Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Dear friends from the adoption world, I don't post much about adoption anymore.  Life has changed, and what used to be front and center, is now a little more peripheral.  Life with my and adopted both, is now just life.  It is hectic and hard, wonderful and wearing.  Issues related to adoption still impact us tremendously, but they are less obvious.  Like a mammoth underwater structure that everything must flow around, it influences the currents of our lives, though it may not be visible at the surface.

In light of this, I have struggled recently with the thoughts in my head, uncertain where to put them.  I have questioned the wisdom of putting them here.  I have tried to steer this blog along a course that is gentle and positive.  For the most part, life is just that.  But Christmas is approaching and with it comes a flood of raw emotion that is hard to ignore.

I have always loved Christmas.  As a small child I delighted in every single part of the holiday season.  I loved the cheesy store displays, the music and decorations.  I loved the special foods, and church services, and school programs.  As soon as I was old enough to craft and create, I was busily making gifts for everyone I knew.

When I got married, I devoted huge amounts of time and energy to the Christmas season.  I cooked and baked elaborate feasts and platters of baked goods.  I decorated every nook and cranny.  I played Christmas music day and night, and never grew tired of it.  I sewed matching Christmas outfits for the children, and had them photographed.  We caroled, and sang in cantatas, and dressed up as angels and wise men.  Gifts were made and purchased, and carefully wrapped and adorned.  To me, it truly was "the most wonderful time of the year".

And now I dread Christmas.  At best, the thought of it wearies me.  At worst, it causes a sense of anxiety and panic to rise.

I have lots of friends in the adoption world, and there is something they have named a traumaversary.  Which is to say, that even if we don't mark it on the calendar, trauma marks itself on the "calendar" of us.  The mind and body somehow know that special time of year when they were thrown into chaos, and they will let us know, even if we don't register it on a cognitive level.

Several years ago, four little girls came to live with us, five days before Christmas.  It seemed so right, to get them home before the holiday, and so we pushed so hard it hurt, and we made it happen.  I still remember that first Christmas morning.  I felt shell shocked.  I had barely slept for a week, juggling the unfathomable needs of the six children and trying to prepare for a most special Christmas.

We sat together in the living room, and the contrast was stark.  Four little girls screamed and squealed as they mowed through piles of gifts, often trampling one gift to get to the next.  But so many people had lovingly contributed to making this time special for them.  There was something so magical about four little girls finding their home at Christmas.  At the same time, two little boys sat quietly and watched.  Almost no one had remembered that they were the exact same ages as the little girls, and enjoyed presents as well.

That same day I remember feeling a foreshadowing of what was to be.  As the children swam through masses of gifts, I felt the disapproval of visiting relatives watching the proceeding.  Unspoken words hung in the air, and they said, "What sort of savages are these?  They will require firm discipline."  At the same time, dozens of absent gift givers also crowded the room.  They had strong opinions as well, and mouthed the words, "If only you love them enough, they will be just fine."

For the next year we dangled from that wildly swinging pendulum of strong discipline and strong love, and like every other year, at the end of it, the holiday season came round again.  This  second Christmas came with one less little girl, and a deep deep sense of failure.  The house was scarcely decorated, with just a lighted creche in the fireplace and stockings lining the mantle.  Dinner was plain shepherd's pie made with gifted venison.  There were no visitors.  The pile of gifts surrounding the fireplace was modest.

Every child exclaimed over the perfectness of their gifts, the deliciousness of the meal, the beauty of the creche when the lights were low.  But over the quiet voices of the children, I could still hear the voices of the uninvited guests in that room.  Voices that said I had not been consistent enough in discipline, committed enough in love.  And I found that although the chaos had quieted, I still felt shell shocked.  Because the days leading up to that very special day had been fraught with every sort of crazy-making I could imagine, with the efforts of my children to destroy the very thing they so longed for and looked forward to.

The following year we finalized adoptions just before the holidays...sealed with a once in a lifetime family trip.  And so my children set about trying to destroy something even bigger than the holiday season.  They determined to destroy the bonds of family.  In an attempt to prove that nothing was forever, and most especially a family's love, they ramped up the crazy-making to unimaginable levels.  Shell shocked was the order of the day...and of the entire holiday season, and of many months to follow.

And somehow in my mind, the backdrop for all of this is sparkling lights and decked halls.  In my mind, the soundtrack for all of this is carols and Christmas movies.  The smells of ginger cookies and roasting turkey make my anxiety rise.  The thought of getting everyone dressed in holiday best and loaded into the car for the drive to Christmas Eve service, makes me want to crawl into my bed and pull the covers over my head.

Years have come and gone.  Christmas isn't the crazy-making time it once was.  It's actually pretty peaceful and pleasant for the most part.  The family has expectations of comfort and joy, and I work hard to deliver.  We all do.  But the holidays are not the same as they once were, and neither are any of us.  Life is, most days, gentle and positive, but there is still that mammoth beneath the surface, and at certain seasons it can cause ripples if one knows where and when to look.

Monday, November 5, 2012

More Buzz

"Jews say grace at the end of the meal. I do not feel we are less thankful than those who say it at the beginning."

Blessings to the commenter  who pointed  this out.  I did not mean to make a statement of superiority, like saying grace before a meal gives me the moral high ground.  It was an analogy, and all of them break down at a point.  

Rituals of thankfulness are not locked in stone.  I may give thanks before the meal, or after.  I may say a blessing over the children as they leave the house, or as they return.  I may express my gratitude in the morning as I rise, or in the evening as I fall into my bed.

I was simply challenging myself to examine my own routines and understand where I am so abysmally lacking in gratitude.  Where I am so prone to attach requirements to a situation, in order to be thankful.  I am the child that says, "And if the food is yucky, we don't have to say grace!"  

....which doesn't sound anything like this beautiful Jewish blessing I found in my searching.

"Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who, in His goodness, provides sustenance for the entire world with grace, with kindness, and with mercy. He gives food to all flesh, for His kindness is everlasting. Through His great goodness to us continuously we do not lack food, and may we never lack food, for the sake of His great Name. For He, benevolent God, provides nourishment and sustenance for all, does good to all, and prepares food for all His creatures whom He has created, as it is said: You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. Blessed are You, Lord, who provides food for all."

I could certainly benefit from a recitation of such a prayer at the end of all my meals.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thankfulness...What's the Buzz?

Yesterday I was in a great deal of pain.  We drove to the doctor's office, hoping for some relief.  For distraction, in the car, on the way, beloved husband and I were discussing some things we had read and watched lately, concerning thankfulness.  Gratefulness, thanksgiving, is all the buzz right now.  People are trying to incorporate it into their daily lives, and so of course it is running all over my FB news feed....most especially this month, with Thanksgiving (the holiday) on its way, but also before that for quite some time.

When we arrived, we sat in the waiting room, and I thumbed through a magazine, that announced the benefit of thankfulness as one of its cover pieces.  I was anxious to read it, since it seemed to continue the discussion we had been having in the car.  I wondered it if would add anything to the buzz I had been hearing for some time now, and it did.

The thing about thankfulness, is that it seems so obvious.  I did a bible word search the other day, and almost every time you find the word thanks, thankful, find the words joy, goodness, mercy, grace.  And of course it makes perfect sense.  God gives us the good stuff, and our natural response is thanksgiving.

Or, not so much.  Because seriously, if that's the case, Americans should be the happiest, most joyful, most thankful people on the planet.  And even more than that, American children should be.  But we're not, and they're not.  We might acknowledge that we should be, but we are definitely not.

You say, Wait!  The new information coming in says we have it all backwards, oddly enough.  Being thankful isn't a byproduct, not by a long shot.  Being thankful is the fuel.  Happiness, and comfort, and blessing don't produce thankfulness....instead thankfulness produces those things.  Or perhaps it just removes the scales from our eyes, and lets us see what has been there all along.  And perhaps when we can see the beauty of our own lives, we are free to make more of it.

The piece that I read yesterday, spoke of how unnatural this process is.  How quickly we as human creatures move from gratefulness to apathy to complaint.  The author spoke of a device, to help safeguard against this natural progression.  She said that we must create rituals of thankfulness.  She freely acknowledged that this was not an original idea.  She pointed to the ritual of saying grace before a meal.

It made me think of how many times I have heard both children and adults alike, advocate for switching grace to the end of the meal.  Whenever some clever soul has brought this novel concept up for review, I have always heard the same points covered.  That we should give thanks when we are "really thankful", implying that when we have enjoyed our meal and filled ourselves, that is the point of true thankfulness.  And it has never gone unmentioned, that if the meal does not meet our expectations, or is in some way deemed unenjoyable, we can opt out of thankfulness.  This is always said as a joke, and followed by a round of laughter, but it is no joke.  It is the truest part of the discussion.

This is how we live our lives.  We pull up to the table and dig in to the meal spread before us.  When we are full, we push ourselves back, and think of what comes next.  We forget to give thanks for the meal that was placed before us, and the fullness of our bellies.  Even worse, we critique the meal.  And as we rise from the table, we wonder about the vague sense of dissatisfaction we carry with us.

The author of the piece wrote of how she had been intentionally creating rituals of thankfulness in her own life, and of course they were unique to her particular situation, but the concept was sound and easily applied elsewhere.  So today I went back to my bible word search, and I noticed something I had missed previously.  Before, I had skimmed over all of the references in the early books.  The ones that talked about making sacrifices and offerings.  In my mind, these verses didn't apply.  They were just some ancient code that I didn't follow or even know much about.  But this time, as I scrolled through dozens of references, I realized that I was looking at just what the buzz is all about.

Thanksgiving is a sacrifice.  It is laying the table like an altar.  We carefully lay the cloth, place the dishes, bring the food that we've prepared.  We call the household members to the table, and everyone finds their place.  And then we join together in the ritual of thankfulness.  Our eyes are closed to the beauty of the table.  We hope that the food will be nourishing and enjoyable.  We hope for enough.  But how can we know?  And yet we give thanks.

May we realize that we pull up to the table a hundred, nay, perhaps a thousand times a day.  May we stop mistaking the food on the table for the fuel of life.  Instead, may we learn to lay the table like an altar and pause to give thanks, every single time.