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Friday, July 26, 2013

The Miracle of Becoming a Family

Chances are, when you were growing up you imagined your future, and possibly your future family. It is highly likely that (especially if you are a woman) you imagined your future children, planned what their names would be, or had elaborate fantasies about your future home and what it would be like to have your own little family. I am just like you. I had those imaginary fantasies too, I had the dreams and the plans and the spiral notebooks full of names for the future daughters and sons. At least in the culture where I grew up, this was fairly common. Growing up, I played it close to the vest, meaning I didn't share my little fantasies very often. But I still had them. I always wanted to be a mother, but truthfully I could never picture myself with a pregnant belly, or holding a newborn. I could picture myself parenting children, driving them to practices, recitals, and school, but I couldn't seem to conjure an image in my mind of a newborn baby that belonged to me. It all makes sense now. It makes sense why in 2000, a little golden-haired girl with scabby knees knocked on my front door in need of a mother. It makes sense why even on my "days off" from working with children, I was often taking a sibling group out to lunch or to a park, even creating rooms in my little house for children to live when they needed a warm, safe bed. It makes sense now, since I've been full-time step-mom to three growing kids for the past five years since I married my sweet John. It makes sense now that my three babies- Camden, Cole, and Lizzie came into my home and heart. Becoming a family was hard work. In fact, it was harder than anything I have ever gone through. And now I realize something very interesting about adoption. Like bringing a new child into your family through birth, adoption is also a breathtaking, beautiful, amazing, humbling, fulfilling experience that forever changes you. No, I haven't been given the opportunity to give birth to a child, to hear him cry and see him take his first breath. For God's plans to be fulfilled in my life, that experience was not given to me. In fact, I cannot even imagine what it would be like to give birth to a child. But the experience that was given to me, not unlike how people describe giving birth, is something that I cannot explain to anyone who has never been through it. I could not do justice to this experience if I tried to use my own sloppy, inept words to describe it. This imperfect experience has been perfect - like artwork made by a small child it has been beautiful, messy, funny, unusual, and amazing all at the same time.

My three little ones came to me on March 27, 2012. Here are a few highlights of that day:
 John, Cody, myself and a college volunteer were working on the thrift sale for Rainbow home. We finished and went to eat a late lunch at a Mexican restaurant. The agency called, I felt dizzy on the phone as I stepped out onto the front porch to tune out the Mariachi music blaring from inside. The adoption worker described three little children, I started to cry. I asked "how soon can I pick them up?" the case worker said "as soon as you can get here." I will NEVER forget that moment.  We were riding in "Big Bessie" our fifteen passenger van. In the seat, I could see Cody and our college volunteer wiping the tears from their eyes as I cried on the phone with our agency. John was driving and I was pointing "go to Jamie's!" knowing we had to get supplies, and Fast!
We drove to Jamie and Chris' house and I jumped out of the van to hug my best friend. I told her my wonderful news and we ran into her house to get a baby crib, high chair, and gates. We shoved everything into the van and rushed home. Georgia met me at the top of the stairs in tears and we hugged and screamed. We were finally getting our kids! While John and I drove to pick up our children together, Jamie and Chris, Cody and Georgia cleaned our house, moved and assembled a baby crib, put clean sheets on beds, and got our home ready for little ones. John and I drove and drove and drove. It seemed like the longest drive of my life. We talked with the children's county caseworker while driving. We agreed to meet at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. More driving. More driving, and me calling everyone I know who had prayed for us: My parents, my sisters, my pastors, my friends.
We finally got to the Cracker Barrel and drove around to the back. Through the windows I could see them: two dark haired little boys with big brown eyes and a blonde-haired little baby girl, all in car seats, all looking around- waiting for us. I was out of the car and next to their window in seconds. The case worker pulled the little girl out of the car seat. She looked around, confused but happy to be out of the car. The worker placed our little girl in my arms. She held onto my shoulder and smiled at me. My boys jumped out of the car and ran around the parking lot, happy to be free from their car seats. I was in love.

After seventeen months of paperwork, hearings, visits by multiple case workers, moving furniture, potty training debacles, therapy and medical appointments, we were finally in court to finalize our adoption on June 25, 2013. Here are a few highlights of that day:
The attorney's office called at the last minute to tell us that our hearing was postponed from 9 am to 1:30 pm. Irritated, I had no other choice but to accept that my plans for the "perfect adoption day" were not going to happen. My original plan was to feed the kids, go to court and get them adopted, then go out to lunch and swimming to celebrate. Since that didn't happen, I tried to figure out ways to fill the empty space. We went to the park and fed the ducks, we went to Wal-Mart and picked out ice cream and toppings to have for a treat after dinner. We grabbed a pizza to have for lunch and went home to try and take an early nap. The kids refused to nap and cried, screamed and fought me for two hours. Defeated, I let them skip their naps and play for a little while longer. Afterwards, I dressed them stinky and sweaty in their perfectly crisp and clean adoption outfits (made by Nana). They were cranky from not having naps, and nervous about going to court (there was never a good experience at court before.) Just before we entered the courtroom, the attorney's office called to say our attorney would be thirty minutes late. Frustrated and nearly emotional, we pressed on, praying that the adoption would not be postponed for this reason. When we arrived, my parents and some friends were waiting in the parking lot. My stomach was in knots. Our friends cheered us on and my mom snapped some pictures. We went through the metal detector and to the elevator. We rode up to the second floor and walked to superior court. We found our courtroom and walked inside. There on the benches we saw two more rows of friends and church family. The kids were so cute when they saw their audience and realized all the support was for them.

You will notice that our family pictures from adoption day are not so perfect. Cole is missing from many of the ones in court because he was throwing a tantrum. One of the things I have learned and come to accept is that the "perfect family photo" like "the perfect family" is a myth. I joke with my friends that you will never see a picture of my entire crew sitting on the beach with our backs to a glorious sunset, all of us dressed in white, the boys in chinos and white polo shirts, and the girls and I wearing white sundresses. It just ain't gonna happen, my friends. Our family photos usually feature someone behaving oddly, someone dressed completely sloppy, someone angry refusing to look at the camera, and the rest just eager to get it over with. And Adoption day was no less "imperfect". And yet, imperfect is the new "perfect" for me these days. I have stopped trying to compare my journeys to others. I have stopped trying to understand why some of us experience becoming a family through a series of heartbreaking, gut-wrenching scenes of aching and longing and others coast right on through. As I get a little older and a little wiser, I realize those couples who seem to coast right on through and have their "perfect families" are not so perfect after all. They have their own secrets, their own challenges, their own failures. Even those in the white sundresses and chinos may have to deal with a crippling depression, learning-disabled child, or any number of life struggles. Truthfully, no one really has the easy path. I sometimes fought God in my journey to become a mother. I was convinced that my way was better, but now I see how wrong I was.

Sometimes before bedtime when the kids are hanging all over me, demanding my attention and affection, my eyes cloud over with tears. They are mine- my sons and my daughter. Camden with his silver-filled teeth (he had bottle rot when he came into foster care) and his sometimes-smart-mouth. Cole with his eczema, constant rocking and crazy stories that make no sense. Little Lizzie with her attitude, habit of sticking fingers into her diaper, and shrieks that stand your hair on end. I take it all in, every funny thing they say, every moment that takes my breath away. I could not live without them, and I would not want any other scenario. I know now that even if I could control everything that has happened, I would not change a thing. It was all worth it. Camden, Cole and Lizzie are worth it.

This blog post is dedicated to A.H. and H.H. with K & C

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