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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Best Medicine

When my sweet Amanda first came into my life, she was one sad little customer. She was the most beautiful little girl on earth with these big, clear blue eyes and her sleek little tan. But you never saw those eyes light up like they should, like a little girl who was truly happy. A few years later, during the same summer vacation when she first called me "Mom," Amanda and I played around in the surf while my mom watched from the beach. I don't remember why exactly, but we started trying to do the moves from Riverdance, and kept falling down laughing and getting tangled in our own feet. Later that night, my mom pulled me aside: "Melissa," she said, "That's the first time I ever saw her really smile- I mean, she really just lit up with her smile." And she did. She was even more beautiful than ever after she found her smile.
I grew up in a house where we laughed and played a lot. We especially loved playing practical jokes on each other. One of our favorites was to hide this giant, scary, life-size doll around the house. We all agreed that doll was creepy, but imagine pulling back the shower curtain to find her standing there holding a razor, with that super-scary grin on her face and those black Mary Jane's and blue ruffled dress. We also hid plastic animal feces, rubber rodents, and swapped out shampoo for Ranch dressing. Once my sister Becky fed me a dog treat, pretending it was a gourmet brownie from a specialty store.
The strange part is, I never realized how much I rely on laughter and humor until we brought home three little ones who had lived in five consecutive foster homes, and never really understood the meaning of the word "family." The first week the kids were here, I let them jump on the beds, splash me from the bathtub, sing and shout in the car, taste everything with their fingers, and generally just go wild. It was about 90% unplanned and 10% intentional. I mean, I didn't set out to let them go hog-wild, but getting to know them, learn them, and make them feel comfortable was REALLY hard. It was such a zoo here those first few weeks, but we made it. And one memory of Big C stands out in my mind during those first few weeks. He had just gotten used to calling me "Mommy," and had come to understand that we were serious about taking care of him and his siblings. It was during his bath one night when Porky had come in the bathroom to supervise. I don't know if all Rotties love water, but this one does, and when she saw the boys splashing in the bathtub, she just had to join in. So as the boys splashed, Porky jumped up and tried to bite the water with each splash. The boys were scared at first, not understanding what she was doing, but I explained that she just loves to play with water, and as I laughed, the boys started giggling, and as the giggles turned to big belly laughs, the splashes got bigger, the walls got wetter, and we were all pretty much soaked- including the dog, who was having a blast. After getting out of the bath, Big C was running wild, still overwhelmed with hysterical laughter. I held out his pajama shirt like a bullfighter and called "Toro, Toro! Olay, Olay!" and he ran (head first) into the pajamas. We both fell down with laughter, and he begged me to use the bullfighter voice over and over. When it seemed that the party was getting too wild, I lowered my voice and sat in the recliner while he pulled on his pajama pants. "Okay," I told him, "It's time to settle down. Let's calm down, now. Come sit with me and let's rock" But he was only getting started. Laughter was his new drug, and he was hooked. He took my face in his two hands and got really close to me before he said: "Mommy, laugh! Keep laughing! I love it when you laugh!"
It's a miracle I didn't cry.
How long did I take for granted the security of the happy, healthy, sometimes hysterical family that I grew up in? For how many years did I forget that not all kids are so fortunate? Some kids have never had a mommy or daddy who laugh, who love to laugh, to share stories, jokes, pranks, and silly songs? Many children live with parents too consumed by their own personal issues and problems to giggle and tell jokes with their kids. Some little ones have only heard mom and dad scream, cry, fight, cuss, lie, use profanity, tell vulgar jokes, or speak to one another abusively.
I believe laughter has healing power. The laughter of these little ones in my home and my heart is healing me. They are day by day, systematically healing the wounds and scars that I bear from the heartache of infertility and pregnancy loss. When little C comes running into my arms and says "Tell me the snake secret!" with a huge beautiful smile, I know exactly what to do. I lean over and gather him close to me, put my mouth up to his ear and hiss "Sssssssssssssssssss!" That's the snake's secret! And it works like a charm! We both laugh, and we are both made stronger.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Out of the Blue

Sometimes when you least expect it, something ugly happens and reminds you of a long-fought, yucky battle that you thought you were finished fighting. At least that is the way it seems to me. Because even though I can't carry a child nine months in my womb and experience pregnancy and childbirth, sometimes the children that are mine through step-parenting, fostering, adoption, etc. begin to feel like they really are all mine.
And that's why it is really hard when something slams me in the face and reminds me there is someone else - another mother. She was first. She was crucial. She was the womb. And somehow it always feels like she's got one up on me.
Things were just rolling along rather nicely, and we are moving toward the *hopeful* conclusion of adoption very soon for our three little ones. We have settled into a nice routine and it goes like this:

In the mornings, little C wakes up before most chicken farmers do. He tiptoes into our bedroom and crawls into our bed. He usually plays with my face and my hair, sticks his fingers in our nostrils, or our mouths, while we try to catch just a few more minutes of rest. When he doesn't get the expected result - getting us up- he starts whining about being "thirsty" and "hungry" and then goes into the living room to dump out all the toy bins or turn on the TV really loudly. This wakes the other two little ones, who I will call "Grumpy" and "Chatterbox" for this portion of the narrative. Grumpy slams doors, cries, screams, accuses people of hitting him, and sulks about the house looking for someone to fight with. Chatterbox starts having a loud and lively conversation with herself from her crib, with her baby doll, stuffed panda, or pillow, or whoever is close enough to hear. If no one comes right away, this changes to shouting words like "Dadda! Dadda!! Mommy!!! Mommmamommamommma! Daddaddaddddaadddaddddaaddd!!!!" until one of us (usually John) rescues her from her crib. About this time, the teens start to stir. They are mad because of the noise upstairs (even though after six months we ought to expect it) and they begin their cereal-slinging-lost my shoes-can't find my homework- get out of my way! routine, while one of us (usually John) is slapping down some breakfast for the Little people.
Georgia now drives (be afraid, be VERY afraid) and she takes Mitchell and Samuel to school. The little people ride with me, so while I shower and get ready for work, John changes diapers and dresses three preschoolers. We then gather backpacks of varying superheroes, lunch boxes, homework projects, class snacks, extra diapers, and load everyone into the car. I drop off Lizzie first, then big C for Kindergarten, then little C and I cross the mountain, while he rocks himself from side to side and sings things like "I not a baby, I a big boy!" over and over again until we get to his preschool. I take him inside where he collapses like its the first day all over again and then I hold him for about five minutes until he is comfortable and goes on to play with the other children. I go to work. And recently, I've been working out with my office friends on my lunch hour (another story, but I'm so glad we are doing this now). John cooks, shops, runs cars to the mechanic, cuts grass, and does a myriad of other tasks that I am not sure how we got by with him working before. In the afternoon, I leave the office, pick up all three Little People and return home. John normally has dinner going, and it's a wild evening of dinner, baths, playtime, homework, arguments over the computer, and other normal "family stuff." Around 7:30, I take Lizzie and little C into their room where we rock and sing bedtime songs for about 20 minutes. Then I pray over them each, little C calls this "tell me a secret" time, and they go to bed - sometimes. Then I'm across the hall reading two library books to Big C, tucking him in and the obligatory "back scratch" that started the first night and has continued ever since. When all the "I love you's" and "Good nights" have been said, I hit the garden tub with a mystery novel and John catches up on politics and football. All things considered- we have established quite a routine.
And so it was last week when I came home from work, hot and tired, worn out and hungry. John had brought Lizzie home early and had taken her for a stroll around the neighborhood in the red wagon. She was happy to see me, and just full of joy like always. I picked her up and kissed her and snugged with her for a minute, thumbing through the pile of mail on the kitchen counter. And there it was.
I put Lizzie in her high chair as John was bringing dinner over to the table. I ran into my room, then shoved the letter in my top drawer and returned to the dinner table.
Always observant, Samuel asked, "Melissa, what's wrong? What was that in your hand?" Maybe he saw the blood drain from my face as I sprinted to my bedroom.
"Oh nothing, nothing, " I told our family worry-wart, "It's not important."
"But you look upset . . ." he began, but I cut him off. "It's no big deal Samuel, it's mine, nothing to worry about."
We had dinner. I tried to ask the kids about their day. I tried to focus on getting everyone to ingest a green vegetable, or at least some ketchup (is that a vegetable?) After dinner, we started the bath routine. John was playing lifeguard so I took the letter out and read it. My mind was reeling, but the most obvious question of all was: how did she get our home address?
I grabbed the little laundry baskets marked with the kids names and stormed into their rooms to put their clothes away. John put Georgia on lifeguard duty and followed me.
I was trying to put away clothes but was more or less slamming them into the drawers. John stood there with the same look he gets on his face anytime I go into an emotional rant. The look on his face just says, "Oh God, here it comes." And then I fell apart.
Why? I sobbed, Why, when everything is going so well? Why do I have to get a letter from their birth mom, thanking me for taking care of HER CHILDREN? Why? Why would God allow this? Isn't it enough I can't have children of my own, so why when I wanted them for so long, and worked so hard to get them do I have to SHARE them with ANOTHER MOTHER? Then I spouted off a list of my former pen-pal birth moms who had interfered (From jail) with everything I ever tried to do for "my kids". Everything from insisting I send school work to jail, to suggesting I help mend the broken relationship between the two, to asking me to bring the children to jail to visit, all the way to throwing a complete tantrum in a kindergarten hall over who was the "real" mom at a freaking Mother's Day breakfast when the picture was CLEARLY of me because I have blonde hair NOT BLACK!
How did she get our address? I cried to John, getting louder: This means her WHOLE crazy family has our address! They could come and stalk us outside our windows! They could follow me to work! They could try to kidnap the kids!
Through my entire meltdown, John was his usual calm and assuring self. He put out his hand as if to offer me support, he nodded appropriately and he reminded me to keep my voice down as a few choice words flew out of my mouth. Then I cried like I haven't cried in a long time, grabbed my cell phone, and stormed out the front door to sit on the driveway.
I knew I couldn't let the kids see me that way. And I certainly wasn't going to show them the picture drawn from their mother in JAIL. They don't even know where she is because they never ask about her. They never ask about her because she was so frequently absent in their lives that they don't even notice she has been gone for months. And this is all such a familiar scenario that my mind is growing tired replaying this tape.
I sat out on the driveway and called our caseworker from Families First, who let me cry like a baby and never judged me. She reassured me that I had a right to feel upset, and to feel violated that I was receiving mail from an inmate who posed a threat to my very desperate hopes to be a mother. She listened to me go on and on for over an hour - in the evening, from her home. (This is why we LOVE Families First.) And when the call ended I felt a little better. I sat there for another few minutes on the driveway, until Georgia returned from band rehearsal and nearly ran over me in one swift motion. After I recovered from nearly being driven over, I dusted myself off, put away my phone and went to get my babies and rock them to sleep. I'm glad it was a little later than usual, and it was a little darker outside because they couldn't tell that I was crying as I sang to them, a little song I made up weeks ago:
                            You are my Rainbow, you are my shining star, 
                                    my happy ending, yes you are. 
                              You make my heart smile, for all time,
                                  you are my baby, and you are mine.