with them from the time they came into care as toddlers, to this very day. She keeps in touch, sends lovely boxes of fruit during the holidays, and is rather like an extra grandma that lives far away. The adoption worker assigned to their case, also had an ongoing history with the girls. It wasn't as long as that of the GAL, but it encompassed years.

When I first began to communicate with K, via email and phone calls, I had no idea how unique she really was, consequently I did not properly appreciate her. All I knew was that I liked her. We both hailed originally from the same area, so we both kind of spoke the same language. She always seemed to be shooting straight from the hip. She never seemed to be keeping information from me. She told me stuff, even stuff I didn't necessarily want to hear. When she didn't know, she always said "I don't know! Let me see if I can find out!" and she always said it with total humility and enthusiasm. She never made me feel like she was being put upon.

After the girls were placed, and we sometimes found ourselves struggling, she always made herself available. Sometimes she could offer assistance, sometimes advice, but more often than not, she just listened and made the right sort of noises. And it kept me from jumping off a bridge. When Soapy had to leave us, I know that K grieved right along with our family, and somehow that made it easier to bear. Ironic, because I am quite sure it didn't make her life any easier.

Now K has moved up to a more administrative position, and though she is supervising our next adoption, she does not handle it directly. Sometimes I forget that we have a professional relationship, because she has become such a dear, dear friend. Once in a great while, we connect by phone, and we talk and talk, about life and the price of tea in China. I always hang up the phone with a smile on my face, and never without thanking her for being such a powerful, positive force in my life. And then I think, "Oh my gosh! What am I thinking, talking about THAT (insert random inappropriate thing) with her?! She's my adoption worker...what must she think?!" And I have a little heart attack, until I remind myself that there isn't much K hasn't seen or heard about us, at one time or another since my girls came home.

She's seen me riding high, and she's heard the ugly cry, more than a few times. I am so very blessed, because I know this is a precious rarity. Foreign adoptions often end when the child is collected, and there is no one to call ever again. Even in foster adoptions, where there are allegedly helps in place, many people find themselves leaving countless messages that go unreturned. There is no human connection, and everyone suffers. Or even worse, they fear the connection, because they have been judged and undercut by the people that should be upholding them.

Yesterday I had one of those long rambling conversations with K. I had called to check on her mailing address, because I had photos to send. But we ended up talking about the girls, the boys, her life and mine. We laughed and told silly stories, and made plans to get together when I visit other friends in her area. We talked about the upcoming adoption, not like worker and adoptive parent, but friend to friend. I complained a little, but not to her, like I expected her to fix it, but as one person who knows how this goes, to another equally frustrated person who knows how it goes. As always, I hung up the phone with a smile on my face, and a lighter step...a lighter heart. Some friends just have that effect.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Storage is My Love Language

It's true. I love organizing and storage. I love closet systems, and bins, and accordion files. I love to fold, and file, and alphabetize. It soothes my soul. My constant goal is to have every single space in my world, perfectly tidy. Not that it happens, but a girl can dream.

I have always lived in small spaces. What's more, I have often lived in older houses, with oddly configured rooms, and almost no closet space. The last several years I have lived in doublewides, which seem to have certain universal characteristics. Yes, every bedroom has a closet. It is frequently small, with one shelf/hanging bar, and door(s) that make it impossible to access the entire closet. The bathrooms have cupboards that are huge expanses of undivided, deep and wide space. Cut up by pipes and invaded by mice. Base kitchen cabinets are the same...just one big open space. There are no coat closets, anywhere. There is no basement. There is no attic. There's room for a humongous "garden tub", but not usable storage space.

I have learned to make every inch count. Cavernous cabinets need to be divided up. You cannot just pile stuff inside and expect it to stay neat or accessible. Plastic milk crates have worked well for me, especially in the kitchen. It creates cubicles for things to live in, plus multiple levels that act like shelves. I can also create slim spaces along side walls, where I tuck longer flat things, like cookie sheets and baking racks. The same is true of drawers. Dividers help things stay where you put them. There are cheap little plastic ones you can buy, or you can just cut cardboard boxes to fit.

Closets are sacred places, and every inch should be revered. As cheap as I am, I will spend money on closet systems, to maximize every bit of space. Take the time to really think about it and plan. If you stink at this, find someone to help you. Graph paper is your friend. My current closet is a narrow rectangle, accessed by a slim door, dead center. Which means that you can only see, and easily access that which is directly in front of the door. Everything else is effectively buried. I planned this closet with this in mind, and still it aggravates me. I need to live with this, and I'll tell you how I do it. How about a list?
  1. Maximize the amount of shelves, hanging bars, and storage baskets. In this closet it means using even little short shelves about one foot long, stacked into the corners.
  2. Put the things we use constantly, front and center. Put the things we use sometimes, slightly off center. Put the things we use infrequently, furthest in. It minimizes the inconvenience of having to swim to the deepest part of the closet.
  3. Get rid of anything that isn't earning its keep. Everything is eating up real estate, and some things work harder than others. Be ruthless.
  4. Don't over stuff. Like, if a hanging bar will neatly hold a dozen shirts, don't jam thirty onto it. It will be hard to get stuff in and out, and your shelves may fall off the wall. True story.
  5. Have a place for everything, and everything in its place. Really. Organize it just the way you want it, and always put it back that way. I can close my eyes and envision almost every drawer, cupboard, and closet in my house, and tell you what is on each shelf, next to what, etc. This is not because I am compulsive. It's because I am sick of losing things.
  6. Smaller storage spaces means you have to think hard. Fitting things in does not mean jamming and stuffing. Think of it like the proverbial over stuffed suitcase. You can jam the stuff in and sit on it to close it... or you can neatly roll everything and figure out how to put it all in like a jigsaw puzzle. True, it takes more time and work initially, but it works better. It would be lovely to have spacious closets where things could be spread out, and you could just pluck things out as you need them. Not my reality. So I jigsaw puzzle things, and faithfully put them away in their spot. Yes, it's extra work, but it causes less stress in the long run.
You see, that's how it works. It's a lot of work, and some stress up front, to buy yourself less aggravation over the long haul. For me it does more than soothe my soul. It saves me money. When I can see what I have, I only buy what I really need. When I can see that I have what I need, I am less likely to become discontent and impulse buy. Our belongings get cared for better, and last longer. It also saves me time, because I can tidy up quickly, and move onto things I enjoy more. The same is true for the children. Which makes me less cranky with them, and they appreciate that. Truth is, I nag less when we're organized and neat.

So look hard at your storage spaces, and imagine ways to expand them. Then look hard at unused nooks and crannies, and see how you might use them as well. I built a free floating closet system behind my sons' bedroom door. It was about fifteen inches deep dead space. Their room had no closet, and now it does. I use bins under beds and other furniture. I add shelves and baskets wherever they work. I hang things up, on walls and from ceilings. It will take time, and energy, but in the end it will save you far more. And remember to always be tweaking. If something isn't working, change it up. If your children outgrow your current system, rework it. And know that whatever you do, you get better with practice, until sometimes you hardly notice that you are trying.

Monday, January 3, 2011

What's for supper?

Tonight's menu includes Spicy Pumpkin Soup and a fruit platter. I don't puree it (the soup I mean, though I don't puree the fruit either), because it's a lot of work and mess to get rid of some tiny chunks of onion. We like it slightly chunky. I also substituted a cup of half and half for the half cup of cream, and reduced the milk by a half cup. Because it was what I had, and it works just fine. Currently there is a dispute in my house about whether this is the best soup ever. Some folks vote for the Mashed Potato Soup. I think it's a tie. Both are sinfully easy.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

I Know What I Know...

The last few days we've been working on locs. Vacation is a good time to get them tightened up and washed. Everyone will go back to school tomorrow with great hair. One of my daughters has had locs since about six months after she came to live with us. The other has had them for nearly two years less. The older locs are shorter because the hair was shorter when they were begun, but the locs are more mature and uniform. They are on the thinner side, and very tubular. We started out with neat parts and lines, but the natural way of her head has caused them to migrate where they will, so like me, her natural part is cocked off to one side of center. Her younger sister's locs are longer, but still retain the shape of the microbraids which began them. They are slowly disappearing, but you can find them still. Her hair is also looser and finer than her sister's hair, which means it locks more slowly and creates lots of messy fuzz that I must work into the locs each time I tighten them.

I was working at this the other day, and thinking how long it had been since I had worked on her sister's locs. This younger daughter never does anything with her hair unless I prompt her to do so. When I say that it's time to work on hair, she sits down submissively, with much sighing and complaints of a "numb butt". But she never initiates caring for her locs on her own. In contrast, her older sister has wanted to learn how to wash and tighten her own locs from the day I put them in. She was like a house afire, begging and pestering me to teach her to do every single bit of their care. I was kind of learning as I went, so I made her wait until I felt they were well established. Then I watched over her as she took on their care, making sure she wasn't doing any damage. In an instant, she was proficient enough to take over.

At first blush, I put this off to her typical teen desire to be independent. What teen really wants mom to have to do their hair? I would occasionally offer help, but she would politely turn me down. For long hours she would sit perched on a stool in front of the mirror, working away. She would sigh, and complain of tired arms and shoulders, but still she would keep on. Sometimes she would pay her sister to do the hard-to-reach section in the very back, but only if she had a little extra cash. Most times she would do her whole head alone. Even when her sister trashed her locs last year, and she was intensely grateful for the hours I spent saving them, I could still feel her impatience over having to sit as I carefully restored each damaged loc.

As I stood laboring over her sister's head, it came to me in a moment of quiet clarity. She wasn't displaying independence...she was displaying fear. I believe she has loved her locs from the day one, but she was also afraid. What if I leave this place, and the next place doesn't "do" locs? How would I keep them if no one knows how to care for them? I've seen the pictures and heard the stories. Foster care is a black girl's hair crap shoot. Sometimes you get lucky and they take great care of your hair. Sometimes you end up looking like Don King.

As if on cue, she appeared by my elbow. For a moment she stood watching me twist the strands of her sister's hair. "You know Mom," she said, "I really, really like my locs. I like my hair the best like this. I always want to have locs, and grow them really long." With this she tossed her head back and forth.

I smiled and said, "I know."