The Holiday Stress Factor

Amidst all the holiday happiness and family celebrations and gift giving and decadent food eating there is the stress factor. It exists in the corner of our mind where we’ve shoved it to deal with later. We never totally forget that it is there for it is always in our peripheral vision. Plus, of course, it demands to be noticed, sometimes with nagging whispers and other times with bold cries. We wish it would just go away and we make some effort toward that end.

We remind ourselves how thankful we should be to which we earnestly reply back to ourselves that yes, we should be and yes, we are. We remind ourselves of those with less. We declare ourselves ‘too blessed to be stressed’. We press on to do the next thing, cook the next dish, attend the next event. All the while stress seems to increase as our wherewithal decreases. Finally, we find ourselves teetering at the edge of a melt down and scolding ourselves for feeling the way we are feeling.

Mercy, what a mess. What a mess of jumbled emotions and fears and anxieties and expectations. If you are one of the rare few who have not experienced the stress I am describing, I’m tempted to say, your day is coming. And, admittedly, that is not being said in the encouraging manner in which I often say those same words.

Why are we stressed? What about the holidays seems to magnify the messes of our lives and amplify the disappointments we are experiencing?

I am put in mind of a line from an old movie called ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’. The main character, Millie, at one point, early in the movie says something like this. “I built up such a store of dreams. Dreams about love and marriage and such.” She was disappointed because reality didn’t measure up to those ‘store of dreams’.

I believe the same could be said about us many times. No couple dreams of infertility and childlessness or delayed adoption efforts. No bride dreams of marital problems and divorce. No one hopes to be on the verge of bankruptcy or unemployed. No one hopes to face addiction or alcoholism. No parents want their children to struggle with self-esteem or spiritual matters. No person wants to face deadly diseases.

We don’t dream about such things. We don’t hope to or want to, we just don’t and yet, we must face these things at times and more that I haven’t mentioned. I think that is the stress seed that gets planted in our hearts. Dreams that are dashed and disappointment of hopes gone awry.

Then comes the holidays and now, we must add on the expectations of others to the expectations of our own. Buy this gift whether you can afford it or not. Go to this gathering whether you have time or not. Smile at these people whether you feel like it or not. Say what is expected, do what is expected, go where you are expected or you’ll disappoint someone.

All the while the stress factor sits in the corner if our minds where we think it has been safely tucked away until it has grown to such a size that it can no longer be ignored.

Maybe, just maybe, you don’t have to have the perfectly decorated Christmas tree, a Hallmark Card table spread, presents beyond your budget and accept every invitation you receive. Maybe, just maybe, dream new dreams and hang on to hope after all. Maybe you go confront the stress factor in your life by looking it square in the eyes and see what the little monster needs to be quieted.

Perhaps a nap is the first step. Then, maybe a good cry for what you had hoped for but, what is not to be this year. Reduce your speed during this holiday zone and decrease your activities. How many Thanksgiving celebrations are you attending? Does your toddler need one single thing you’ll put under that tree? Will your teen finally be satisfied? Will you ever measure up to that store of dreams? Will your husband? Will your children?

It may well be time for a bit of dream decluttering. Could this be the year when you stop comparing what is to what you are sure it should be?

If you can be courageous enough to take a deep breath and embrace the beauty of the moment, you may realize that the stress factor has slipped away unnoticed to places where disappointment is rampant. Let’s toss out the should bes and would bes and could bes. Let’s make room for the present moment, the simple gift, the shared laughter, the taste of delight and what we have, who we have, when and while we have them to treasure.

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Not Necessarily

The thing about adoption is that every story is it’s own story that is just as unique as the people involved. People seem have this uncontrollable urge to box people up and categorize them. For some folks it’s a simple method of skin color. Further divisions include gender or education or economics. It’s really quite amazing the methods people can develop to separate and judge and criticize other human beings.

I never realized how much I detested this common practice until I became a mother. “Do NOT try to fit my child into a box!” I wanted to shout to the world! Do not attempt to determine who they are now nor who they will be in the future by your definitions and limitations.

This applies to adoption as well. I’m constantly seeing opinions concerning the people in what is referred to as the adoption triad. This would be birth parent, adoptive parent and adopted child (adoptee). This month, being National Adoption Month, I’ve read a lot of differing points of view. Sadly, it appears that this tendency to categorize has found it’s way into the adoption community. I have a few things to say about that and this is my blog, so I think I will have at it.

There are some who are indicating that an adoptive story can only rightly be shared by the adoptee themselves as it is their story alone. I disagree. While I am very careful to respect their privacy, the adoption of my children is also my story. This is a testimony to the fact that we are connected, bonded and blended as a family. Our stories do not stand independent of each other. We have been woven together, intertwined and as a result, we have a story that includes one another.

I believe it is these retched attempts at categorizations that discourage many folks from exploring the option of adoption. All foster children are like this. All black children are like this. All birth mothers are like this. All adoptions are like this.

A birth mother is not necessarily a powerless victim no more than she is necessarily a heartless villain. They are people, human beings with unique challenges and struggles and strengths. They do not fit in a box no matter how tidy that would make things. Now, substitute that word birth with foster or adoptive or step and the same applies. We are not necessarily anything except what we choose to be.

Closed adoptions, open adoptions, foster adoptions, familial adoptions, international adoption, domestic adoptions, older child adoptions, private adoptions, infant adoptions, sibling group adoptions, so many different possibilities. Each with their own unique story.

I can tell you my experiences, you can tell me yours, but they are not necessarily the story that the next family being formed through adoption will experience. Here’s the bottom line, adoption is a beautiful way to build a family. There are no guarantees about when and how that will happen no more than when a family is being built by birth.

When it comes to my children whom I have adopted, they won’t be easily categorized and I’m glad. They have tasted the freedom and power of choices. They can choose how they talk and act and live. They aren’t defined by the color of their skin or the area of the United States that they live in. They won’t be limited because they each experienced foster care. They won’t climb into a box and be labeled so that sweeping generalizations can be more easily applied.

One thing that I have learned as an adoptive mother of seven, is that each child is an individual with their own personality and their own reactions and their own voice. What they say with words or actions may not necessarily be what you expect to hear.

One of my young adult sons had fire in his eyes a couple if weeks ago when recounting to me a conversation with a co-worker. They want to know if one of our other sons, close to his age was really his brother. He said he was careful to be polite and explained that being a real brother was not about shared blood. But, the person would not hear him and insisted that blood relation was the only ‘real’ relation. My son was infuriated at the closed mindedness and said to me, “What’s wrong with people?” He felt as if he were being challenged that he couldn’t possibly be satisfied with a family like ours. I told him that people just don’t understand because a most people have never experienced a family like ours.

Does blood relationship mean true relationship? Not necessarily.
Does adoption mean a child was unwanted? Not necessarily.
Does adoption involve a lot of money? Not necessarily.
Do birth siblings always need to be kept together? Not necessarily.
Does every birth family need to be preserved? Not necessarily.
Does every adopted child long to meet birth family some day? Not necessarily.
Does an adoptive parent feel threatened if their child shows an interest in their birth family? Not necessarily.
Does every foster child struggle with behavioral issues? Not necessarily.
Does every adoptive family look like a Hallmark movie? Not necessarily.
Does there have to be an open relationship between birth and adoptive families? Not necessarily.

Oh my word, I could go on and on and on. Do you know why? Because when it comes to families, there are as many variations as there are individuals involved. They’re like snowflakes. Beautiful and rare and delicate and lovely to behold on their own but a force to be reckoned with when pressed together firmly.

That’s about where we are as a family right now, pressed together firmly. Try to separate us and we will likely disintegrate, form us together and we can strengthen each other. No matter how your family was assembled, don’t allow people to disassemble you into their little boxes of judgement.

I can’t guarantee that your adoption experience will be like mine. I can’t guarantee that being a parent will stretch you beyond what you thought was possible. I can’t guarantee you that your children (adopted, birth, step, foster) will appreciate what you do, love you in return or make the right choices. I can’t guarantee that your heart won’t be broken.

All I can guarantee you is you’ll never know until you try. You’ll never have the chance to experience the joy nor the pain. You’ll never have the chance to succeed nor fail. You’ll never have the chance to lose what you are not willing to fight to gain.

Well, on the other hand, you might be better off playing it safe, but…. Not necessarily.

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Rites of Passage

A rite of passage is an event that signifies transition and change in a person’s life. This week, that’s exactly what will be happening with one of our sons. He is not our oldest son, but, he has been our son the longest and was our very first adoption. He was, in so many ways, my rite of passage. Adopting Jesse changed everything. We had a child to raise and he was ours forever. My husband went back to school and finished his degree. My arms were filled, for the first time with my own child. We were at a new stage, adoptive parents, and he was the catalyst, the first of many.

This week, Jesse will change everything again. The thing is, on this side of the change one can only wonder where it all will lead. But, here is what I know, in a few days he will leave Alabama and head to Arkansas where our extended family lives. A few weeks later he will turn nineteen. He will hunt, he will visit, he will work and he will transition from one stage of his life to another.

He is ready to stretch his wings in earnest and explore his options and make his own choices. He will likely also make his own mistakes. All the while, doing so about 500 miles away.

Each experience with this transitional phase seems to be unique to the person. For some it is moving out and getting an apartment. For another it will be going to college in another town. It may be an enlistment in the military. Perhaps, even marriage and the start of a family of their own.

Whatever the situation and timing may be, every parent knows that this day will come. The moment when our heart declares, my child has become an adult and now, everything is different.

By in large, I think it is our human nature to resist change. We tend to wallow out our spot and get comfortable where we are. We are after all, creatures of habit. I came across a great quote that I can not give credit nor take credit for.

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‘Life stops for no one’. It does not stand still. There is no pause button. There is no rewind, replay or do overs. The only healthy viable choice is forward. Resistance is futile! And when we attempt to do so we just make things worse, more complicated and difficult.

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‘The future is not a fictional place’. No, indeed. It is just as real as it gets. It’s just as sure as they come. Not only is the future coming, it is around every corner and travels with two companions. They are change and the unknown. I think this may be my greatest struggle this week. I am at my best when I know the plan and there is no sure plan, there is only a sure change.

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Sure, there’s a part of me that wants to re-enact a famous movie scene and with much drama and great sound effects, refuse this rite of passage. But, I’m no wizard and the change that’s ahead is no monster that I must defeat.

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Instead I’m going to celebrate with him this new season of life. I’m going to still be watching, albeit from a great distance. I will be cheering him on, hoping for the best and praying more than ever before. But, I won’t cast a shadow over his day in the sun. Nearly nineteen years ago, he became my rite of passage. Now, it is his turn.

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Jeremiah’s Song

Tomorrow my middle son will turn fifteen years old and seeing as November is National Adoption Month, I think it is only fitting that I share a bit of his story.

Before he was born, we knew he was coming. This is not usually the case with foster care, although we experienced it more than once. Because Jeremiah’s birth siblings had already been removed from the home, a plan was already in place for him to enter foster care at birth. Because we had a sibling (eventually we would care four children from this family) we were asked to accept him and we agreed. So, when he was being born, we were made aware. When his birth parents managed to slip out of the hospital with him upon discharge, we were made aware of that too. Our hearts fell, not because he was in imminent danger, for I had met his birth parents on many occasions. But, because of the sadness of the situation and because as much as they wanted their children, they were not capable of properly caring for them.

I feel I must insert that many services and resources had been exhausted by the time Jeremiah was born. He was the sixth child born into the family (later there would be a seventh) and sadly, after so many years and failed attempts to make the home what it needed to be, the only answer left was to remove the children. Some were being raised by relatives, some in foster care. I was saddened for their loss. I was concerned for this precious new baby until the day arrived when the authorities would locate them and take him into custody. I prayed for them all.

The day did arrive when Jeremiah was located and we were called in the early evening with the news. They had him in custody the day he turned two months old. I’ll never forget that call, that night. I wept for his birth mother and father. I knew full well, it was the best thing to happen, the right thing. But, the best of things often do not happen without great pain.

The social worker called and we all piled into the van to drive about forty-five minutes to meet her. Our meeting place is a family story that has been told many times. Our son who is now eighteen was still four years old and witnessed the ‘exchange’. You see, we walked in a WalMart with an empty buggy and we checked out with a new baby and the necessary supplies to care for him. For years he told everyone that we bought Jeremiah at WalMart and nothing we could say would convince him otherwise. He had seen it with his own eyes.

We did not know them that we would later be given the opportunity to adopt Jeremiah as well as another one of his birth siblings (our oldest now, Josiah, who is still 19 for a few weeks). We had no idea that he would be our forever child. We only knew he needed caring for and we were willing and quite honored to do so.

If you have had the pleasure of knowing Jeremiah, he has likely stolen your heart. He is unique. He is musically gifted. He is spiritually insightful. He knows how to soothe an anxious heart with his easy ways and soft words. He is so handsome! He is my son and tomorrow he turns 15!!

Here are the words to one of his beautiful songs he has written.

Jeremiah’s song

Show me the bright side
So I can see
Shield me from darkness
for all eternity

There is no one like you
There is no one beside you
I will sing with with everything
And I will shout,I will scream

May all of the broken
Be made whole.
May all of the seeking
Find my God.

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