13 And Counting

I remember the first time I saw Gracie. She was sitting on her foster mother’s lap, so tiny and delicate, that she looked like a doll. She was a preemie so everything about her seemed fragile and small. I fell in love with her right then and there as I stared at the tiny 3×4 inch photo in my computer screen; engraving her sweet face on my heart forever. Truly, it was love at first sight and I was bound and determined that she would become our daughter. I thank my lucky stars that my dream came true because everyday with Gracie has been a delightful dream with a mixture of happiness, joy, and a pinch of awe thrown in for good measure. She truly is amazing!

Today Gracie turns thirteen. It is hard to believe that I will never again be raising a mere child. Instead, I am guiding young adults towards the time when they leave the nest…hopefully for good.

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Since Gracie is a now an official teenager, it means I have four teens living in my house. Maybe I should say co-existing, as war could erupt any minute when you are stepping through emotional teenage land mines which are scattered, undetected, here and there. Gracie assures me that she will not act like a teen but she is already rolling her eyes and using THAT tone of voice which indicates that somehow I have become the absolute dumbest person ever to live on this planet. Forget the 55+ years of experience, the college degrees and my affable personality…I am soon to be regulated to the status of something below pond scum.

While I am excited about someday becoming an empty nester (finger crossed) I do have to admit I miss those times when my children thought I could do no wrong, when they believed I was smarter than G*D, and when the little things I did brought them such pleasure. Those were simpler times though I didn’t recognize them as such. I often viewed them as chaotic with all the meltdowns that two children with autism could bring. But now… well, even the meltdowns don’t seem quite as bad as when I was in the midst of them and I can look back and be proud of how I handled some situations that would tax the patience of a saint. Not to say I handled them all well but I did GOOD ENOUGH and that is just fine with me at this point in the game.

Today is one of those momentous days. Time and perceptions will shift for both Gracie and I as the label of TEEN is applied like a gooey sticker to her soul. May we each grant the other grace and dignity in the coming years as she grows wiser and my brain cells shrink in number. May we create memories that sustain us and may we see the best in each other instead of the worst. For the teenage years are upon us…may we both survive them with patience and our sense of humor intact! And may Gracie happily survive the impact that autism has on a family and a sibling..she has done a remarkable job thus far.

Happy Birthday My Sweet, Talented, Gracious, Fun-Loving And Hard-Working Baby Girl! You are my Superhero!

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Dear Teacher…

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To My Child’s Teacher:

I wanted to make you aware of something you may not have considered in regards to these “Where I Came From” type of assignments. My daughter does not have a birth picture as most international adoptees do not. This can be very painful to some adoptees when class assignments such as this come around. My daughter was born in Korea where children are adopted in a very legal and orderly manner with children being placed with agencies after birth. Yet, part of her past is missing. And some kids from China are left in public places as it is against the law for parents to abandon a child and in that culture the gender of choice is male. Therefore, often girls are abandoned. In addition, due to the one child policy; abandonment happens to females in high numbers. These children often struggle with the fact that they were “left” somewhere.

In addition, having to include a story of their birth is very difficult because many children who are adopted have no clue about the story of their birth. They can’t say things like my mother ate pickles during pregnancy and cried and cried when I was born. They have no idea of the circumstances of their birth except that in many countires it is one of disgrace and shame. Instead of their birth being a happy time many adoptees feel that it is a time of sorrow where they lost their identity and their heritage.

My daughter cannot answer the questions of the hospital where she was born and who came to see her and how her mother felt. We can answer those questions from when we first saw her picture at three months and when she came home at almost 8 months but this seperates her out from the other kids. In addition, we only encourage her to share what she knows of her birth story with people she wants to and frankly it is not appropriate for just anyone to know nor it is not everyone’s business to know the circumstances of her birth.

These kinds of assignments can be hurtful to adoptees or children who come from “different” families other than a two parent mom and dad type of family. Many kids now come from gay families and may not be comfortable sharing that. Many kids now come from single mother with unknown fathers and may not be comfortable sharing that. Many children come from foster families and had abusive first parents who may have told them over and over things like, “I wish you had not been born.” Many times the birth of a child is not a “happy” time in a family and a child may know that. While the jist of these assignments are made with the noblest of intentions, in reality, these types of assignments are often uncomfortable and hurtful for children.

Just wanted you to consider this from another point of view.

Rare Days

Some days just turn out better than you think they will. B went home with two of the kids while Andre stayed with me. This can be a bit of a challenge because basically Andre likes to be left alone…completely alone. Here we are at the ocean basking in the coolness of the water’s fresh breeze and Andre just wants to stay in his room all day. As a person with autism, finding a spot to feel comfortable is his main priority. Dealing with people and the newness of places and situations are the crux in his craw. I did manage to get him to walk along the cliffs one afternoon but he complained the entire time and made the trip somewhat miserable. He does that when he is doing something he doesn’t want to do…he makes it taxing and a chore in hopes that you will never ask him to do anything like that with you ever again.

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So today, I woke him up and told him we were going to a town about two hours away to take the train. He told me he didn’t want to go on the train but wanted to visit the museum. Unfortunately, we got there 10 minutes after the museum closed so instead we went to lunch, walked around town and went into some shops. It really wasn’t his kind of day but on the way home he said, ” I really had a good day with you Mom. Thank you.” Needless to say, I almost fainted for he rarely lets you know if he appreciates something much less tells you he enjoys your company. It was one of those rare moments that is so surprising and lovely that it suddenly feels as if life has picked you up and carried you away to Nirvana. Everything is right with the world and your place in it and after a weekend in which B talked separation, it was such a nice place to be.

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Later this evening I went down to the Lodge. It was one of the situations that you are trying to talk yourself into doing. Should I stay home or leave. Which will it be? The stay at home option almost won out but I eventually, after a heated debate with myself, chose to go to the bar. I took my drink outside to one of the comfy Adirondack chairs and parked myself in it to watch the sun disappear over the ocean while pinks, golds and yellows filled the sky. Flocks of pelicans flew in V formation past the cliffs while Sid the Great Blue Herron strutted his stuff. The temperature was perfect, the scenery divine and I had the place to myself…until a tall good-looking man about my age appeared out of nowhere. As it turned out he was from the local Buddhist temple complex and as we sat and talked I became “enlightened.” I have always strayed to the edge of Buddhist philosophy for years while attending Christian church at the behest of my husband putting my own religious convictions on the back burner. The talk that this gentleman and I had soothed my soul and it felt nice to be appreciated and admired by a nice man again.

Yes, some days take you by surprise. Today was one of those rare and glorious days and it felt just like a day when my garden is in full bloom!

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Precious Presents

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I have a small group of friends that know me pretty much inside and out…and bless their hearts… they are still my friends. We were brought together by virtue of some shared characteristics of our children. The bond that we have gone on to form transcends our original purpose of providing support to one another. Our relationships are now based not so much on our children’s issues but on our real concern and love for each other. We now enjoy a Friendship that begin with a capital F even if it is mostly virtual.

Many of these friends I have met in “real” life. A few I have yet to meet except out in cyberspace. We have shared our joys and concerns. We have lived each others ups and downs. We have been there for the little victories and some major defeats. We have watched each others children grow and been there when a diagnosis threatened to overwhelm. As a result of sharing such intimacies over the years we read each other fairly well.

Recently, I found myself at a crossroads… a low point so to speak. My friends gave me the encouragement that usually brings me to my feet again. Most important they took the time to give me ideas and options that they thought might make my life just a little brighter. Yet, I remained on my knees and they knew it. Then yesterday I went to our group and found that a member had posted the start of the most beautiful and meaningful gift I have ever been given. She started a list entitled 25 Random Things We Love About You. The list was sincere, uplifting and once again reminded me of who I am and who I want to become. Some things were funny, some serious and some were eye opening but all the things on the list were written with love. When I read the list I laughed and cried. I was truly touched and beside myself with delight. Because of that list I am standing on my feet once again.

A present that affirms you for who you are…warts and all… only comes along once or twice in a lifetime. It is a gift are as rare as the most precious gem. It’s a gift that teachs, stirs, and allows you to remember yourself as you were at your best. It restores confidence, grants healing and puts you back on the path to yourself. It is a gift that everyone should give to at least one other person in their lifetime. Everyone should be so lucky.

I have yet to comment to my friends how I feel about such receiving such a treasure. I mean it is truly like winning the lottery. I find it hard to contemplate about what was said without feeling such a overwhelming sense of gratitude that I have such a group of wonderful women watching my back…I almost dissolve in tears. So lacking any real gift that could compare in return I just wanted to say thank you my dear friends. I want to thank you for giving me your time when I had none to give back and thank you for giving me your strength when I was too weak to support myself much less you. Thank you for giving me your love and your truth. You have given me your best over the years even when I fell short. I am truly blessed to have known each and every one of you. All of you have taught me so many things but most of all you have taught me the true meaning of friendship and for that I will always be grateful and in your debt.Someday I hope I can give back to you what you have given me over the years. For now….all you get is this IOU.

*I wrote this several years ago and just looked at it again. I feel just as blessed remembering this as when it happened. Thank you friends!*

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It’s Been A While

So it’s been a while since I have blogged. Life has gotten in the way. One of the reasons I have not been blogging is because I have been so ill and when you feel that sick just putting one foot in front of the other is sometimes the only thing you can manage to do.

The other reason I have been absent is that I just returned from South Korea. It was a blast. That is not to say that autism didn’t rear its head like a dragon…it did but we managed to keep the fire contained within the dragon’s mouth.

I love Korea. Not just because it is where my children were born but because of the numerous surprises that greet you while you are there. Like it raining and someone just hands you their umbrella and continues on their way. Like the fact that my children are now old enough to sit away from these two big white folks so they can blend in and become part of the majority instead of always being part of the minority. I wish I could give them that freedom every day of their lives. And I like the fact that pumpkin is valued and eaten in so many different ways.

I love seeing the small boats out with the huge freighters as they ply the waters for fish along the coast. I love the hidden temples and that sort of foggy mystical reverence that permeates the air.Riding the bullet trains are almost orgasmic with their down the the minute time tables and the snack carts that sell dried squid. I also love the open markets in which you can find the mass-produced and the antique amongst all the noise that radiates off of the stalls. And the smells of noodles of all kinds, ginger, kimchee and steaming hot bean buns bought just as they come out of the molds are to die for.

There is something about Korea…a people who have been taken over by invaders again and again. Who have known war too often the results of which allows them to then hold the holy and the beautiful above all else…even their pain. Same goes for my children whose understanding of their short lives here is bittersweet. Joy and pain sometimes it is one in the same.

And then we came home and I immediately went in for an endoscopy because I have been so sick with severe reflux for so long. And while I await the results I decided to try the anti-reflux diet and stop drinking coffee…and the next day feel so good that I don’t take the prescription medicine that never makes me feel great. And the next day I feel great. Better than great. And so I stop coffee and pills and one week later I feel better than I have for the past two years.

So now I rejoice. For travel. For discovery. For the happiness of my family. And for my health. And for the oh-so painful re-discovery of myself, my husband and my marriage over the past 18 months.dsc04814

I’m thinking that 2017 is going to be a pretty great year! I hope it is for you too!

 

Seek And You Shall Find

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In a couple of weeks we will be leaving for South Korea. This is a trip which will take our three children back to their homeland. Back to a place where they will “look” like they belong but will not understand the language nor the customs that an individual would who had lived there for their entire life. This will be a trip, unlike the last time, where they will be able to understand the ping-pong looks and stares that people will inevitably give us as they size us up as a family; most smiling but some frowning; as they label our children different from “them.” It’s a trip where they will be in the majority, while we, their caucasian parents, will be in the minority; a role reversal that they can see occur right in front of them with their own two eyes…one which may have epic implications.

I hope that my kids will see the beauty of their first country and begin to feel pride in themselves as Korean-Americans. I hope that the anxiety of autism will not overtake my sons as we walk through crowded markets and experience new ways of doing things. I hope that these amazing children will become stronger in their belief that we humans are essentially all the same and that we share many of the same hopes and dreams as everyone else on the planet so we must treat others as we ourselves want to be treated. And I hope that they find the things that they are looking for, both big and small, that will fill the holes in their hearts that adoption itself creates.

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My wish for them is that they realize that the circumstances of their birth are just that…circumstances… that have nothing to do with them and that these circumstances do not determine whether they are “good” or “bad”  people. That they are who they are… not just due to their early experiences but mostly because of what they have put into themselves to create the work of art that they hang on the wall to show the world.

Korean…American…Californian…Autistic…Thoughtful…Creative… Intelligent…Giving…Athletic…Charming…Inquisitive…Happy…Caring…Interesting… all despite being raised by lovingly flawed parents.

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I hope Korea gives them the chance they deserve and I hope they give the same back to their Motherland. I hope the rich culture, the old stories, the ancient temples, the colorful folk songs and the flavorful food etch themselves into our children’s psyche so that they can reach for them in the future when they need a bit of understanding about who they are and who they can become. Because finding a bit more of yourself and what you are made of is a gift no matter where and when it happens.

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So my hope is that they find those gifts that will be abundant and ever-present as we tour their homeland. May they recognize what it is they need to witness and take it away for themselves and their souls. And may they find these gifts as freely as one finds shells laying on a sandy beach, so that they may they gather them up in their pockets and examine them on another day as they are needed throughout their lives.

Find what you need my sweet children, be happy, and be free!

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On Giving Love When You Have None Left To Give

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Sometimes my house is pure 100% chaos. Sometimes it is as quiet as a lamb. Most of the time it is somewhere in between. But then there THOSE TIMES; the times when Andre digs in and NOTHING I can do will change the trajectory that we are about to embark on.

Change for Andre is difficult. It often is for those on the autistic spectrum. Sometimes that change is as small as using grape jelly as opposed to strawberry on Andre’s PB&J. But more often it is something along the lines of telling him to do his chore.

“Andre you need to empty the dishwasher!” (for the third time)

“I dun’t want to”

“There are lots of things I don’t want to do either but they must be done so empty the dishwasher. NOW”

“I dun’t want to”

This I dun’t want to would go on 100 times if I permitted it. Usually at this point the conversation will escalate to one more warning. Then I head upstairs (with him trying to stop me…pulling on me or poking at me) and take all of his electronics and tell him that he can have them back when his chore is done.  This is followed by ten minutes of attempted manipulation, threats (I’ll put your phone in the sink if you don’t give me back  my stuff) and flat out increased defiance. Finally, Andre will realize that he has gone too far and then resorts to such things as:

“Tell me you love me mom”

“I need love. Give me a hug NOW.”

I want a kiss NOW”

Along with all the demands he begins hanging all over me DEMANDING a hug or a kiss by clawing at me.

Of course, by this time I am worn out and tired of the CRAP. I try to remember where this is coming from inside his head (fear of abandonment/fear of being unlovable/anxiety) and react accordingly. But there are times when giving him what he needs (a hug) feels so ugly and disingenuous after all the chaos and manipulation that I find it hard to wrap my arms around him. I find it hard to find a place in my heart to grant him the grace that he needs. Most of the time I manage to dig it up from G** knows where but there are times it is almost impossible to find and it is at those moments when I feel like I have been swallowed whole, the best parts of me ripped out and flung far and wide. It is at these times when I start crucifying myself for not being able to give my son what he needs because it is such a little thing that feels so big.

Luckily, most of the time I do not get to this place of self torture because as I start to fall down the rabbit hole; I get ensnarled in the tree roots and find a foot hold to make my way up again. But there are times that I would like to keep falling down that rabbit hole just to feel the impact upon landing. To feel the brokenness that results. And when that happens it makes me realize that is probably what Andre is feeling (the impact) and then I find I can go over and give him that hug. A hug that will ultimately mend us both. A hug that that tells him that I love him and he loves me and that we are in this thing called autism together. Forever.

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Letting Go Again

It’s been going on for over a week now.

“I’m nervous!”

“I won’t know anyone there!!!”

“What if I get lost???!!!!!!”

“What if there is nothing there for me to eat?”

“What if I land wrong on the board and hurt myself?”

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This is what I have been hearing from Gracie lately and it intensified as the day drew closer for her to attend diving camp at a large university four hours from home. These are the words of a child whose age is between the first double digit and her teens. Excited but scared to death especially because she knew no one who would be attending camp with her.

She’s good at what she does so I wasn’t worried about that aspect. She has accomplished in three years of doing her sport what it has taken of most of her competitors 6-8 years to do. Learning and practicing wasn’t the issue but being away from home was.

Gracie has always had difficulty separating herself from us. I often wonder if she would have been this way if she had been born to us or if her adoption has played a role in it. Not knowing if people will come back to you or if they will stay with you does tend to put doubts in your head. And as we spent last night together in the city she looked as if she might cry. But I knew that she needed this camp to teach her about courage and accomplishment not so much in her sport but in life in general. That’s what we are suppose to do as parents. We should give our children experiences which allow them to separate with confidence so they will be able to be independent adults when they go off on their own.

Waking up this morning was hard. Her nerves were bouncing all over the place and I was watching as a “bad hair day” started to unnerve her even more. I said all the right things and did all the right things. I asked if she was okay and told her since she could do double rotations she had nothing to be afraid of.  Finally, it was time to go and check into the college dorms. Now, I was getting a little hesitant.

We drove over in near silence with Gracie taking in everything around her. After unpacking and making her bed I saw that Gracie was beginning to get her groove back. Her confidence began to soar (or at least she wasn’t going to let anyone know anything different just like she does when she dives). Just before she was to go to the pool with her group she remembered she had left her water bottle in the car so we dashed off to get it. As we walked back I took her into my arms and said, “You’ve got this baby. You will be okay.”

And with that she lifted her big brown eyes, looked up into mine, let go of my hand and said, “Geez mom, you worry too much!!!”

It was at that moment I knew she would be just fine and that in releasing my hand she was letting go of so much more.

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A Miracle

Yesterday I spent the morning in a courtroom. No, I wasn’t on trial for murdering the guy next door who blares his music at 1 a.m. though the impulse is sometimes there. It wasn’t for a parking ticket or a jaywalking offense. It was for something much better…an adoption!!!

My dear friend (I’ll call her M) started down this path many years ago. While she and her husband (K) have two of the nicest boys you will ever meet; M felt like their family was incomplete. Her desire for a girl pulled at her heart for so long that she was unable to ignore it no longer. But first she had to get K on board. It took a while but once K made up his mind there was no turning back. They have worked hard to become a loving family of five.

Adoption is not for the faint of heart. There is the fingerprinting, the intense and intrusive background checks, the numerous day-long adoption classes you are required to take, and social worker visits that happen so often that often it feels you are adopting them. And then there is the paperwork. Mountains of it. Enough paper to clear acres of pristine forest. But perhaps the worst part about adoption is the waiting and uncertainty. The amount of faith you have to have to love a child with all your heart, even though you know there is a chance that their birth parent may try to reunite with them, often to the detriment of the child, can be crushing to your soul. Yet, you just keep loving despite of your own fears that a social worker could arrive at your door at any time and leave your arms empty once more.

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Adoption is fraught with challenges. It is often conceived in fear. In addition, there is immense loss felt on the part of the child even if their birth parents were less than stellar.But when it is done right it is the most miraculous thing in the world. Somehow  families are created despite all the chaos and the gift you receive with the first hug that your child spontaneously gives you and the first time they call you Mom…well… there is nothing like it in the world. It’s like stumbling out of the forest into a sunny field full of wildflowers.

And so I was honored to be able to sit and witness the legal creation of this family especially since my three adoptions had been such a blur. As I sat there watching the sunshine unfold and M trying not to cry; it gave me time to appreciate all that I have been given through adoption and how much richer my life is because of it. And while I distain the word “lucky” in the same sentence as the word adoption I do have to say that the Smith family has been lucky all the way around. Miss S now has the best set of brothers who willingly share all they have and teach her in such loving and touching ways. She is lucky to have found the best set of parents EVER.  People who are there for you no matter what, who provide unconditional love and lots of laughs. They provide patience and support, and spend time well spent reading and playing with their children, and exposure to new and wonderful experiences outside of their home. Together M and K make every day the best that it can possibly be for their family. They are the kind of parents every child deserves.

The Smith family is also lucky to have Miss S enter their lives. She brings her own fiery brand of temperament into a household that lacked her kind of undeniable and exuberant spark. She also brings that girlishness  that was so wanted into a testosterone ladened home. Miss S also brings a fresh look at life and an exuberance for it that makes everyone around her smile; her constant joy reflected back to them on her beautiful and radiant face. I do not know of any family made for each other more than this one. Lucky. Yes. Blessed. Yes. Content. Yes. Complete. Finally.

And so my friends, may you always remember the gift that each of you received today and when life’s little irritations arise may you always look back upon this day to put a smile on your face and give you some perspective. You are the family you dreamed of and what you have created all together is, indeed, a miracle. YEAH!!!!!

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Traveling Fool

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I am traveling today back east to the Big Birthday Bash. As I sit here sipping my cup of coffee watching all the folks pass by, I cannot help but be amazed and transfixed by all the ethnicities and skin colors I see walking around me. It is a blessing.

Most often when I travel internationally it is not like this. The airport in Amsterdam has mostly caucasian folks, the airport in Seoul is almost all Asian, and in New Zealand, it is again, mostly white folks cruising along. I have found that usually airports act as mini countries giving you a superficial glimpse of the sort of people who live there and what the country values. Way to often, it appears that many countries value segregation to some extent, the United States included.

Here in the United States we like to try to hide our discomfort with “others” that are unlike ourselves. Yet, we do not have the luxury of continuing to pretend that racism does not exist here if we want to survive as a nation. Racism is disguised in so many subtle ways … housing, education and jobs. And in your face hate is alive and well especially when I recall the time we were in New York City and someone yelled to our family, “Take those _______ kids back to their own country.”

As I take savor this cup, I see evidence all around me, that we as a species can change. For I see a rainbow of kids who are talking and laughing with one another. I glimpse a transracial family like mine. I see a so-in-love black man and white woman holding hands and looking at each other with complete adoration in their eyes. I witness such a variety of people interacting with one another knowing that I never would have seen this 30 years ago.  I see people who are willing to give each other a chance rather than remain distant from one another. And as I sit here I am renewed in my faith in people and in my country.

I  have hope that one day soon I will visit an airport in another country that appears as diverse as the ones here do. It just needs to happen for the sake of our children. For the longevity of the world. And frankly, it is just more colorful and beautiful to see people out there in the world who don’t look just like me!