Monday, January 20, 2014

What I've learned.

They say being a parent is the hardest job there is. And, just like with anything, some come to it more naturally than others. I tend to learn things most easily by banging my head against the wall - parenting is no different. I thought I'd share a few things I wish I knew before adopting, and what I've learned since. 

(Some of) What I didn't know before adopting:
1.) My child WILL have been affected from trauma. Period.
2.) I will desperately want to know his birth mother.
3.) The Zen-mama thing won't come to me quickly or naturally.
4.) (But there's a Zen-ish mama in there who just needs some practice.)
5.) We will gain some friends and build an amazing community.
6.) We will lose some friends.
7.) I'll never regret not having biological children. Not for a minute.

(Some of) What I've learned since adopting:
1.) I am the emotional regulator. It's up to me to help Sam calm. And I actually can do it.
2.) Attachment goes both ways, it took longer for me than anyone.
3.) Despite what I'd thought, I DID give up my career to be with my son (for a while).
4.) Despite any initial trepidation or concern about how we chose to build our family, our parents, sisters and brothers have fallen totally and unconditionally in love with our son.
5.) Nothing feels worse than going to sleep feeling like a bad parent. 
6.) Nothing feels better than going to sleep feeling like a good mama.
7.) Adoptions ethics concern me and are a painful reality.
8.) Kyndra was right - watching learning to walk is cute, but seeing learning to talk is adorable.
9.) Everything is wonder and possibility at age 3. And willfulness. And willfulness. And...
10.) You can't possibly grasp parenting until you are one. And maybe not then.
11.) I am the mama of the funniest, smartest and cutest boy in the world.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

This is big stuff.

Two years ago Thanksgiving day, we welcomed Samuel into our home. It was one of the most amazing days of my life. I don't think anything could have prepared us for the job of parenting, or for this amazing child. It has been the hardest and happiest 2 years of my life.

Sam - I still call you bright eyes - as there's so much life in your eyes, and in you. And I still call you pork chop, or chop, or choppy, even though you're longer and leaner now, not shaped like a pork chop. You are funny, silly, scary-smart, quick-tempered, sweet, curious, a bit defiant, easily scared, talkative (non-stop), creative and loving. You are just the person I saw in your eyes in the first pictures of you. I believe the universe sent you to me to make me a better person.

In the past two years, you have not only learned to walk and talk, but you've learned to love and trust. While it's miraculous by most standards that at 37 months you know all of your letters and are starting to spell, it's more miraculous that you are so happy. And while it's amazing that you can recite more than 30 of your books as we read them, it's more amazing that you're letting our love in, and loving back.

You and I are a lot alike, baby. We have our control battles, big time. Learning to parent you with acceptance and compassion, rather than control and anger is changing me as a person. I have lots of work to do, and lots of room to improve. I'm taking piano lessons so you grow up around music. I'm doing volunteer work for Ethiopia so you learn to know the importance of giving, and your birth country.

My hope for you, baby boy, is that you continue to grow into a happy and kind young man. I'll help as much as I can.

Happy 2 years as a family!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It's not you... it's me. Really.

Attachment goes both ways. Why has this been a lesson so long in coming?

It took me a big ole' smack down from the universe to see that I am a (big) part of the connection/attachment challenges in our family. And while the smack down still stings (did I mention it was/is a big smack down?) I'm so thrilled that I have a renewed commitment and energy to continuing to build my relationship with my son and learning to be a better mama. And I do see him reacting positively to changes I'm working hard to make. Parenting kids from hard places is harder than I'd ever imagined. To be continued... for the rest of my life.

In other news, Sam just turned 3! And, as everyone promised, 3 is looking to be harder than 2. He's very, um, strong willed. And persistent. And strong willed. He's also silly, funny and still a great sleeper, especially at night. He knows is colors, numbers, letters and he knows left from right. He's super duper smart. He loves to read and has most of his books memorized. He loves cars, trucks, transporters, taxi cabs and you name the construction vehicle - or any vehicle for that matter. Unfortunately, along with such intellectual excellence, does not come potty training. Not. Even. Close. Ugh. Again, to be continued...

Friday, August 30, 2013

Confessions of a not good mom.

If you're an adoptive parent (AP) you have been to the classes. You know, the ones that, if you're like me, you kinda glossed over. The hard stuff. Your child will have attachment issues. (No! We're adopting a young child, so he/she will attach pretty easily!) Your child might have sensory issues due to the complete lack of sensory stimulation growing up in an orphanage. (No! We chose our country carefully so we know that our child is coming from a place where he/she was loved!) There will be racial issues. (Ok, we're not there just yet...)

Our son is amazing. He's full of life, and funny, and wicked smart - likely very gifted. He's curious, a great sleeper, a good eater, and can be very sweet. And. He's hard. Really hard. I did now know how hard until recently - because my world imploded a bit, showing me I'm not in control, at all.

Attachment stuff. Sensory stuff. Trauma stuff. Enough said if you know those words. And here's my tell-all moment. I don't know how to be a mother.  I was the primary breadwinner for the first 18+ months we had Sam home. This allowed me to be very strategic about when I spent time with this child who is increasingly hard to parent. Working in a high-power job was the perfect excuse to not have to be home or to soften or to really understand Sam's needs. (Don't judge.) And, Terry spent a month with him in Ethiopia - so those two were super-bonded, and I didn't want to interrupt that. (How convenient!)

Insert wrecking ball, universe wanting to teach lessons, middle-age life-changer - you name it. Things have changed in our household. Now, I'm the primary parent.

Annnndd, I suck at this. I am not calm. He needs calm. I am not creative. He needs creative. I am reading books on sensory and attachment stuff, seeking out energy work and calming techniques and googling "how not to react when your child hits you in the face" and "why is my 3-year old so scared/angry?". I am deep breathing, I am putting sticky notes up reminding me not to yell and quoting calm, spiritual people. I am rocking him, reading to him, singing and dancing with him, coloring with him, crawling with him, feeding him healthy food, trying desperately to help him calm. And, it's not working. I am not calm enough to help him calm down. I'm supposed to regulate his emotions and I can't even regulate my own, much less his. Give me a team of 10 marketing people to organize, restructure and optimize - I'm your gal. Ask me to fix a business problem, done. Put me with a very challenging almost 3-year-old, I'm a mess.

I look at women who have that "natural mother" gene, and I'm perplexed and sad. Why didn't I get it? How come I can't soothe this child? Why do I get so easily effected when he's upset, rather than being that "rock in the river" I'm supposed to be, and that he so desperately needs? I thought when he came, that natural mother thing would appear. It didn't. And, he always wants his baba (father). He cries for him and tells me "I want baba, not mama." Talk about crushing a mama's heart...

What helps? What works? My mom's group, melatonin, singing and a weighted blanket. Those the the things that are working. Hopefully, we'll have more tools come our way.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Home 18 months.

I have nothing profound to write, just that we are settling in as a family. 

It's been a rough few months for each of us, with different challenges individually and collectively. We're working through it - and in many ways - the difficulty of what we've each been going through, and what we've been going through together, has brought us all closer. After all, no one ever said it would be easy. 

Sam has been afraid of a lot lately, and struggling with a few new things. Mostly normal 2 1/2 year-old stuff - and then some. His fear is giving us a chance to pick him up and reassure him. An adoptive mama can understand the blissful feeling when a child finally lets himself "melt into you" after almost a year and a half. (OK - I lied, that is pretty profound, right?) 

When Sam cries in the middle of the night and says "mama, I'm scared", I welcome it, (almost hope for it once in a while, as strange as that sounds) because I know picking him up and rocking him back to sleep is soothing deep fears we'll never understand. I still take him out of his crib 3-4 nights a week for a midnight rock with mama. He used to fuss a bit, but now he snuggles right in. I know, deep in me, that this ritual over the last 18 months has been healing for both of us. The only problem is that he's getting so big, it's hard to lay with him on my chest in the rocker, much less get him back in the crib!

Otherwise, as spring gives way to summer, we spend as much time outside as possible throwing rocks in the creek, playing in dirt and doing little-boy stuff. I try to get Sam to rock his animals and give them a bottle. This lasts for about :30 seconds and he's back to cars and trucks. He named the baby bear we got for his best friend blue bear, "truck bear". This kid is ALL boy. It's not going to be too much longer before he resists putting on lipstick with mama in the morning. I wish we were younger, or we'd started sooner - it'd be fun to have a sibling for Sam. But we're pretty sure the Stones are only going to have one pebble, and what an amazing little pebble he is.

Mama's favorite...beautiful boy.

 Construction site fun - playing in the dirt.

(It is an awfully nice mama who spends her Saturday morning at the construction site, I might add...)

Bubble hat.

Just before he put the stick in his mouth. 

Is it too early to be hoping for a scholarship?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Ebbs and Flows.

It helped to write that last post - and especially to hear comments from my blog friends. And as my mother always told me - things are usually better in the morning.

I've reached out to a few other adoptive mothers and seems what we're experiencing lately is more the norm than not. This seems to be true especially for boys, and especially for adopted kiddos. (That's not to say that people with biological kids do not experience major drama during the 2-4 year age, it's more that I connect more with adoptive parents, because we share a more similar experience.) We have a great therapist with whom we work (she specializes in adoption/attachment). She promised me, during an "emergency" visit - that yes, although right now Sam is a very hard little dude, that doesn't mean he will always be this way. And that these are tough years, and having a 2.5-year-old little boy who is also has significant trauma in their past often gives parents the great pleasure of experiencing the terrible twos and threes "on steroids". At least I know I'm not alone, and I'm not crazy.  So we'll continue to seek ways to help him, and help us. And we'll enjoy the good times and try to stress less about the hard times. (And I'll pray to all the mothers before me to help me continue to find my elusive inner Zen Mama.)

Sam is growing like a weed - and the most "full of life" person I know. When it's happiness he's full of - which is a lot, he is an absolute joy. He's funny, silly and active. He's very active. (Did I mention he's active?) He's talking up a storm - it's so fun to get to know him through language. He is obsessed wtih cars, trains, airplanes and all boy stuff. His ideal day would involve a lot of time in a parking garage, hours throwing rocks into the creek, multiple emergency vehicle viewings (with sirens), no nap, a long bubble bath, and some good reading time.

Here are a few pics since I last posted.

Easter eggs - first chocolate!

Mud, tractor, water, awesome.

Channeling that Zen Mama.

Just silly. That's all.

Throwing rocks in the creek.

Is it me, or does he look 5 here?!

Still a silly porkchop.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The hard parts.

I feel guilty for what I'm about to write. I'll probably end up deleting it.

Yes, we went through a lot have a family. More than most, not as much as some. And...

It's hard. And I feel like I can't share the hard parts, because I've been met with comments that indicate I should just be happy that we have such an amazing son because, after all, isn't this what we wanted for so long and we worked so long to have?

Lots of things are true. We really worked hard for more than 3 years to have a child. He's amazing and we're incredibly blessed. And, this is hard.

Our little dude is having a rough time. He's terrified of so much all of the sudden - loud noises, people, the dark...and many things he can't name. He's also testing boundaries, saying "no" to nearly everything, and having many temper tantrums many times daily. He's throwing, yelling, screaming, testing, hitting, whining, screaming. A lot. The defiance is really shredding me to pieces. He's still our amazing funny, silly little guy - but more often than not right now it's like a monster has taken him over.

We went to a BBQ tonight with some good friends who also have kids from Ethiopia. Sam has seen these kids and people many times, and been to this house - although not in a few months. We talked about the BBQ all day. He was excited to see friends and new toys. We got there and he screamed bloody murder about everything. Didn't want to go outside, didn't want to stay inside, didn't want to see the kids, didn't want to be held, wanted daddy then wanted mama. He saw an older boy that he has seen multiple times before (and who is a doll) and came running to me - screaming - then said "I don't like him." He fussed about his food, he ignored everything I told or asked him to do, resulting in him falling out of his chair and banging his head pretty good. (Fortunately, these were people who have adopted as well, so they understand the big emotions that any kids - sometimes especially adopted kids - have, and I got great support from the other parents.)

Sam finally came over and got into my lap and said "I'm scared. Go to our house."We had already decided it was time to cut our losses - but it was very interesting to me that Sam was able to a.) express that he was afraid and 2.) ask to go home - he usually cries when we do go home! We have only seen him this completely dis-regulated one other time, just last week when my parents arrived for a visit. It was a nightmare - I was so embarrassed. Of course my parents are the best and they were supportive - but I know they didn't want to be around him because he was just so hard and having tantrums about every little thing. That's a horrible feeling. You want your parents to adore your kids. At least I do.

So yes, I get it - these are things that shouldn't be shocking to me knowing Sam's past. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is probably not completely out of the ordinary for someone with his background. He's having trouble with transition, he's feeling strong emotions and can't regulate, new situations scare him a lot more than usual at this age. We've alway's said he's exceptionally willful, stubborn and 2 & 1/2 on top of the adoption-related stuff. I get all that.

And, despite that, it's still fricking hard and frustrating and exhausting. And I feel like I'm failing because I'm not the Zen mama I wish I could be. I go to sleep every night wishing I was a better mother, certain I am a horrible one. promising that tomorrow I won't lose my temper or get frustrated with his intensity. And nearly every day I fail. I look at other mothers who all seem so much more nurturing than me, and I have yet to see a child even close to as intense and emotional as Sam is.

We'll find some more adoption-related resources for support. I'll reach out to other moms. I'll remind myself that Sam needs me now more than ever, even if he can't say or show it. So, I'll go do what I've often done since he came home, and pull him out of the crib and rock him on my chest, hoping somehow he knows mama's here. And tomorrow's another day.