Search This Blog

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Christmas of the Blue Sweatpants

Today is Mitchell Line’s 16th birthday. I am officially not ready for this. It is customary in our family to let the kids decide what to have for dinner on their birthdays, and true to form, Mitchell has chosen an especially unique selection for our menu tonight. Keep in mind, nothing (well, almost nothing) is off limits. Mitchell could have chosen steak, shrimp, or any restaurant that works for a crowd as large as our family, but instead he chose this: Frito Pie (with John’s homemade chili), Buttermilk Cornbread, and Bacon. For dessert there will be no decorated cake with frosting and candles, and not even a bakery cheesecake as we have had in the past. This year, it’s just leftover pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving, and were under strict instructions NOT to put a candle anywhere near that . . .  birthday pie.
And this is really what he wants. Just like the other day when I asked him what he wanted for his birthday and he replied, “Mason jars and animal fat . . .” and just before I burst into laughter, he added, “and some really good string.”
He just wouldn’t be Mitchell if he wasn’t working on a plan. Right now, it’s the end of the world, which he insists is coming sooner than we all anticipated. There is somewhere behind our house a deep, underground bunker with supplies and canned food. He has a “bug out” bag under the futon in his bedroom, complete with assorted tools, survival guides, various weapons, and God only knows what else. I really do love Mitchell. Ours is not a love that came instantly, but that grew over time. Now at sixteen, considerably taller than me, and with a voice almost as deep as his dad’s, I consider Mitchell to be among my favorite people in the world. He is funny, thoughtful, insightful, and interesting in the way most people would look right past. But our relationship wasn’t always so easy. And so in honor of this milestone birthday, I want to travel back eight years and tell the story of our first Christmas together – and a moment in time that is forever etched in my memory. And so I give you . . . The Christmas of the Blue Sweatpants.

When I married John, Samuel was eight, Mitchell was nine, and Georgia was thirteen. If you think the concept of “Instant Mom” is cute and funny, think again. I was outnumbered, and in Mitchell’s eyes I was like a freak from another planet. We butted heads on everything from table manners to personal hygiene and everything in between. Our favorite topic to fight about was fashion, of which Mitchell had zero interest. His wardrobe consisted of loose sweatpants, very large T-shirts, open jackets, stained socks and the floppiest, lightest-weight sneakers you could find. Cheap? Yes. Easy to Maintain? Yes. Stylish? No. Mitchell was overweight and had no interest in toning up or dressing better to suit his physique. He was genuinely comfortable in dirty clothes, or clothing that looked like it came out of the reject pile at a thrift store. Mitchell’s autism made it hard for him to wear things that rubbed his skin or felt too tight. It was just too constricting for him. A wonderful Saturday for Mitchell was spreading out across the floor with legs in the air, no shoes or socks, watching Scooby Do reruns and passing gas. It was not unusual for him to have a hole in the crotch of his sweatpants and absolutely no concern whatsoever about it. And as the new sheriff in town, I suppose I came in just a little bit too strong. I brought home polo shirts, jeans, and new t-shirts in the correct size. These items were often thrown at me, or put directly into the kitchen trash. Georgia would chuckle and tell me there was no use. Mitchell was Mitchell. There was no amount of coercion or persuasion that could change him. But I tried.

When John and I got engaged, I spent more time worrying about what the boys would wear than what I would wear on my wedding day. I combed the racks of every department store and even offered bribes. Samuel was pretty accommodating. He was willing to wear whatever as long as he could take it off after the wedding. I finally settled on khaki pants and nice matching sweaters for the boys. It was a casual, outdoor wedding, so we made it work. But if not for promising Mitchell the chocolate camera off of the groom’s cake, there would be no such sweater-wearing on my wedding day. That was in October. In December, Mitchell had long-tired of my constant nagging and demanding that he bathe for longer than ten seconds, wear socks for only one day at a time, and refrain from throwing green beans to the dogs during dinner. We had an almost daily battle, and Mitchell would run from me and hide in the laundry room while Samuel would howl like a monkey that we were “fighting.”

Day by day, bit by bit, dirty Lego by dirty Lego, we made our way toward Christmas. And I planned what I believed would be a perfect Christmas card. John and I, together with Amanda, Georgia, Mitchell, and Samuel, would be photographed in our coordinating outfits for a Christmas card that would grace refrigerators all across the country. I bought the girls matching blue sweaters and planned black for myself and red for John. To bring together the entire color scheme, I bought striped polo shirts and matching jeans for the boys. The shirts were black, red, and blue striped. I imagined how great we would all look together. John took one look at those outfits laid across our bed and laughed out loud. “Good luck getting Mitchell to wear that!” he laughed. I remembered the chocolate camera victory and scoffed at his remark. “Just watch,” I told him, “It’s gonna be fine.”

The photo session was to happen on Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house in her scenic backyard with my mom as photographer. I told the boys that the outfits were just for Thanksgiving and they didn’t ever have to wear them again (although it would be great if they did!) Samuel took his new pants and shirt without a fight, and Mitchell uttered only four words: “Not gonna wear it,” and stomped off for another rerun of Scooby.

But, ha ha! I thought, this is only round one. I called Mitchell back to my bedroom, to reason with him, to explain that this was a soft shirt, and these were jeans with elastic! He would have none of it. “Not. Gonna. Wear. It.” He said with a look of defiance, and then a goofy smile. John smirked in the corner.

I did not relent. I did not go quietly into that good night. Thanksgiving fast approaching, I offered Mitchell the customary sweatpants and t-shirt for the entire day, if only he would change into the jeans and polo shirt for the family photo.

“Not. Gonna. Wear. It.”

Round three: “Mitchell, if you wear this outfit, for just five minutes for a family photo, I will take you to the store and let you have a king size Reese’s peanut butter cup!”

“Not. Gonna. Wear. It.”

Round four: “I will give you twenty dollars cash. TWENTY DOLLARS and the Reese’s peanut butter cup.”

“Not. Gonna. Wear. It.”

Round five: “Mitchell, how about a nice new Lego construction set? And twenty dollars cash? And your favorite candy.”

This time, he pushed his pudgy little face as close as possible to mine without touching. “How many times I gotta tell you? I’m not gonna wear it.”

A weaker woman would have backed down at this point. But instead, I told Mitchell that there was no way around it. He could wear whatever he chose for Thanksgiving dinner, but he was changing for the photo. Thanksgiving Day came and we all traveled to Roswell. When it seemed like a good time to take the picture, I rounded up the boys and gave them their outfits. Samuel went upstairs to change without argument, and Mitchell ran from me. He literally ran from me, up the stairs and down the long hallway on the second floor. And I chased him.

He was laughing at first, and so was John who watched from the stairs. He laughed until I caught him, put my arms around his rotund little belly and used my best grown-up bossy voice. “Just put this on for a quick photo and then change back into your sweatpants. This isn't funny anymore.” Mitchell wiggled free and ran back down the hallway, with me in hot pursuit. John caught him at the landing. Clearly, he was ready to get it over with. In his stern, Daddy-is-mad voice, he tossed the jeans and polo shirt to Mitchell and commanded his son to change clothes. Mitchell took the clothes and tore off to the bathroom. I looked at John, so completely satisfied that we had worked together as a team. Downstairs a small crowd was gathering of aunts, uncles and cousins, waiting to see the madness unfold. Amanda, Georgia, Samuel, John and I waited for Mitchell at the bottom of the steps like he was a bride preparing to make a grand entrance. And when he finally emerged, he was wearing the striped polo shirt. Yes, he was wearing the striped polo shirt . . . with his royal blue sweatpants.

 I groaned. We had lost the war. John steadied me at the elbow and whispered, “We will just put him in the back. No one will see the pants.” We had only been married for a month so I wasn’t in the mood to argue with him. So I smiled, and took a deep breath. Yes, I concluded, it was enough that Mitchell relented on the shirt. What difference does it make?

So we all trekked out to my grandmother’s picturesque back yard and sat down on the stone steps, while my mom tried to get the kids to all look in the same direction while she took the pictures. And you almost can’t tell . . . unless you look really closely. But even when I do, I have to smile at those Christmas sweatpants. I have to smile at the kid who got in trouble in class for humming the Jeopardy theme song during an awkward silence in the teacher’s lecture. I have to smile at the kid who doesn’t understand why I get aggravated at him for cutting his toenails all over the sofa, or hoarding canned food in the woods behind our house . . . or shaving a wooden walking stick on his bed . . . or for carrying a machete through the neighborhood. Oh, Mitchell! What an awesome kid you are. Thanks for keeping me grounded. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


When the little ones first came to us, Camden was the angriest child I had ever met. He had been taken away from the chaos and instability that he thought was normal. He had been made to feel like a little adult – the spokesman for himself and two younger siblings. I imagine he was told all the time that he had to be a big boy and set a good example for the babies. He had witnessed a lot of domestic violence, and he had watched helplessly as the adults who were supposed to take care of him were systematically carted off to jail or prison, one at a time.

Teaching a child that they can trust you is quite an undertaking. Camden wanted very much to hate us. He wanted to fear us. He wanted to scare us away. It was the way he had learned to survive. In order to protect himself, he pushed people away who wanted to love him and take care of him. At five years old and forty-five pounds, Camden was like a raging Napoleon – a short little fellow ordering everyone around, shouting profanity at every turn, shocking us all in our “almost normal” life.  In the car, the two little ones would bob and dance to the music on the radio. Not my Camden. The little ones would squeal over a helicopter or a balloon in the sky. Not my Camden. Even silent Cole would pick a dandelion and bring it to me with pride. Not my Camden. His resolve was stronger than I had ever known for such a little boy.

During his first week with us, Camden screamed from the bed so long and so loudly that our family felt the effects all day long. While my mom was here, she helped me with the eight hundred appointments and the insanity of the daily schedule with three small children (in addition to the three teens that were here first!) During her stay, Camden crawled up into my lap, completely exhausted, and fell asleep against me. It was a small thing, but it was a step in the right direction. The vast, empty chasm in his heart was not bottomless. There was trust. There was hope. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. Mom watched him sleeping and from across the living room she mouthed the words “That’s major,” with a nod in my new son’s direction.

But while awake, Camden swung punches, shouted accusations, screamed out in terror, and demanded to have things his way. He bossed me and John, told us all what to do and where to go, and insisted that his way was gospel. Over and over, we repeated the phrase “You are not in charge. Mommy and Daddy are in charge.” We said it so often that even little baby Lizzie picked it up. At eighteen months she would shake her chubby little finger in the direction of anyone that crossed her path and garble “Ma-eee, Daa-eee in targe!!”

After many months of appointments, assessments, therapy, and specialized services, Camden had an official diagnosis – RAD. If you are not familiar with Reactive Attachment Disorder, let me assure you that this disorder is not getting rave reviews. It is associated with early trauma, often in post-institutionalized children, orphans, or kids who have languished in the foster care system and have not formed appropriate connections with safe and appropriate adults. RAD kids don’t know how to let a grown up meet their needs, because for most of their early years, no one was putting them first.
Camden’s second diagnosis is more familiar to most people- ADHD. And we all know what that means. The combination of these seven letters spells an angry, loud, impulsive, wiggly, squirmy, manipulative, and often dangerous little punk.

Aside from therapy, one of our additional plans for Camden was to put him into a team sports program as quickly as possible. It was basketball season that came around first, and we signed Camden up with our last name (even though the adoption didn't happen for another year) he was five and couldn't read, so we weren't too worried. The first week of practice was a disaster. John came home irritated that Camden wouldn't even go out on the court to play with the other kids. He was still so protective of his little heart, he rarely played with other kids or made friends.

The second week of practice, I explained to Camden that if he didn't want to play, we should donate his spot to another child in our community- maybe one who couldn't afford to play. He decided that no one else was going to have his spot, and he took to the court. I watched from the creaky old wooden bleachers at Park and Rec. as Camden ran down the basketball court, dribbling and shooting and defending the ball. I was speechless- and so were his coaches, who knew a little of his history. Camden became one of the strongest players on his team, and in his free time, showed us that he was capable of playing basically any sport.

In soccer the next Spring and in a second season of Basketball, Camden was nominated “best defensive player.” It was not ironic to me that a child who had always put up a wall around his heart, and who defended himself fiercely, was voted best defensive player. Camden was a star in every game. He wasn't always the top scoring player, but he fought hard to defend his team. I sat on the sidelines, feeling pride like none I’d ever known. After every practice, without fail, the coaches would gush about Camden's athletic abilities, and ask us how long he had been playing!

And another sport- football, became the glue that brought Camden together with his new dad, John. Camden desperately wanted to impress John from the start, and would sit for hours and watch the Steelers play. Imagine that- a little boy with ADHD and RAD, sitting still for hours just to bond with his new daddy. And John used the time to teach Camden about the game – the rules, the different positions, and the calls. Camden soon knew more about football than many people my age. He memorized players names, stats, and soon had inside jokes with John. Once I heard him referring to the Dallas team as the “Cowgirls” with a sly grin and a nod to John, who approved. Through their shared bond, they took to the backyard on a daily basis, passing the football back and forth for hours after school. The time with his new dad was so good for Camden that it almost seemed to be better than therapy or medicine.

So even though I missed the cutoff to sign him up to play 6 and under football, I did not miss it this year. And as he did in soccer and basketball, Camden has continued to amaze me in 7 and under football. He is part of a team, rough-housing with other boys, rolling in the dirt and grass, putting little stickers on his helmet for each tackle and touchdown. And if that wasn't enough, Camden’s team is awesome. They have won every game so far and right now have the best record in the league. They are certainly headed to the playoffs, and I feel like the happiest mom in the world. I am so happy to see the joy in this little boy’s eyes when he asks me if we can stay a few minutes after practice so he can throw the ball a little longer with his teammates. “I love you, Mommy!” he shouts as he runs back to this little gang of seven year-olds. I am so proud of my son. And even when practice is hard, hot, long and he falls down or twists his arm and cries for a few minutes, he soon gets back up, brushes himself off and joins the team.

Tonight after practice, Camden’s coach gave the boys a little final wrap-up and commended them on another win last weekend. He talked about how this team is the only “Undefeated” team in the league. The boys listened intently, still giddy about their new helmet stickers. When practice was over, the snacks passed out, and the Park staff had run all the kids off the field, Camden ran over to my car happily and jumped in the backseat. He patted his helmet and smiled, “That was fun!” he said. As I backed out of the parking lot, I asked “How does it feel to be undefeated?” “It feels good!” he said.

And I realized that being undefeated is about more than sports. My kid has every excuse, every reason in the world to wither away from relationships, to quit trying to trust, to stop trying to make friends. He has every reason in the world to feel defeated- he was abused, neglected, never treated as a priority. He thought that life was always going to beat him down, kick him and leave him on the ground. But my kid will not be defeated. He has gotten up, brushed himself off, and kept fighting. And I believe that one day when he is a healthy, successful young man, I will ask him again, “How does it feel to be undefeated?”

Monday, July 28, 2014

Cold and Wet: The Stories of Queen Elsa and the Prophet Jonah

Lately, our Lizzie is in a phase where she is obsessed with two things- the movie, Frozen, and the Bible story of Jonah. Our standing record on the movie is seventeen views in one week and while we read the story of Jonah nightly, we have to re-read it about four times each night to appease her little appetite for . . . fish?

It’s funny she picked the story of Jonah because it’s one that has great meaning in my life. And if I haven’t had the chance to enlighten you on my opinion of this short but important little Old Testament story, allow me to share: It’s about obedience, yes, but it has a startling little message about codependency as well. And it’s one that reminds me every time I read it (which is about 15-18 times a week right now) that sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is walk away. And oddly enough, when Lizzie is staring into the screen and belting out “Let it Go” along with the totally alienated Queen Elsa on her journey up the North Mountain, I am reminded that the process of letting go will be a lifetime battle, and hopefully one I can share with my children as they grow up.

 Jonah, as you may know, was an Old Testament prophet called by God to visit the frightening and twisted population (Ninevah) of a god-forsaken pagan nation and deliver an ominous warning about their wicked deeds. Fearful, Jonah gets on a boat to go in another direction (Tarshish) as quickly as possible. As Lizzie would say “Jonah say ‘I not go to Nivenah, I go to Tarsis! God can’t see me here!” and so he falls asleep below the deck as a terrible storm begins to terrify the ship’s crew (picture the moment when Anna and Elsa’s parents’ ship is tossed and turned on the sea.) The sailors begin praying to their own gods, begging for mercy and for their lives. Finally, the captain of the ship (who obviously knows that Jonah is a prophet) wakes the disobedient messenger and frantically begs him to ask His God for help. Jonah knows that the storm is his fault, and he tells the sailors to throw him into the sea. He realizes that the entire ship full of people is in terrible danger, because of his own disobedience. After trying unsuccessfully to maneuver the ship, the desperate men finally decide to throw Jonah overboard- especially in light of his confession that he has been disobedient to God.

 Read the rest of the book of Jonah if you are interested in how the story plays out. And I know it’s entirely possible you won’t come to the same conclusion that I did. But I hope this is a message my kids will remember as they grow. There will be people who come into your life – for whatever purpose, and do not make the right choices that will point you to the Lord. And at some point these relationships may become a liability – a toxic relationship that is only causing you to drown. I’ve been in those relationships before, and I have not always been wise about tossing the disobedient one over the side of my proverbial ship. So, I don’t intend this to be a lecture – just a reminder. With some people, you have to “let it go” – it’s not your fault, it’s not your responsibility. You’ve gone as far as you should go with this person. There is no reason for you to suffer anymore because someone is refusing to make the right choices for their lives. Holding on to this person, this relationship, or these circumstances is going to mean that you will go down with them. Instead, God may very well be calling you to haul them up on the side of the boat and give them a giant shove- right down into the deep abyss of their own consequences.

 Believe me when I say it doesn’t escape me that my opportunity to become a mother only took place because someone else was a complete failure at being a mom. That is sad, and it’s something that I will have to discuss with my children over and over again throughout their lives. The termination of parental rights that takes place before a child is available for adoption is a long and painful process. A judge and an entire team of child protection services specialists must decide together that it is in the best interests of the child (or in our case, children) that their parent-child relationship is severed, ended, aborted, terminated. Being a part of that process is hard. But I can hope (and do pray) that as God saw Jonah in his disobedience, still loved him, and sent a giant fish to swallow him (and later return him to the land), God will always care for and provide a way to save those who still call out to Him for help.

 Jonah eventually obeyed God’s call to go to Ninevah. That won’t always happen for everyone we let go. Every single day in my job and in the lives of the other brave foster-adopt families that we know and love, we see how disobedience and selfishness and fear have driven people apart. Every day I meet kids who are torn apart because they can’t bear to let go of a parent who has neglected them, abused them, or turned away and abandoned them. Broken promises are all around us in this life – but there is one thing we can do. We can let go, and let God (thanks, Alcoholics Anonymous) and that is exactly what happened to the ship after the old prophet was thrown overboard. The storm stopped. And yours will too. Just let it go.



Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Getting on with the Rest of my Life

Yesterday was my pre-op visit with the Dr. who performed my surgery. It had been two weeks since the procedure that officially ended a long and difficult chapter in my life. But (incase this is the first post you have ever read on my blog) I have learned that the long and difficult chapters are the ones who make us who we really are.

 In fact, aside from infertility, ectopic pregnancies, and an earlier battle with an addicted spouse that ended in divorce, my life has been pretty typical. The long and difficult chapters are the ones that shaped me into the person I am today.

Yesterday I left work a few minutes before the appointment, arrived on time, signed in, and was taken back into an exam room on time. I waited just a few minutes for the doctor to come into the room, go over a few things, check my incisions, and declare that I was “free to resume normal activities.” In my case, “normal” activities include running on the treadmill (it ain’t pretty, but I do it), taking long hot bubble baths as often as possible, and a few other things that John is pretty willing to resume. But my return to normal activities is more than that. I am also getting on with the rest of my life.
Today a dear friend who came into my life at the beginning of her foster-adoption journey called me to talk about the possibility of going back on “the pill” to put a temporary stop to some of her painful symptom of her infertility. My heart ached for her because I’ve been there. I was 29 once and I wondered if I would ever carry a child. I wondered at the beginning of my infertility journey if I would ever be a mother. Adoption seemed out of reach and (if I’m being honest) seemed like accepting less than becoming a mother in the biological way.
So I told my friend about my visit to the Doctor yesterday and about the question I asked my doctor just before she closed my chart and left the exam room.

Without emotion, I was able to verbalize exactly what I needed to know.

“Did you see evidence of the pregnancy in my tube after you removed it?” I asked.

“Yes,” she answered, “Yes, I did. It was exactly as we thought.”

A wave of relief swept over me and I nodded my thanks. It was time to get on with my life. No turning back, just moving forward.

Getting on with my life means coming home to a full and busy house. It means sweeping Cole into a big tight hug and laughing as he says “Mommy, I love you. But your breath stinks.” Getting on with my life means reading a Bible story with Lizzie before she goes to bed and listening to her re-tell the story back with a deep, sacred voice for God. Getting on with my life means crawling into the bottom bunk with Camden to scratch his back and listen to him talk about the NFL and his favorite college football teams. It also means pretending to be interested in World War II fighting maneuvers while Mitchell rattles on about a new website he has found. It means reminding Samuel that middle school is tough and awkward for everyone, and that he will find his way. It means helping Georgia prepare for her first year of college, and slipping some gas money to Amanda or Cody. It means enjoying my nieces and nephews, going to cookouts, birthday parties, the beach, and to see the Fourth of July fireworks. It means going to bed every night beside my wonderful husband, who makes me laugh every day and challenges me to live out my faith. It means hanging out with the colorful characters of our little and welcoming church, working with abused and neglected kids in a children’s home, keeping up with my friends on facebook, and cherishing every moment, every breath, every conversation.
To some it might seem strange that I needed to know if the Doctor could see the pregnancy. Having a tubal pregnancy (or three in my case) is a strange experience because you never get to “see” your unborn child. You are told it is there, and you have evidence in your own blood. But I really needed to know that I had made the right decision with this surgery. I didn’t wave the white flag of surrender, I simply closed that chapter of my life. There are so many more chapters to look forward to!

And for my special friend who is a little farther behind me in her infertility and adoption journey, I love you! God’s best for you is working its way out, one piece at a time. And the completed picture is more beautiful than anything you could ever ask for, imagine, or design for yourself. Just keep turning the pages.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

There is no Such Thing as Closure

It’s about to get real, people, and I like to think I’m as real as it gets. I’m the “tell my life story to a stranger on the bus” kind of person. What have I got to hide from?

Rejection, that’s what.

And here I go again, launching into what might be the most honest post I’ve ever shared on my blog. And even though I can count on my fingers and toes the number of people who actually read this, I still fear rejection. I feel rejection from the people who will read this, who know me, who don’t know me, and who know some of the others, or the circumstances I am about to tell about.

(Insert deep breath) Okay, here it goes.

First, this:

Two weeks ago, I took the little kids to an Easter Egg Hunt. We were all gathered around waiting to get started chalk when I spotted a young girl that I knew from somewhere.  I tried to figure out where I knew her from but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. Finally, I asked her where she went to school and when she told me, I realized I must have seen her over the years while Mitchell and Samuel attended there. I told her that at one point I had FOUR boys at that school at one time. She asked me their names but before I could name them, her grandmother called her by name. And then I realized who she was. She was one of Jeremiah’s classmates from Kindergarten. She was nearly as tall as me, standing there with her Easter basket, and her pierced ears. A lump formed in my throat as I asked her how old she was. “I’m nine,” she replied, “About to be in the fourth grade.” It was hard to picture my little Jeremiah being nine years old. It was hard to picture him finishing third grade. In my heart, he is still that round-faced little five year old with the huge brown eyes and big smile that walked out my life in May of 2011. I said goodbye to Jeremiah and Peniel on the day they left us, but there wasn’t really closure. Then Sunday night Lizzie wanted to draw and I pulled out a stack of drawing paper from the art supply cabinet. In the middle of the blank sheets of paper, there was a drawing of what seemed like an alien and the chunky sloppy writing with the name JEREMIAH in all caps. I guess those boys will always have a part of my heart. I may have peace about where they are, or I may have settled in my heart that they are gone, but I never had “closure.”

And then there’s this:

A few days after Cody’s birthday, when the snow had finally cleared enough to get on the road, the kids and I were going stir crazy. Cody offered to stay home and watch everyone so I could go into my office for awhile and work. I happily accepted his offer. After we all had breakfast, I got in the shower and when I got ready to leave for work, Cody was nowhere to be found. Georgia was about to head out to spend time with friends, so I asked Mitchell and Samuel where Cody was. Mitchell replied, “He had to go somewhere,” which wasn’t actually very helpful. I assumed he had run up to the store to grab a soda, or to his mom’s house for a shower (our pipes had frozen.) I asked Georgia if she could watch the kids until he returned, and I left for work.

Thirty minutes after I got to work, Georgia called me to say that Cody had not returned and she had to leave. I called Cody, but my call went to his voicemail. And I sent a simple text that read: “Are you okay?” before shutting down my work computer and heading back out the door. Rushing back home, I got a panicked call from Cody’s longtime girlfriend. “Something is wrong,” she cried on the phone, “A strange man called Cody and told him the police were looking for him. Something about Cody committing a crime and needing to come to meet with the police.” My mind was racing because I really didn’t understand what was happening. The girlfriend’s mother called me next, saying she was certain that it was all a misunderstanding, that the police had the wrong guy, that Cody would never do anything illegal or inappropriate. I rushed home as quickly as I could and began busying myself with the kids. I hung by the phone and then at 4 pm when I had left my phone in the bedroom while cooking dinner, I missed a call. I will never forget the message or the dread I felt when I heard those words. Cody was calling me from jail because he had been arrested for inappropriate contact with a minor over the Internet. I grabbed my husband’s dresser to keep myself from falling over as I listened to the message. Our Cody? The honor student and star athlete from a dysfunctional family that we had brought into our home and our hearts? The smart, talented, well-mannered kid that we considered our own was in jail?

This happened in January. And I have debated long and hard about sharing it this publicly. But I feel like I have to because to pretend we don’t love him and don’t care about him is to do myself an injustice. People do terrible things sometimes. All people do, even though “terrible” is relative and consequences vary. Cody made a very poor error in his typically solid judgment. He has a long road ahead of him and will have to be very transparent and honest to find his way back. But we love him, and because he is broken and suffering, we are too.

Like Jeremiah and Peniel, Cody has been a son to me- an older son with different needs and different experiences, but a son. And now, like the little ones who left us before him, there is a huge chasm in our life that he used to fill. One day he was there, and the next day he was gone. His room was empty, his clothes were still hanging in the closet. He was gone. There was no closure for me.

And then there’s this:

I have made complete peace with my infertility. Dr. S told me it would “take a miracle” for me to become a mother the natural way. I had one tube left and it was a bad one. I had very poor numbers and I didn’t ovulate. All of those things meant one thing- adoption or very expensive and high-risk medical procedures. I chose adoption. I have never regretted my decision.

On March 26, I woke up feeling strange. I had just had what I thought to be an unusually long and heavy period. I assumed I was low in iron and just feeling weak. I felt nauseous. I couldn’t think of a thing in the world I wanted to eat, and my coffee didn’t even taste right. I stopped to buy a Sprite to settle my stomach and a dollar pregnancy test, for no apparent reason since I had just stopped bleeding two days prior. At work, I put my coffee in the microwave, went into the restroom and peed on the stick. I glanced at the clock, went back to get my coffee, and after the prescribed three minutes, returned to the restroom where I stopped cold in my tracks. It was very, very positive.

And I knew it wasn’t good.

In fact, if I’m gonna be honest, the first words out of my mouth were “Holy shit, no . . .” followed by a lot of crying, pacing the floor, and frantically trying to call John. I wish I could say I was happy to see those two lines. I wish I could say I whispered: “Thank you, Lord” and “Hallelujah, it’s a miracle!” but I knew. I knew I would lose another baby in my body. I knew it was probably already too late.

Later that day an emergency room physician with good intentions told me it might actually be a viable pregnancy. My numbers were low- but it could also just be early in the pregnancy. I tried to hope. I really did.

It took a couple of days to get Medicaid- yes, Medicaid. I am currently a “burden upon society” since I had no other insurance and thankfully met the criteria- broke and positive for pregnancy. The nurse at the health department gave me pamphlets on childbirth and breastfeeding. I filled out a thousand forms and one that asked my estimated due date and the number of babies I was expecting. Without thinking, I wrote 0 for that second question. She saw the number and looked at my shaking hands. I scribbled through the 0 and wrote the number 1 because apparently 0 was not the typical answer. But in my heart, I knew there would be no baby.

In a few more days, they told me what I already knew. My tube had failed me again. But this would be the last time. I begged the doctors to please do surgery, to please just remove the tube, to please just take away the possibility that this would ever happen again.

 A few people with kind hearts but blind eyes have commented that since I can get pregnant, I shouldn’t try and stop the pregnancies. What they mean to say is that I should keep letting God or nature do what it will, and maybe I will get lucky. But I’m 37 in a few weeks. I have a houseful of kids and my life is full. Ectopic pregnancies are life threatening, and that’s not a chance I’m willing to take with 8 kids who depend on me. In fact, I’ve told my church friends that if anything ever happens to me, make sure John remarries. She should be a hard worker who loves to clean, nice to my kids, and ugly as the underside of a boat dock. That way I know there will be no romance between her and my man. J

 I want to tell those few people something about Melissa now – my kids didn’t come from my body, but I would not trade them for children who did. And even if by some stroke of luck or a miracle from God I was able to carry a child in my womb and give birth, nothing would change in my heart. I would not regret the roads that I went down to find my kids. Carrying one that bore my eyes or my nose or my blood type would not mean more than becoming a mom to my little ones. I no longer feel like I am "less" of a mom because I did not give birth to my kids. I no longer feel I was cheated out of ideal motherhood. Yes, I mean it.
This time was different. This time I wasn’t completely consumed and buried under my grief. While the nurses were poking and prodding and digging to find my allusive veins, I was imagining my kids – the way Lizzie throws her head back when she laughs, the way Camden nestles up to me while doing homework, the way Cole spontaneously shouts out “you the best mommy in the world!” at the most unusual times.
Don’t get me wrong- I cried. I cried a lot.  I prayed – I prayed a lot. I had a little fantasy for a few days. In the fantasy, Lizzie was a big sister. Maybe Lexi would be her name if it was a girl. Joshua for a boy. Josh Line. Lexi Line. Lizzie and Lexi. At night for those few days, I patted my belly and thought about that tiny little life that was part of John’s body, and part of mine.

All of us who have lost a child – no matter how we lost them, we are part of a club. We are part of a club that we never wanted to be a part of. We have loved and loved and loved and nurtured and held and hoped and cherished and protected, and have lost.

Maybe after years and years,

Maybe after only one year –

Maybe after just a few months, or a few weeks, or a few days. Maybe after only a few moments.

We have lost and then looked around at the emptiness.

We have ached for those lost children every day.

On May 19, I will have a surgery that will remove the one tube I still have. This will be my last pregnancy. Maybe it’s my attempt at closure. But somehow I know it really won’t close this chapter of my life. I will still feel pain sometimes, I will still remember.

For me, the pain seems to come when I least expect it. I am cleaning a bedroom and turn and see in just the right light – the name of a little boy scribbled into the wall in magic marker. A little boy who lived here once, who sat on my lap and made me laugh, who learned to read while he lived with me. Or I am walking through the store and I see the cucumbers and think of the young man who would never eat a salad but I could always slice up cucumbers and he would eat every one. Another time I see a sonogram picture on facebook and I think about my ultrasounds, my empty womb. Those moments take my breath away. For a moment, my heart stops beating. And I know that is the closest I will ever come to experiencing closure. As fantastic as it sounds, closure doesn’t ever really happen in this life. It will happen one day, in Eternity, when all of us gather together and we are perfectly whole and perfectly well before God. When all the earth has passed away, and we are no longer imperfect creatures who struggle with pain, longing, discomfort, temptation, regret, remorse, and fear. When we are made whole we can truly love and be loved. In Eternity, we will be complete – no broken body parts, no loss of life, no anxiousness and wondering what might have been.

Until then, we endure. We love with all our hearts, and we try our best not to turn around and look behind us.

To all the children I have lost- I will see you again one day.

Friday, January 10, 2014

I blinked and I almost missed it

God has ways of getting our attention, and I am grateful He does.

I'm gonna jump around in this post a lot, so try to hang with me. Sometimes I have so much to say and I don't take time to write it all down quickly enough and it vanishes . . . poof! Or I jot it in the old timey journal and it never makes its way to the world wide web . . . you know how it is. Busy Mom stuff/ my life has changed SO much. But here is the latest in my story:

I feel like my babies are growing up right before my very eyes. I can't even describe it without getting a little teary. Lizzie still has those baby-fat round cheeks but she is now THREE. She loves lip gloss, nail polish, jewelry, and ponies. She wants to get her ears pierced (like her best friend Riley) and she runs circles around this fat old mommy. At night when I try and wrangle her into my lap for bedtime songs, she is too busy to sit for long, she has to tell me stories about her day at school and her friends and the dog, and her juice cup. I drag her chunky butt into my lap, holding her as she wiggles and try to sing a few songs while she says "I don't like that song," or changes the words while I'm singing: "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Butt."
"Lizzie, don't say that!"
"It's funny, Mommy!! Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Butt!"
And so it goes.

Camden has now finally lost one of his front teeth and that makes me ecstatic. The first three were little teeth near the back but now we are finally making some real progress. This makes me so happy because the two front teeth were nothing but caps. They were ugly, off-white colored fake teeth on the front and silver on the back. They were put into place because his baby teeth rotted out from "bottle rot" in his original home. So to see his "new smile" taking over where those giant fake beaver teeth used to be is downright awesome.

And my little Cole who came to me at 26 pounds of pasty white flesh covered in scabs, is now my golden-skinned, warm and lovable Pre-K student at a solid forty pounds. He talks constantly, tells me every day that I am "the most awesome mommy in the whole world!" and just graduated to the top bunk bed. It was in the car with Cole-bug earlier this week that I was struck by just how fast time is going by, and how quickly my babies are growing up.

John's car is on the fritz (more on that later) and so we are a one-car family for the time. John had gotten a ride to work with his coworker and Cody agreed to put Cam on the bus. Georgia, Mitchell and Samuel all got on the HS/MS bus and that left me and Lizzie and Cole. We dropped Lizzie off first at her daycare and I headed into town toward Cole's school. The radio was blaring because I love some morning radio, and Cole was doing his normal head-nodding, car seat shaking form of dance that he does constantly when music is playing. I heard him say "Mommy," and turned down the radio just enough to hear him.
"Yeah, buddy?"
"Mommy, when is Santa coming?"
"Buddy, it's January, Santa just came." I turned the radio back up.
"Yeah, but he's comin again, right?" I turned the radio back down.
"Yes, Colebug, he's coming next Christmas." I turned the radio back up.
"Yes, buddy?" I turned the radio back down.
"How big will I be when Santa comes again?"
"You will be FIVE." I turned the radio back up.
"FIVE! That's BIG! Will I be a big kid?" I turned the radio back down.
"Yes, buddy. You will be Five and in Kindergarten and you will go to the big kids' school with Camden. Camden will be in second grade, and Lizzie will be in preschool, and Mitchell will be a freshman in high school . . . " Suddenly my voice started quaking and I turned the radio off.
No morning radio show was this important.
Cole sat up straight in his carseat and looked me in the rear view mirror, "I'm growing up so fast!" He explained.
"Yes, you are." I said, a slow-motion movie playing in my imagination. His first day of Kindergarten, Mitchell's first day of high school. Georgia going away to COLLEGE. Amanda will turn 21 years old! All of these things will happen in 2014. How is this even possible?

This really got me thinking about all the times that just blow by like a locomotive - right in front of our eyes. God, I don't want to miss a second, not a moment! But I almost did miss a few precious moments in the car with Cole. Because of a radio talk show.

I kept the radio off and Cole chattered away in the back seat behind me. I listened and tried to tuck away his words and songs and silly sayings in my heart and memory.
"Goin to school, school, cool, pool, bull, drool, goin to school, mool, mool, shool, duel . . . I gonna eat a snack at school! I gonna play with Allison!! I gonna dance and sing! Mah Mah Mah Mah, Mah Mah, Mah Mah! Boo, Boo, Boo, Boo, Boo, Boo, Boo! Watcha Watcha Watcha Watcha!! I'm Cole Ross Line . . . Cole Ross Line . . . Cole Ross Line . . . . I got the best mommy in the whole world! Mommy, you AWESOME!! I got the BEST mommy in the whole world! I'm COLE ROSS LINE . . . COLE, bowl, mole, goal, roll, dole, hole, Cole . . ." and on and on he went. He never stopped talking and I never stopped listening, treasuring every moment.

When they are grown and off getting an education, or growing a family of their own, or chasing their dreams, I will miss their little voices and giggles, and hugs, and sticky hands. I will long for these moments in ways I can't describe.

In the past two months, we have lost the use of our washing machine, John's car, and then our pipes froze in the "Frozen Tundra of Northeastern Georgia" earlier this week. Going without these conveniences has been nearly impossible for our family.
First, two weeks before Christmas, we lost the washer. In one day, our laundry pile was taller than our Christmas tree. The load trapped in the washer had to be rescued with the jaws of life after spending about 36 hours trapped in dirty water. The smell was ferocious and we had to pile it all in our shower while waiting for a solution. By the third day, I took the morning off from work, filled my pockets full of quarters, loaded TWELVE loads of laundry into the back of my car and took off the "The Land of Forgotten Undies" otherwise known as the Coin Laundry. This was an eye-opening experience as people who regularly use these facilities have their own culture. They all knew each other. They shared their laundry secrets and family gossip:
"Hey, Melvin . . . have you tried this new fabric softener?"
"You can use this machine, it's still got about 30 cent on it and it's hot inside."
"Where you been, Doris, we been missin you around here! How's Ed?"
"Does anybody know if this machine got fixed yet? It's been shaking awful crazy!"
I took it all in that morning, the sights, the smells, the characters. I felt like I had walked into Cheers. I was an outsider with my enormous pile of dirty laundry. It took over and hour for me to get into a rhythm. I made two trips to the ATM to get more cash, having only used a coin laundry last in 1998. I poured change into the machines faster than Kate Gosselin at Chuck E. Cheese. By mistake, I folded some other guys clothes because there were so many of ours and I started losing track. By the third hour, I started talking to my laundry:
"Oh, hey, you're doing good in there! Just a few more minutes!"
It was unforgettable. But what I remember the most is that a few days later when our "new to us" washer arrived (thank you, Andrea) I bowed down in front of it and kissed it on its white belly. You never know what you've got until its gone.

Then three weeks later, John's car died on his way to work. Being the athlete he is, he decided to roll it into the parking lot of a gas station/ drug paraphernalia operation and walked up the mountain the rest of the way to work. Yes, that cramped little car is not my favorite way to go but I miss it now like I've lost a part of my body. We now have endless "togetherness" and more logistics to operate on a school day morning that most governments have to do for small countries. You don't know what you're missing until its not available anymore.

And finally, the biggest hit (and I hope the last) was the loss of our water source. Yeah, turns out water is pretty important for a family of nine. The pipes froze when the temps dropped down to the single digits. Never occurred to me this would happen and I was amused at first. Then twelve hours later, my amusement turned to rage and insanity. How is a mom supposed to serve dinner and bathe her children with NO WATER? I turned very creative. I emptied all the drinking water in the fridge into pots. I asked John to run into town and fill up every available vessel at our church with tap water to use. And best of all - I bathed my children in water I had earlier used to steam the broccoli. Yes, Camden was first and he hollered out "Mom! There's broccoli in my bath!" And I shouted back, "I know! It's GOOD for you! It's full of antioxidants!" And later than night as I picked broccoli bits out of Lizzie's hair I considered the way we all depend on running water. Samuel, Mitchell and I took a voyage to my office in the middle of the nigh to fill up more containers. We talked about the important of not flushing the toilet. I told them that (just this once) it was okay to wipe and put the paper in the trash can rather than the toilet. "It's very European, " I told them.
Yeah, it turns out you don't realize how much you depend on something until its gone.

I spent part of the last week "detoxing" with my boss to jump start our next fitness challenge. Yeah, try doing that without a way to flush. It's a VERY strict detox to cleanse the gluttony of the holidays away. Suddenly an apple seemed like a hot fudge sundae while I was depriving myself. I drank only water, and cut out all caffeine, sugar, etc. And once again it hit me, we never realize what we have until its gone.

And Time is the same way, my friends. Time never stops, it just keeps on going and going and going . . . (you get the picture). One day our babies will all be grown up and we will wish we had more time. We will look at their photo albums and little baby teeth in a box and remember their tiny fingers and the funny conversations in the car. And our hearts will long for what we once had.

I for one am going to turn off the radio more. And listen harder. And talk less. And play more. And laugh more. And snuggle more. And argue less. And criticize less. I don't have any time to waste.