The Other Mother

"Mommy, why didn't I grow in your tummy?"

Questions like that have the ability to stop the rotation of the earth for just a moment.  Tucked into the mundane business of an ordinary day comes a question that leaves you breathless and makes your mind spin for answers appropriate for a bright inquisitive little girl busy planning her fifth birthday party.

I remember when we first decided to adopt our daughter someone asked us "Will you tell her she's adopted?"

That question left me dumbfounded and suppressing many sarcastic responses underneath a polite "yes, of course we will tell her".

Or we could just keep it a big family secret, that everyone knows about, and hope she doesn't figure it out.  I mean the fact that she looks completely different than her parents could simply be genetic coincidence right? Or maybe we could sit her down on her 18th birthday and with long drawn sober faces explain that her life has been a fraud.  I knew we would tell her but I didn't know how.

Things have changed a bit in recent generations.

We knew this was new territory that we would need to navigate carefully but yet we had some time to figure it out as we moved forward.  That buffer zone of time elapsed very quickly.

I resolved early on to create an atmosphere before I needed to give explanations.

Our strategy was to lay a solid foundation of love and security.  A foundation strong enough to support all the hard things later on.  A foundation that will support questions about identity, belonging, and purpose.  The winds will come later in life, and may leave some marks, but the foundation will remain untouched.  We are her family.  She belongs.  She is loved unconditionally and eternally. She was beautifully created and her life has purpose.

  Even before she could talk I was giving her vocabulary.  I was building those stones into our family structure. Words like "adopted", "coming home", and "forever family" have become as common in our vernacular as words like "born"or "stop chewing with your mouth open".  We have intentionally normalized adoption language and the concept of adoption.  Our motive for that is to strip those words of their power to shame, divide, or alienate.  We don't exaggerate.  We aren't obnoxious about it.  It's just a part of our life and her story.  We have surrounded our foundation of security with an atmosphere of normalization.  Before she had any idea of what "adopted" meant, she recognized the word and associated it with love.  Being a multi-racial family has added another element to that atmosphere as we intentionally normalize and celebrate our unique qualities and the diversity within our own home.  From the children's books on our bookshelves to the wide variety of different shades and colouring of dolls in our home.  Our positive normal includes a lot of different.

She loves to hear the story of her "coming home" day and will sometimes ask "Mom, can you tell me about the day you got the phone call and came to get me".  I go on to describe all the inconsequential details about the day we got a phone call and quickly packed a diaper bag and drove into the big City.  We met a beautiful 1 month old baby girl with wavy black hair and gorgeous black eyes and we fell instantly in love.  The big sister and big brothers were so excited to meet her and we all loved her endlessly.  That's a summary of the story she has been hearing for the past few years. It's always a happy story that leaves a little girl snuggled up and content in her Mommy or Daddy's arms.

She also loves to look through pages of her baby book which showcases her first year in our family, as well as a handful of photos acquired by others before she came home. In that first page I included a photo of a woman, with wavy black hair and dark eyes, holding a new baby in a social services office.  It is the only picture we have of the only visit that ever took place.  As I glued that picture into place, unsure of the wisdom behind my action, I trusted that it was right.  After all, this is her story not mine.  I am just the memory keeper.  I am the one that tucks away bits of information and gives dignity now to parts of the story that will hold many hard questions later.

Miss Cece knows this photo.  I've never gone into details, pointed it out, or tried to explain.  I follow a little girls lead.  She is smart though.  Almost too smart.  Lately we have begun to build some information structure on top our foundation and inside our atmosphere of normalized vocabulary.  Not too much too fast, but just enough to satisfy.  Nothing too heavy for a young heart to carry. Simple answers to potentially gut wrenching questions.

A word I have hesitated to use until just this week is "birth mother".  Maybe it creates some insecurity in my own heart.  Or maybe I'm afraid that she won't understand and that doubts and fears will creep like rock crushing roots into our carefully laid foundation.

The other day my little girl was sitting on my lap and we were reading through a children's encyclopaedia describing all different body systems, and organs.  I turned the page and discovered a whole section on the development of a baby in the womb.  Both of us captivated, we read through each little bit and discussed the pictures of a baby growing bigger and bigger inside the safety of it's mothers womb.  It was both sweet and sad as I was reminded that I did not carry this one within the safety of my womb.  She belonged to the other Mother then.  Her first Mother.  Her birth Mom.

These photos sparked questions. Questions I hadn't planned to answer that day.  Questions about who's womb she grew in.  She pieced it together by herself and ran to find her baby book.  A quick reading time through a children's encyclopedia had turned into flipping through pages of her baby book and giving the woman with wavy black hair a name, and a title.  Birth Mother.  That's how important conversations happen with our children.  Sacred and profound moments tucked into the monotony of an ordinary day.  If we don't pay attention we miss it.

My dearest daughter:
You grew in her womb and then you came home and you grew in our arms.  Before our eyes you continue to grow and we love you more with each passing day. You have two Mother's.  Both are real. The woman who carried you in her womb will forever be connected to you.  There are things you share, and time you spent that will remain between the two of you.  Regardless of circumstances and heartaches (and my selfish wishes that I could rewrite certain chapters of the story), there is a certain dignity and honour in position.  I will always give that respect to your birth Mother, a woman I have never met in person.  I thank her for the gift of life she gave you, and us.

I am your Mommy.  Nothing will ever change that.  I am not a pretend mom or an artificial imitation of one.  We are family.  Real family.  We may not share genetics but we share our lives.  You are no less my own beloved child than if I had carried you in my womb. I will remember the day we brought you home as one of the best days of my life.  I didn't know it then, but I was receiving a priceless gift. A tiny girl who would one day become my daughter.  A daughter who is delightful, and joy filled, and a ray of sunshine.  A daughter who I am proud of and look forward to witnessing grow into a woman of character, strength, and secure confidence.

For a 5 year old little girl that's enough to chew on for now.  She is satisfied and content.

As the years go on, little by little, more details of her story will be unwrapped.  More questions will come and more answers will be carefully navigated.  Some questions will be left unanswered simply because I don't know. We will be there with her, and for her, as she someday decides what she wants to do with the information she has.

Rarely a day goes by that I do not think about my children's biological families.  I carry them in my heart and prayers.  I feel the weight of their loss, as well as my children's. Even though they do not know it, and I can't fully explain it or understand it, they are a part of our family too.

What I know breaks me to the core but I keep it tucked away as important pieces of a puzzle that she will someday be empowered to put together. The picture that it creates may have some very dark corners but I trust that it will be a beautiful display of redemption and God's grace.

That is how we tell our daughter she is adopted.


Happy Birthday Silas!

One thing about blogging that I love is memory keeping.  I began this blog when Silas was only a year old.  I can scroll back and reminisce through each of his Birthday's.  Which is especially nice if you have a memory like a sieve. 

My last "tummy baby" is eight years old.  
The years rush by so fast it leaves me breathless.  I really do love this age though.  There is a sweetness, and softness that happens when a boy is between the barbaric preschool years and the onset of adolescence.  It is a beautiful but brief window of opportunity to pour in and invest.  
A few more blinks and these last couple years of boyhood will be replaced with becoming a man.  

Every year Silas covers his ears when we sing "Happy Birthday".  It's just his thing.  I think I would miss it if he stopped. 

Once again we kept the party simple.  Just us.  We are enough to fill the room anyhow. 
We made the evening special with bags of popcorn, a family movie, corn dogs for supper and smores cake for dessert. 
Tomorrow after church he's going with a couple friends to a Trampoline gym for an hour.  

Aili is our resident baker.  She has gotten very good at baking but occasionally has a mishap that we have to chalk up to "live and learn".

Today we learned that when you make a very large cake, it also takes a longer time than expected to bake all the way through.  
I was away in the morning so wasn't around to quality control.  I knew it looked a little sunken in the middle but I didn't expect it to be mostly raw.  We did salvage the outside edge and everyone got a piece before it went in the garbage.  It kind of looks like pudding cake. 

Oh well.  Makes for a funny memory. 

Two new Lego sets and this guy is in a state of bliss.  
He's a Lego Junkie.  
Or maybe a Lego whiz kid.  He's crazy good at creating and building his own structures. 

This kid will disappear into his room with a new Lego set and a few minutes later he's got it built. 
I'm pretty sure it would take me hours...and I'd get distracted part way through and lose interest. 

He wants to be a Lego set designer when he grows up....that or live in my basement playing Legos wen he's 30. 

His obsession takes the guess work out of buying gifts anyway. 

I sure do love this kid.
More than that I really really like him.

Silas sees the silly in everything and has a quick sense of humour that keeps us laughing.  Although he has zero concept of "appropriate" and seems to have been born without a brain/ mouth filter. He is smart, focused, and curious.  He is such a sweet big brother with a huge heart for his little sisters.  In the past year or so a much softer more affectionate side of Silas has emerged and I'm loving it.  The preschooler who used to resist hugs (or touch of any kind) and didn't have much interest in snuggles is now constantly coming in for hugs, kissing his Mama on the cheek, and curling up next to me on the couch.  I'm more than happy to oblige.  I love the sweetness, compliance, and empathy that is beginning to emerge and grow.  

He's still quirky and slightly eccentric but I love that about him. 

As of now Silas is convinced that he would never want to get married but would much rather live alone with a pet turtle.   Somehow I can totally picture that.  Maybe a few bins of Legos thrown in there too.  

Happy Birthday Si-Fry! 


Christmas 2014 and starting a New Year.

We kept things pretty simple this year.  
Actually, I'm not sure we know how to do "not simple" when it comes to holidays. 
We are easy to please I guess.  
Or just a bit lazy.

Six stockings remind me how blessed (and tired) we are! 

Christmas morning with a house full of kids is a lot of fun. 

Especially when they get this excited about a pack of gum.
Or a little book.

or noodles.

The biggest gift went to Miss Cece! 

She got a suit case all her own. 
A "Trunky" suitcase that she will be using for our upcoming trip to Belize.  

In fact, we bought all our kids gifts they can use on our trip.

We're just practical that way.  

Annie got her first dolly.  

Silas was very happy with the bin of random Lego pieces that he got from Aili.

We got smart this year.  Most of Elijah's gifts were food.  Not just any food...his favorites. 
He appreciated them so much more than he would expensive toys.   In fact he was thrilled. 

 It's hard to beat a big bag of popcorn.
Although a new knife made Roman pretty happy too. 

After a relaxing morning at home opening gifts we went over to my parents house for some cousin time and a big fancy dinner.

Silas trying on his new snorkel set. 

The kid table.  I love that I caught Silas with his arm around his little sister. I have no idea what they were chatting about there. 

It was good to spend time with family.  It made me appreciate all I have.  The traditions I was raised with that I can pass on to my own children.  The family I am fortunate to have.  

I'm thankful for parents who love me and all my crazy house full of kids.  For siblings and sibling in laws, and a whole gaggle of nieces and nephews.  Some of us who share features and DNA, some of us are related by marriage, others through the beauty of adoption or simply just by love and belonging.  We are imperfect, and frustrating, and sometimes even messy...but we are a family. 

I'm also very thankful that we were able to spend this Christmas with Tiny Princess "Annie".   We are hoping for more to come, but we take nothing for granted.  When you don't know if you will have another Christmas with a loved one you begin to see and experience things differently.  It's like being given the gift of having blinding assumptions stripped away.  The ironic thing is that none of us are promised another year, or even another day with the ones we love.  

Being reminded of that spurs me on to treasure the joy in simple moments, and to make memories. 

Maybe that should be my charge as we begin another year. 

As I travel through the monotony of each new day may I see it as a gift to be stewarded well.  Our legacy, and memories...the sum of our life is made up of those mundanely beautiful, often unmemorable, moments when we choose to push back the darkness a little further.  

Happy New Year my dear friends.

May you shine His light in 2015. 


When the ordinary is extraordinary

Last night as I sat and watched a Christmas concert at the same school that four generations of my family have attended, I was struck with a sense of awe that something so ordinary was actually quite exceptional.  

Two Christmas's ago, we were preparing for our trip to China. The past two years have been challenging, wonderful, mundane, stretching, and incredible.  Both ordinary and extraordinary.  

Two years ago we adopted a child that was considered worthless, at least by a culture in general.  In his 6 years he was abandoned as a toddler, found by police, lived in two different institutions, and lived with multiple foster parents (whom I thank God for!).  In his most recent institution he was classified as "bed ridden" and remained in a crib night and day.  The short bars of the crib where walls of his cage.  He watched other children, who could walk, wander around and even go outside. I know now how much he internalized that.  He is so very aware that his body just doesn't do what he wants it to do, and he is extremely aware when he is treated differently because of that.  Hyper aware even. I've listened to many heart wrenching, tear filled, rages that eventually come back to him screaming things like "I can't walk!" "I have bad feet!" "I hate my hand!""bad guys come and I can't run away!".

   He was viewed as defective and treated as something without value by so many.  Inside a little boys heart that turned into a deep self loathing.  He also has an enormous amount of fear and a perpetual hyper-vigilance.  He has not yet realized that we will never ever abandon him.  We assure him of that truth daily, but still, the fear is there.  Just this week, after his first trip to Costco with Mom and Dad, he had a melt down/ panic attack in the parking lot.  Complete with retching, shaking, and sobbing.  I noticed he looked pale and somber while we shopped but it wasn't until after his meltdown, when he found his words, that I understood just how terrified he had been.  Even after two years of us assuring him through our actions and words that we would always be his parents he thought this might be the place where we leave him, or the ever present "bad guys" might finally find him.  As we drove home afterwards he asked for constant reassurance, and then when we pulled up into our little town he looked like the weight of the world was taken from his shoulders, like he was honestly surprised that we had brought him back home.  He thanked us over and over for bringing him back home again.  He was convinced Mom and Dad had taken him to the City to leave him there( when in fact it was for various therapy appointments).  The reality of that fear is heartbreaking.

Two years ago we pursued a child who could not walk.  We had hopes that he would be able to walk with assistance but we didn't dream that he would become and independent walker and be able to stand unassisted.  We chose a child who had quite severe developmental delays, although we had very little idea (and still don't) what that will mean as time goes on. 

He was considered unadoptable by many...and an unlikely choice by most.  Even our guide in China asked us "didn't they have any better kids for you?" Basically, "how did you get stuck with him?".  Various people in Canada have asked us the same thing...although with a distinctly Canadian sort of tact and veiled in polite conversation. While in his home country we witnessed the stares aimed at him, and the looks of disgust.  We endured it with him for only a short while.  He endured those sneering glances, and long awkward stares for years.  He was told by words, actions, glances, and body language, time and time again that he did not belong.  He was not worth it.  

So last night as I sat in the front row, holding my camera, watching an elementary school Christmas concert I was watching something spectacular.  So spectacular that it was completely ordinary.  

I watched my son stand unassisted in the front row for multiple songs.  He beamed as he did the actions, caught as many words as he could, followed the teachers promptings like a hawk, and gave me a thumbs up.  I could see how hard he was working just to keep his balance.  I knew his feet were hurting after an already long day of school. 

For the first time in his life I witnessed him just be one of the pack.  He completely blended in.  He was just a kid.  Not a kid with equipment.  Not a kid with a disability.  Not a child adopted from China.  Not the kid who is three years older than his classmates. Just him.  Just a kid waving at his very own Mom and Dad and singing about Santa. 

I was so thrilled for him!

He stood bravely on stage, in front of rows filled with people, and did exactly what he was supposed to do.

I don't know that I have ever been more proud.

His teachers and the other children at the school have been so great.

One thing parents of kids with special needs know is that moments of "ordinary" are completely extraordinary.

This week as we visited a centre dedicated to serving children like Elijah and were assessed by very kind professionals and therapists, I realized again that we are so very fortunate to live where we do.  We have so many resources available, and there are so many people who want to see him thrive and reach his absolute fullest potential.  In so many other countries, people with disabilities are treated so poorly.  Families are left with no resources and are often encouraged to abandon the child. He could have lived his life within the bars of an cold, harsh, institution.  He could have ended up being used as a prop by someone who would exploit him, being made to sit on a dirty sidewalk and beg for pocket change.  He might have never learned to walk, or known secure love.

But. God.

This was just another huge reminder that his story is being rewritten.
Those hard things are being redeemed.

Bite me "Bed Ridden".  
There's no holding this boy back.


Burnout and a New Season

Our Tiny Princess Annie has been with us more than half a year. Last month marked six months of loving this beautiful girl.

Speaking of beautiful girl.

Can you believe how much Miss Cece has grown up?  
Maybe it's the fact that her hair has grown so long but she is looking so much older to me.  She still keeps us on our toes, and keeps us laughing.  She is an absolute joy...and at the same time can drive me insane.  It's a paradox I'll never quite figure out.  

Miss Cece is very happy that it's Christmas time again.

We didn't hold off too long on putting up the tree.  As soon as our Canadian holiday "Remembrance Day" was over we switched into Christmas season mode.   We usually let the kids put on the ornaments, which are an eclectic assortment of homemade treasures and things that have been collected over the years.  I can tell our kids have grown taller because more than just the bottom half of the tree is decorated.  Making memories.

We're still soaking up time with this little treasure, and thanking God for each day.  I don't know that a baby has ever been so adored, loved, and doted on in the history of mankind.  Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating.  But seriously though.  If it were possible to spoil a baby, we would have wrecked her with love.  Fortunately it just means she is a very secure, and happy baby. 

 When time is cut short you tend to take nothing for granted.  That and she has five siblings who pretty much think the sun rises and sets with her smile.  

We're not totally sure when our final goodbye will be, but we're thankful to have some Christmas memories made with this black eyed beauty. 

7 months!  
Oh my, how far we've come baby. 

Annie is a little fire cracker. She is determined, ambitious, curious, energetic, and radiantly cheerful.  She has an incredibly sweet and content disposition.  Just a happy baby who always has somewhere to go and something to investigate.  She's a petite little girlie but she's crazy strong.  Already changing her is like a rodeo event.  

This year the heavy layer of snow brought with it a sense of rest.  Or at least being able to breathe.  Work has finally slowed down a bit on the farm.  The yard work and garden is done. The Hubster is home longer in the mornings, gets home earlier for supper, is around for putting kid bedtime, and is "on call" as back up parent when our schedule gets crazy and we need to run kids around to appointments.  That has given me a fresh bounce in my step.   

Honestly, I think I hit a wall a couple weeks ago.  Exhaustion climaxed to a whole new level and I was ready to tap out...physically, emotionally, relationally.  
I just wasn't on my game, and Mama has to be on her game.

 Since then, I've been trying hard to do some "self care"....which for me simply means intentionally working to keep this body, mind, and spirit in as healthy a condition as possible (as far as it depends on me) so I can keep up with my crazy awesome life.  "Self care" is a topic that I tend to avoid simply because it can so easily become selfishness...and I know I don't need any help to become more lazy or selfish! That and I'm naturally a "low maintenance" kind of girl.  I'm trying to figure out what authentic, Christ centred, others focused, "self care" looks like.  Part of it is figuring out where I need to be better equipped and seeking out wisdom where I need it. Maybe I'll have to mull it out in a blog post someday.  Even Jesus pulled away from the crowd on occasion. 

I think it has helped.  I feel like I have a better attitude, and a little more energy anyhow.

Our family hit the ground running when we got home from Baja last spring and we haven't stopped to take a breath since.  Our trip south last winter was amazing and so filled with great memories but restful and rejuvenating it certainly was not.  A two month long road trip/ living in a camping trailer with 7 people in Baja Mexico is not so much a "vacation" as it is a slightly ridiculous adventure.  Then came a newborn preemie, and a very long busy season.  

Now that I think about it its been an insane couple years.  It has almost been two years since we left for China.

We had all started feeling the burnout.  Juggling schedules, work, school stuff, special needs parenting, home, and the ever present doctor, therapy, specialist, and dental appointments has kept us busier than we like to be.  We intentionally keep our "extra curricular" activities limited to prevent this from happening...but somehow it happened anyway. That's just life with six kids with various special needs and health considerations.  

So right now, we are trying to catch our breath, catch up on a few house projects (because this old house seems to be falling apart around us) and spend a little bit of time at home together as a family.  Some time to reconnect outside of the usual rush.  

I am so thankful right now for the beginning of "slow season".  Or at least "slower" season.  

My Hubby and I actually went on a real date! It had been over 6 months since we had eaten a meal out together.  We spent a whole day together in the city.  Well, we did have a baby for most of that time but when you have six kids reducing the number to one seems like a vacation.  

With the gently falling snow came a sense of peace.  No matter how much I fret about life, no matter how much I dislike winter....this world just keeps turning on it's axis and God's in control of all of it.  There's no changing the seasons, and some seasons you just merely have to endure.  Such as a Saskatchewan winter. There's always beauty to be found somewhere. 

I'm intentionally trying to cling to this sense of peace despite our crazy "normal" and so much unpredictability.   
Foster parenting is something I both love doing and despise at the same time.  It's impossible for fostering not to carry a certain burden of sorrow and brokenness because those things made it necessary in the first place.  I love the kids and the families involved, I hate the situations that make it necessary. 

I can't really actually explain how I can love it and hate it at the same time.  Maybe it's similar to when I used to run long distances competitively.  It was hard.  The training was a lot of work. The races caused extreme discomfort and stress....but yet I kept doing it.  

It's strange how something can be completely life draining and incredibly life giving at the same time.  

Maybe that's the Gospel story in this messy, imperfect, broken world of foster care....there is no new life without death.  With this life as a foster parent comes the constant reminder that "this is not how it was designed to be", and I feel myself join in the groaning, the agony, and the waiting for ultimate redemption to be birthed.  Longing for every tear to be dried.  

Maybe I'm just plain crazy.
That's entirely possible.  

Maybe it takes a whole lot of "crazy" to willingly venture into those hard places. 
Whatever it is I'm pretty sure that God threw me into the deep end with this one and I'm in way over my head. There is no such thing as tidying up loose ends, there's just raw and ragged.  

Just don't ever tell me "God doesn't give you more than you can handle", because that's a huge steaming pile of bovine pucky.   

I gave up trying to "handle" things a long time ago. 


Thankful and Tired

It seems that we are getting a summer encore.  Our summer was short and cool but now October has been gorgeous.  The best part is last month's frosty nights killed the mosquito.  

October also brought the end of a very long harvest.  I survived single parenting season for another year.  We celebrated by escaping for a couple days to a small campground.  The weather was perfect for camping, the trees were showing off their fall colors, the campground was virtually empty and there were no bugs. It was just what we needed. A perfect little breather on Thanksgiving weekend (our Canadian holiday).

The short Autumn days made for some glowstick fun before bedtime.

Our trailer was parked right next to a playground.  Which meant some chill time around the campfire for Mom and Dad! 

Aili looks taller than me in this photo! I'm pretty sure it was uneven ground.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it. 

My sweet Miss Cece.  She still struggles with her head to toe eczema...it was particularly itchy that weekend. 

My gorgeous girls.  

A rare picture with me in it,

and our fat little dog Taco.

The only thing better than hotdogs and smores is eating them with friends. 

After a couple days of camping we cleaned ourselves up and spent a day at my parents house.

Miss Cece adores her Grandpa. 


After a delectable Thanksgiving turkey dinner I asked my sister to snap a few pictures of our family...since we were all in our nice duds and in one place.  Chasing down the kids and convincing them to cooperate was easy compared to wrangling the husband. 

Have you noticed how much our tiny foster baby has grown? She's nearly 6 months old now, rolling everywhere, and starting to sit up.  I wish I could add "sleeping through the night" to that list...but alas, we continue our nighttime visits. 

She's worth it.  Besides who needs sleep when you've got coffee and carbs. 
My ulcer and ballooning butt would agree. 

Life continues in limbo as far as our wee one is concerned.  We treasure each day, and are thankful for each milestone we get to witness.  

Clearly Aili didn't get the "Smile!" memo.

Good enough. 

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