Thursday, December 11, 2014

Counting Down

Our family needs a little levity right now, soooo:

Seven things I didn’t know about parenting a male toddler:

7.  Working hard to keep his language skills on track would result in a two-year-old who talks, at boy volume, all. the. time.

6.  Baby-proofing would include every surface in the house, no matter how high, because any item he can stand on would serve in his quest to reach that empty milk carton in the middle of the kitchen island.
Yes, he is balancing on one foot, and yes, he moved the full bottle across the room.

5.  My girls’ beloved Pooh Bear, kept in pristine condition for almost nine years, would eat yogurt.

4.  You must take what you think would be a normal food serving for a two-year-old and multiply it by…boy.

3.  After venturing forth into the toy car it would take less than 30 minutes to go from that first tentative push forward with his feet to doing high-speed donuts on the patio.

2.  He would work for high-fives.

1.  It would take me all day long to get absolutely nothing done!  But I love every minute :)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Initial Reactions: Life with Baby J

The adoption story of Baby J is still in progress.  Please continue to pray for our family.

Until then, a few observations about what it's been like to bring home an adopted infant.

First, the negatives, only because I want to end with the overwhelming positives that have been the norm.

I've been surprised by a few reactions I have received from people on the periphery of our family's life.  About three-fourths of the way through our adoption journey, I learned for the first time that there are actually people who are opposed to domestic infant adoption as a concept. They believe that birth mothers should in all instances, using extreme measures of support if necessary, keep their babies. There are actually websites filled with rants hostile to adoption. While I have never met such people, I have been caught off guard a few times by people's comments when they encounter me with my child for the first time.

Unfortunate reaction number one:  "I can't even imagine..." 
When coupled with a congratulations or a comment on the baby’s general cuteness, it’s not as perplexing.  But twice it’s been the stand-alone reaction. It's the trailing silence, the unfinished nature of the sentence that bothers me.  So my mind can't help but wander into the possible endings:
  • A seven year gap between children? Well, it wasn't intentional.  The road's been long and painful.  We started out five years ago, back when the spacing would have been two and a half years.  Lost two children in my womb and two almost-adopted children along the way. So, where you see a gap, we see a journey filled with both tears and blessings.
  • Adoption as a way to expand our family?  To be blunt, adoption is widely misunderstood. It is a life-giving alternative to abortion; he's a soul who we are blessed to be charged with forming.  Love him just like my own, because he is my own.  Which leads me to:

Strange reaction number two:  "Is he yours?"
This one turned out to be a trick question.  I answered yes, only to be hit with the following:  "He didn't come from you."  My questioner’s smug tone informed me that I was busted, caught in a half-truth.  I politely excused myself from further conversation.

Unexpected reaction number three:  "You got your boy."
Actually, we were open to either gender.  One of our two miscarried children and both failed adoptions were girls.  We felt called to parent more children.  In the end, God sent a son.  His plan, His timing.  All glory and honor to Him.

Open mouth, insert foot reaction number four:  When talking about the sleep deprivation typically experienced by parents of infants, "I bet when he wakes you up at 2 am you just think 'I'm too old for this.'"

No, I don't.  I just think I'm tired and my son needs to be fed, again.

Enough of that.  On to the positives.

Our extended families, friends, and parish and school communities-at-large have been so amazingly loving, supportive, and generous that many times it has moved me to tears.

A common question: "How is it starting over again?"
The whole truth:  I'm drowning in a joy I've felt only a few times in my life.  It's an indescribable gift that I am not worthy of.

What I generally say:  "It's great."

A surprisingly common question:  "Was it love at first sight?"

First off, when we met he was not mine to love.  No decisions had been made, no paperwork had been signed, no records had been reviewed.  He was not ours in any way.  We'd been given permission to enter his hospital room.  Period.

Within an hour of meeting him, the nurses asked me to feed him for the first time.  About 35 hours later, I was feeding him for the fifth time when a nurse came in and told me I was doing it wrong.  "You can't hold him all lovey-like."  (Try to imagine the southern accent.)   With a NICU preemie, a feeding is apparently supposed to be like a business transaction--get the most food into him in the least possible amount of time. (But God bless those nurses--they loved him at first sight!  His care was excellent; those nurses are truly good people.)  This particular well-meaning nurse took him from me and held him in her customary NICU upright position that prevents any close contact between feeder and eater.  She then tried to put the bottle in his mouth.  He protested quite loudly and continued to wail for about 90 seconds before the nurse handed him back, saying "I guess he already knows who his Mama is."

Even when we left the hospital with him legally in our custody four days later, he was not a whole lot closer to being ours. We would have to remain in the state with him, far from home, until a series of interstate legal and administrative requirements were met. Birthparent consents would not be final until the revocation period lapsed.  Having felt the pain of miscarriages and near-miss adoptions before, it was hard not to fear that something might go wrong again. That's why I didn't call myself "Mama" when I talked to him.  I didn't kiss his soft cheek until day 7.  I didn't whisper "I love you" until day 10.

So, while from the moment I laid eyes on our beautiful baby I had a powerful drive to protect him, I didn't feel the butterflies-in-the-stomach giddy kind of love that I think my questioners mean when they ask.  I do know that love for our son was manifest through our actions when, leaving our two young daughters behind with Grandma, we got on a plane headed for a baby in a NICU 1,700 miles away, a baby who was without a family over the Thanksgiving weekend, a baby with both known and unknowable health risks, a baby who might never be ours.

I guess our love in those early stages was somewhat vague, more of a pro-life leaning than a rock-solid emotional tie to the tiny person who was to become our son.  I can't say when exactly love as my questioners mean it first swept over my heart.  I can only say for certain that it has.  When I am with him it rarely occurs to me that he did not come from my body because he has been irrevocably imprinted on my soul.   He is a baby, I am his Mama.  He knows it, I know it, anyone who's seen us together knows it, and I'm quite certain God wills it.  Many thanks to my questioners for making me reflect on that one.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Presenting…My Overprotective Parenting Mistakes

Of all the parenting mistakes I’ve made, I’ve learned the most from the two I’m about to share.  I’m sure there are plenty more to come as every day of my oldest daughter’s life presents a new round of unexpected challenges.  I do take comfort in knowing that daughter number two is often spared.  I guess it’s the curse of the first born to be, well, born first.

Mistake number one came to my attention just last week, although I suspect I’ve been making it for far longer.  We don’t play Taylor Swift music in our home.  When forced to reveal this prohibition to other moms, after I apologize with limited sincerity, I explain that my first encounter with Taylor Swift was viewing her on an award show singing “You Should’ve Said No.”  She started out in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, but halfway through the number two gentlemen ripped them off to reveal a scanty black dress that was soon to be drenched by indoor rain. This was my introduction.

(The costume change occurs just after 1:17, and from that point forward the performance's shortcomings in the realm of family-friendly entertainment become increasingly evident.)


The lyrics to that particular song are also troublesome for  me.  As I like to use every teachable moment, my daughters are accustomed to analyzing song lyrics.  Songs such as Miss Swift’s quickly become problematic:  “Mama, she sounds angry. Why didn’t he just go home?” and/or “Begging for forgiveness?  Is she talking about Jesus?”  And even if my daughters don’t ask such questions, is an angry 18 year-old’s boyfriend’s infidelity what I want occupying their then nine- and six-year-old brain space?

Here’s the mistake part.  My older daughter came home from school last week and, in a manner both cheerful and innocent, said:  “Mama, I told Friend T today that Taylor Swift is a ‘Sinner Singer’!”  Oops.  Parenting foul on me.   As I felt myself shrinking at the thought of how this might go over with Friend T’s parents while at the same time briefly admiring the creativity of my daughter’s alliteration, I recognized my parenting error.  I had forbidden something without even attempting to explain why. 

My daughter is used to being the odd girl out sometimes.  While that reality bothered her once she started kindergarten through about second grade, as she has developed confidence, leadership skills, and more trust in me over the past eighteen months, she no longer questions my guidance on most things—but that made me lazy.  I didn’t explain my Taylor Swift aversion because she didn’t ask, but she logically proceeded to substitute an assumed explanation.  Neither Miss Swift’s clothing selection nor her choice of lyrics makes her a sinner, and that’s not for me to judge anyway, but because my daughter is being raised to take her Catholicism seriously, it was natural for her to assume that my reluctance to play in our home what her peers and their parents consider to be very enjoyable music resulted from grave error on Miss Swift’s part.

I immediately explained that I don’t think ‘Sinner Singer’ is a proper label for Taylor Swift.  I then explained that I had once seen a Taylor Swift TV performance during which she was not dressed modestly and that many of her song lyrics are really for older girls.  Then I showed her the video and asked what she thought.  One positive attribute of innocence is that it often results in the instant recognition of that which is not truly beautiful, such as anger and immodest self-glorification.  I was relieved when she came to that conclusion on her own. I told her that neither of us knows Taylor Swift’s heart, and it’s not our job to decide who is sinning.   I then explained to my daughter that Taylor Swift recently said she’d like to be a good role model for girls, and that we should watch, very selectively, as she strives to live out that goal.  I asked my daughter (no, begged her) to revisit the topic with her friend and explain my real objections to Taylor Swift’s music.

Lesson from that mistake:  Anything I choose to restrict must be explained.

An aside:  I recognize that Taylor Swift may have other songs that focus on more appropriate themes – I don’t know because my first exposure led me to vote with my time. I can’t afford to squander an hour searching for the appropriate among the inappropriate.

Mistake number two came to light a few months ago and relates to public displays of affection.  We drive by a local high school on the way home from my older daughter’s school.  In doing so, we frequently observe teenagers fervently making out (for lack of a better phrase.)  I actually don’t remember, but can certainly imagine, the kinds of remarks that I’ve made as we’ve passed the area repeatedly over time.  I hadn’t any idea of the extent to which that daily scenery was impacting her thinking until one day when we were sitting in front of the computer watching a music video.  It was “Dancing in the Moonlight” from one of my favorite movies, “A Walk to Remember.”  The video shows many tender, dreamy embraces between the movie’s main characters, including a scene from their wedding.  

Early in the video, Daughter #1 gasped loudly and quickly turned away from the computer screen.  I asked what was wrong, and she said, breathlessly, “I’m not supposed to see that!”  Oops.  This parenting mistake resulted from my lack of understanding that she will overgeneralize my reaction to a particular situation and apply it to pretty much all similar situations.

I backed the video up and showed her the wedding picture, explaining that kisses and hugs are a beautiful part of marriage, something that I want her to cherish if she one day chooses to marry.  Then I went straight to my husband and told him we have to step it up on the PDAs in our home.

Like I said, that was about three months ago.  My oldest daughter likes to go through magazines and cut out pictures that interest her.  She often gives them captions.  Last week I found this lying on the floor of her room:

Mission accomplished.

Addendum on Music Alternatives

Lest you think that my daughters are deprived of the joy of listening to talented female vocal artists, let me introduce our Taylor Swift alternatives.  I’ve heard all the Taylor Swift defenses, such as “Well, I don’t allow Miley Cyrus…”; “Taylor says she wants to be a positive role model…”; and my personal favorite, “She’s the best of what’s out there…”.  Let me take a moment to dispel that last excuse.

My daughters and I love Britt Nicole’s music, which is just as fun as Tayor Swift’s but with wholesome topics and messages that never fail to inspire.  I’ve played some of Britt’s prior hits such as “Set the World on Fire” and “The Lost Get Found” on school mornings to prepare my daughters for whatever the day might throw their way.  We dance too...sometimes in our pajamas while breakfast cooks. 

Take a listen to this song, “All This Time”, and compare it to Taylor Swift’s “Should’ve Said No.”

In the lyrics, Britt reflects on a painful, yet unspecified, life experience—it’s never really necessary to air the dirty laundry, is it?  For the sake of comparison, let’s assume that Miss Nicole’s pain was caused by a cheating boyfriend. 

While “Should’ve Said No” takes the direction of an angry rant, “All This Time” reveals a path to healing.  While venting one’s vengeful wrath can be momentarily cathartic, I’d prefer that my daughters approach life’s setbacks with the kind of resilience that leads to acceptance and peace, maybe even forgiveness. 

Other talented female vocal artists and their recent inspiring hits include: 

 Daughter #1’s favorite; she’s getting stronger every day.

Daughter #2’s favorite; Daughter #2 was definitely not made for standing on the sidelines, and she knows it.

Love the message in this song.  Also, it's danceable.

Toby Mac, who does the intro sequence to “Hold Me”, also has joy-filled and fun music.  Our family went to one of his concerts last year and it was an absolute delight. 

Daughter #1 and Friend D with their hands up!

Because I’m parenting Catholic girls,  I’ve learned to look beyond pop culture and to avoid succumbing to the rationalizations that bind us to the frequently inappropriate role models with whom the secular entertainment industry chooses to present us.

Confession: In my younger days, I used to play music like Alanis Morrisette’s “You Oughtta Know.”  My life is better now.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Great Divide

In our quest to meet our goals for our daughters, we have pursued a course that some might call imprudent:  in the past three years our daughter has changed schools exactly three times.  Although we often questioned the wisdom of acting repeatedly on our yearning for exactly the right school environment, we are quite a bit wiser for the experience.  And, yes, our daughter is just fine, having proven her resilience time and again.

In an effort to share our thoughts on the various schooling options in our community, here are links to my previous posts on Catholic education in our diocese, aka The Great Divide.

Catholic Education