This month for my radio interview we talked about what Christmas and New Years looks like at our house. What are our traditions? How do we keep it focused on Jesus? How do we handle differing expectations? If you want to listen and do some voyeurism via radio about what it’s like at our place these days, here’s a link. And beneath it you’ll find my written thoughts because there’s always something I forget in the moment or want to clarify later. And this time I’ve added some useful links! Enjoy:
-Stan said something nice about me. Moms who are faithfully being moms, I’d like you to imagine that was being said to you, too. What you’re doing matters and I don’t think you hear that often enough.
-It’s easy to dread holidays because it feels like there’s so much pressure to make them picture perfect. As Queen Elsa has been begging you to do for the last year, LET IT GO. A stressed mom does not make for happy memories no matter how many Pinterest projects you accomplish.
I am bad at baking. This is an established fact. How do you establish such a fact, you ask? You become a bonafide “Pinterest fail.” For proof, you can go here to see how I managed to ruin a fairly simple brownie recipe and turn it into a horrific Peep battlefield. So I want to give you an idea of something significant you could do this Christmas to help your kids understand why we celebrate this day, but I also want to not ruin it. So I have delegated.
If you knew Katrina, you would totally delegate all baking duties to her, too. You probably already know Katrina even if you don’t know you know her. She wrote a cookbook. She has had recipes featured. . . well, everywhere. She is going to be sharing a holiday recipe on the Today Show. Pretty much, if you’re clicking through some internet list of “best food bloggers” or “most awesome Super Bowl desserts” or “cookies that will make you rethink your life”, Katrina’s stuff is there. I knew Katrina before Katrina was cool. . . except she was cool then too because she was an RA in my dorm— super cool if you’re the rule following, responsibility loving type, which I am. So since I have a rockstar baker as my actual friend in my actual life, I asked if she would actually bake (and photograph) something for me that I could share with you.
I make this recipe every year. . . and by “recipe” I mean, I open boxes of cake mix and a can of frosting. This is easy enough for ANYONE, or else I wouldn’t do it. You can make this and make it work for your family without too much effort during an already stressed season. I’m going to go out on a limb and say if you are too busy to make Jesus a birthday cake for his birthday, you are TOO BUSY. If I can do it and I have six kids and one of them has a birthday on December 24th (which requires an entirely separate cake because apparently people with December birthdays are scarred if their birthday parties get combined with Christmas), you can do this.
You can have your CGI Thomas. I will always prefer what was essentially Alec Baldwin reading a book while some guy filmed his model train set in action.
I would like to get family pictures taken while the new baby is still a sweet, squishy, lump. Sadly, this also means getting family pictures taken while I am also pretty squishy and lumpy.
I asked Joel (age 2) to show me how high he could count. So he reached his hands as far as he could above his head and counted to five.
Brian: We forgot to do that tour of the hospital with the kids before the baby was born.
Me: Um, we didn’t forget, I just thought maybe we shouldn’t.
Me: Remember at the end of the tour we took before Joel was born when they gave the kids dolls and had them practice how to change a diaper and swaddle and all the kids on the tour were being really sweet except ours who were whacking each other with the dolls and all the other parents and nurses were looking at us weird?
Brian: Oh right. Never mind.
Our first fostering experience was a baptism by fire into the world of child welfare. It was a NICU infant. It was an ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) case. The family had a lengthy history with the court system. There was a case plan and paperwork and visitation and court dates and that was all just in the first few weeks of our life adjusting to a preemie in the house. While we had had a hand in parenting lots of boys through our group home work and the adoption of our first child, we had never had an infant. There was a lot to learn, but in all of that, one thing became very clear to me.
I wanted to be his mom for today, for tomorrow, for as long as he needed me. He had a biological mother who wanted him. She was going to do what she could to convince the state she could parent him. He was wanted by the parents of his biological siblings and by his biological grandparents. Each of us had our role to play in his story and we knew the ending would mean only one of us could be his family, but there was no lack of “wanting” involved in his life.
Yesterday I shared a story about a little girl named Arrissa who had a profound impact on our adoption journey. Today I’m honored to share with you a view of Arissa’s life from someone else who loved her deeply. Anna Kathryn was Arissa’s mentor and spent many hours pouring love, attention and affection into her soul. It was an experience that changed both of their lives for eternity. Anna Kathryn has spent the last ten years continuing to invest in kids who need love and family and I’m thankful to get to walk that journey with her. Here is her story:
She walked into my life when I was 21 years old. I was fresh out of college and I thought I knew it all.
I was wrong. I didn’t know very much at all, actually. She was quick to teach me that and multitudes more over the course of the three months I worked with her.
That was ten years ago. She was ten.
I’d like to know who she would have become, how she would have loved the world the way she loved me in those three brief months. I believe I will know one day, when I meet her again in eternity.
Until then, I like to remember who she was and who I became because of her.
She loved. She loved so hard. And it always intrigued me because she had been so hurt by so many of those she loved. But that didn’t stop her from loving anyone or anything.
She used to have these rocks. She kept them by a post outside of the school because I wouldn’t let her bring them inside. Oh, why didn’t I let her bring those rocks inside?? That question plagues me to this day.
She loved them. They weren’t smooth, there was nothing fancy or colorful about them. They were rocks. They had been walked on and run over for years. But to her they were perfect. She checked on them every time we walked past the school.
It occurred to me one day… maybe she loved them so much because they were so much like her. Maybe she knew they needed to be loved because she knew how very much she needed to be loved.
This little one… she was rough around the edges, she had truly been walked on and run over for years. She was a ten year old in a six year old’s body due to years of neglect. Anger and fear ate at her soul every moment of every day.
In each adoption journey I think there are turning point moments. Moments where your ideas about adoption change or you feel the pull in a particular direction. There were a couple of those pivotal moments during the years we were researching and waiting, but one of them has been occupying a lot of my thoughts recently. Her name was Arissa. And November marked the tenth anniversary of her death.
Arissa’s story belongs to her and her family. There are many details I can’t share and even more that I don’t know. I do know that she showed up at the children’s home where we worked with a lot of quirks. She had been wounded in many ways, but that child had enthusiasm and emotions and questions and love like you wouldn’t believe.
We were in our second year houseparenting in a boys’ home, but Arissa would seek us out during those times when the boys and girls were together. She wanted to sit at our table during lunches. She wanted to be close to us during group devotions. The view of Arissa I remember best is during those devotional times. Brian and I led music for the kids. Because of how the sound system was arranged, we were behind the kids and they faced the front to see the words on the screen. While every other head was facing forward, Arissa would stand up on her chair (because she was too short to see) and would turn around and watch us. I spent many mornings just singing right to her as she smiled and waved at me. She was just that kind of kid— when the world was heading in one direction, Arissa would look the other way, always searching for smiles and relationship.
Arissa was not a child with any sort of boundaries when it came to the questions she’d ask. She asked questions about why we didn’t have kids and I did my best to frame answers about infertility in a way she could understand. She asked a lot of follow-up questions and then one day at lunch she just said, “You could adopt me.” It wasn’t a statement as much as it was a question. I was really taken aback. I reminded her that she had a family and they would probably be pretty sad if she wasn’t part of their family anymore. I told her that adoption was kind of complicated. I told her that I loved her and we wished she could be part of our family, too.
The highchair our baby daughter sits in has a a little snack tray and cup holder that folds under the big tray when you aren’t using it. I am now finding out that the two year-old thought that would be an awesome place to hide his green beans.
The best thing about 9 months pregnant is that your family and friends will answer when you call them right away, any time of the day or night. Although you kind of feel like a constant disappointment when they realize you were just calling about something dumb.
Joel (age 2): Mom, you done cooking my baby brother?
Me: Just about! He can come out whenever he’s ready.
Joel: Oh yay! Thanks, Mom!
Me: Ummm. . . you’re welcome?
I’m pretty sure if I didn’t have legs I would have about the same dimensions as your average Weeble.
Buying school pictures was totally worth it. . . for the humor in how terrible they turned out.
I’m not a huge fan of onesies with sassy sayings on them. Especially ones that are kind of rude (I’m looking at you, “My mom is hotter than your mom”, Onesie). The mom is the one looking at those onesies most of the time, so why not use this great opportunity to send a message to her instead of to the other moms on the playground? Let’s be real— If I’m at the playground I’m trying to make friends, not insult them. I did buy a onesie with a sassy saying on it once. It literally said “Sassy” which was adorable on my sassy daughter until I realized in every picture I took when she had that onesie on she had an arm covering the first letter. Not cool.
I decided to create my own onesie slogans for moms. What would babies say if they could? What messages do moms need to see every time they look down at that precious baby? I also asked my Facebook friends to contribute their ideas (if you aren’t part of our Facebook community, you’re missing out), which you’ll find beneath mine. Feel free to contribute your own in the comments section!
Onesie Slogans from your Baby
Sorry for spitting up in your hair.
I know I sound angry, but I’m just tired.
Are we going out today? Then why are you getting out of your pajamas?
I won’t tell anyone I saw you lick the ice-cream container.
Sing as loud as you want. I haven’t yet developed musical taste.
Breastmilk tastes better when it comes from a coffee drinker.
You should probably have me do some tummy time today so the pediatrician doesn’t give you that look again.
Don’t let my screaming deter you from getting the snot out of my nose.
The journey of adoption through foster care is bittersweet. There are moments of sorrow, grief, frustration, and even anger as you navigate the system. And then there’s the adoption day. It’s a day of beauty and redemption and celebration. While there may be more difficult moments down the road as you continue to deal with the realities of adoption, it is great to have that special adoption day where we let go of the sad and embrace the joy for our child, ourselves, and our family.
So come see for yourself the fun, the serious, and the beautiful of an adoption day from beginning to end— from waking up as a ward of the state to returning home as a beloved forever daughter. I’m resisting my writer impulses by not captioning these photos, but just letting them tell the story. A big thank you to Renee Welstead of Love Equals Photography for these sweet images.
I’ll admit I was shocked when I heard my son use the word “real” to talk about a biological relative. MY son. My beautiful seven year-old boy who had only ever heard adoption sensitive language in our home since he arrived here at 10 months-old. I read him the right books, answered all his questions, taught him the appropriate words to use for all members of the adoption triad (adoptee, adoptive parents, biological parents), and I was a passionate educator on adoption issues for everyone in his life. Where did this “real” word come from?
More than shocked, I think I was embarrassed. Josh was being dropped off at our home after school. I was standing in the driveway talking to the other mom about life and random parenting things and Josh was pulling on my sleeve. It was the usual dance of, “Mom!” “Just a second, Honey.” “MOM!” “Hang on. I need to finish this conversation.” And then he said, “Mom, I made a Valentine for my brother. My REAL brother. Can we send it to him?” I’m sure my face turned eight shades of red. I’m the one correcting everybody else’s language choices and here is my child referring to his biological brother as “real”. I could feel my friend looking at me and I felt the pressure to say the exact right adoptive mom thing to affirm that my son’s biological family is important, reiterate that WE are his family, and impress my friend with my total preparedness for any adoption related situation that would arise. But in my mind I was just thinking, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? REAL?! And if you’re going to say the forbidden word, couldn’t you at least do it when we’re alone?” I know I fumbled through some sort of response about “Do you mean your BIOLOGICAL brother?” but it just didn’t feel right.
My friend and I wrapped up our conversation and I took the kids into the house and asked Josh to sit with me. I pulled out the afternoon snack and he showed me the Valentine he made. I took a deep breath and asked Josh about his language choice from earlier. It was a good opportunity to talk about what it means to be “real”— that I don’t consider my biological child a real child and my adopted kids just pretend kids. Biology isn’t what makes our relationships real. By the end of the conversation I knew Josh understood and I haven’t heard him use the word since that day, but I’ve continued to think about that conversation.
There was a time when I believed your REAL mom was the woman who raised you. We’ve all heard, “Anyone can make a baby. It takes a real man to raise one.” Except that anyone can’t make a baby. For many years, we couldn’t. Our ability to become parents was dependent on someone else’s ability to make a baby and their choice to entrust us with that child’s care. So which one of us was the real parent?