Welcome to my circus.

November 22, 2014
by Maralee

The “Real” Mom

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?

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November 16, 2014
by Maralee

A Life in Status- September #2, 2014

Join the fun on Facebook or Twitter.

My daughter insists they are learning “The Pledge of A Egypt” at preschool. Maybe it’s time for me to go volunteer in the classroom. . .

“I don’t always pack newborn outfits for the hospital, but when I do, I try to make sure they look as much like Dr. Who as possible.

I was feeling really good about not getting emails from my troublemaker’s teacher for the last couple days. Then I found out he had a substitute who didn’t have my email address.
‪#‎thatexplainsitDanny: Mom, you know why I cut my hair at school? I wanted to look handsome for AWANA.
He almost makes it make sense. . .
‪#‎unscheduledhaircutday‬37 weeks pregnant and 10 days until the adoption of our foster daughter. I’m feeling “full term” in every way possible. And this is the second time I’ve had to buy a maternity dress to wear to the adoption of one of my children. I love my life and the surprises God planned for us. Continue Reading →

November 13, 2014
by Maralee

“Are you going to adopt him?”

November is National Adoption Month and as an adoptive parent, it’s a great time to acknowledge the beauty and sweetness of adoption. But as someone who is also a foster parent, I can’t help but think about all the kids who aren’t adoptable and never will be. They need love and stability too, even if their stories are more complicated. Happy endings sometimes don’t look like we imagine.

When you are caring for a foster child it is common to have people ask about your longterm plans. You will often have people ask, “Are you going to adopt this child?” The problem is that you can’t make longterm plans about this child’s permanency. Judges make plans, lawyers make plans, caseworkers make plans, biological parents make plans, but foster parents just follow the plan. When someone asks if you are going to adopt your foster child, it can be a tough question to answer. . . and some days it can even be a tough question to hear.

It may be tough to hear because you know this child’s parents are truly doing the hard work of trying to get custody back. To imagine adopting this child means imagining that these parents are going to fail, which would be desperately sad for everyone involved. As much as it hurts to think about having this child leave your home, you know that’s best for them and for their family.

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November 11, 2014
by Maralee

Cultivating a thankful heart (audio)

Today is the first day it’s starting to feel cold, crisp and like fall is really here. That must mean Thanksgiving is right around the corner. It’s a time of year where we want to be intentionally thankful for the beauty that’s in our lives and the struggles that remind us how beautiful the beauty really is. So for this month’s radio interview, I wanted to talk about cultivating a spirit of thankfulness in our kids.

Below you’ll find a link to listen to the interview and some written thoughts of mine below to go along with it. Thanks for listening!

-We can’t really expect our kids to live lives of gratitude if we aren’t modeling it. If we are acting entitled and bitter about the circumstances of our lives, it’s hard to expect our kids will behave any differently when things aren’t going their way. Sometimes gratitude is spontaneous and overwhelming when we see how God is bringing beauty out of our pain, but sometimes we choose to be grateful even when life makes it hard.

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November 9, 2014
by Maralee

A Life in Status- September #1, 2014

Come join the fun as it happens on Facebook and Twitter.

The two year-old is waddling around the house with both legs in one hole of his underwear saying, “I a penguin!” Future candidate for the gifted program right here, Folks.

I heard the lead singer from Fun on the radio and I thought for a minute it was Aaron Neville. So I think I’m officially old now.

In case anyone was wondering, it took approximately three weeks for Danny to figure out if he “forgot” his lunch at home, he could get hot lunch at school.

The little kids often come to me with a string of nonsense letters they wrote and ask, “What does this say?” I was caught off guard when my daughter’s actually spelled “HOT BILL”. Not sure if I should ask for clarification. . .

Me: Where are your pants?
Joel: They peed. Here you go. (throws them at me)
Me: Are they just a little wet?
Joel: No, not little. They. . . they STRONG wet.

It’s always the mornings you are running late when the kids decide they only want a certain color of Fruit Loops and start an intense trading game with each other to get what they want.

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November 4, 2014
by Maralee
1 Comment

Lessons from a VBAC

It took me a year and a bit of a meltdown before I wrote about my c-section. For a year it felt too raw to really be able to address. When I finally was able to write about it, that post got passed around a bunch and I realized maybe I wasn’t alone in my feelings of inadequacy and frustration. Because that pregnancy was such a miraculous event, I never anticipated getting a do-over on the birth experience, but when we found out we were pregnant in January, my anxiety about having another c-section started right away. I wrote about dealing with those emotions and then a week later Teddy was born. I wasn’t necessarily planning on writing about his birth so soon, but because I had opened the door to our story, lots of people were curious about how this birth went.

I have mixed emotions about sharing birth stories. My birth story is kind of awesome— it took four hours, was unmedicated, and afterwards there was a rush of joy and adrenaline. That’s the story my mom tells about my birth and she adds the part where she was so wide awake afterwards that she was writing thank you notes, but I won’t tell you that part because it just makes the rest of us look bad in comparison. In the same way I feel a sense of protection about my children’s adoption stories (I share some things here, but there are many many details we keep private), I feel a desire to let the births of my sons be their stories to tell, too. So I’m happy to share some of the lessons I’ve learned from this most recent birth experiment, but if you’re the type who likes reading the descriptive detailed accounts, you won’t find that here.

The short version of the story is that Teddy was born. The end. He was born healthy and crying and I was healthy and crying (with joy and relief) and those are probably the most important details. Everything else is superfluous, but I’ll share some of it with you in the hopes that it will be a help to anyone else on this journey.

I did end up having a successful VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). In all the important ways, there isn’t much of a difference when it comes to becoming a mother via adoption or birth (vaginal or c-section). Motherhood is motherhood and when somebody places a child in your arms and says “Congratulations, Mommy” those overwhelming feelings are the same no matter where that child came from (don’t get me started about my feelings on using the word “natural” to describe one of these methods as though all other ways of becoming a mother are “unnatural” and somehow inferior). With that in mind, here is what I learned from my VBAC experience:

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November 2, 2014
by Maralee

A Thanksgiving Ebenezer

I am not a Pinterest parent. I have never made my children’s snack food into the shape of a Disney princess, I have never taken a castoff sweater and repurposed it into a tote bag, and I’ve never made anything out of a mason jar or pallet. I’m just not the arts and crafty type. But for the last couple years at Thanksgiving I have gotten out the box of art supplies, pulled out some yarn, construction paper, and a sharpie and then sent my kids out to gather sticks from the yard. While this may seem like the makings of a craft project, in my mind it’s something different. It’s an Ebenezer.

1 Samuel 7:11-13
The men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as below Beth-car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and they did not come anymore within the border of Israel. And the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.

When we think of the word Ebenezer the picture it most likely brings to mind is of a grumpy, greedy old man who can’t grasp the true meaning of Christmas. You can thank Charles Dickens for that mental image, but before Ebenezer was associated with Scrooge, it had a different connotation. Samuel created a visual reminder of what God had done for his people. Whenever they saw that stone called “Ebenezer”, they would remember how God had helped them conquer their enemies.

The Israelites needed this reminder. The Bible shows us over and over that they were a people prone to forgetting. But I’m prone to forgetting, too. We don’t live in a culture that puts a high priority on setting stones in your yard to remember major life events, but sometimes I wish we did. I need a physical, tangible reminder of what God has done in my life so I continue to trust him with my future.

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October 30, 2014
by Maralee
1 Comment

How to talk to your kids about drugs

At schools across the country this is Red Ribbon Week. It’s a week where schools dedicate time to teaching kids about saying no to drugs. I know some parents don’t love the school system talking to their kids about drugs or sex. I get that. I remember my mom opting us out of sex education and saying, “They aren’t going to teach you anything I haven’t already taught you, but it’s not their job.” While I’m not opting my kids out of those things, I do fully agree with my mom’s sentiment. It’s ultimately my job to teach my kids about these sensitive topics and I want to do it BEFORE the school system gets around to it or they hear about these things on the news or from a friend.

It’s pretty easy in a “good” family to have very black and white conversations about drugs, alcohol and smoking. I hope you’re having those conversations with your kids and opening the door for them to ask questions. But for some of our families there is a more nuanced element to this conversation. For those of us raising the children of addicts or who have addicts in our own family, it’s a little harder to just say, “Good people don’t do that sort of thing.” People we love and who matter tremendously to our family have made unwise choices in this area, so how do we supplement the black and white education our kids may be getting at school to reflect our reality?

(*I am not a therapist or a DARE educator or anything else that gives me official credentials to talk about this stuff. I’m just a mom/foster mom/group home mom who has had a lot of these conversations with kids over the years and has seen what works and what doesn’t. Obviously, you’re free to disagree with these tips and substitute what works for your family.*)

Be age appropriate. Brian and I believe it’s important to start this conversation young. I received some good advice from an agency we worked with about how to talk to preschoolers and it has become my standard speech as we’ve run across this issue with each of our kids. When they ask why a person might not be able to parent and we know the answer is related to substance abuse we say, “He/She choose to put things in their body that made it unsafe for them to be a parent.” For preschoolers, that might be the end of the conversation. We don’t use the word “drugs” until they are older, but we’ve set the foundation that this was a choice made by an adult and that the choice made them unsafe. I have had one of my kids ask “why” as a follow-up and we talked about how that person had had a difficult life and what they put in their body made them feel better. Even though it was an unwise choice, it made sense to them because they really wanted to feel better. Just like with conversations about sex, we work to open the door to their questions and then answer the questions they’re asking. If you introduce it early, you can add details and more explanations as they’re ready.

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October 28, 2014
by Maralee
1 Comment

Moms and Rest: why we need it and how to get it

I’m afraid too many moms have bought into a lie that to be a good mom, you should be an exhausted mom— never time for rest because we’re so invested in meeting the needs of our kids. There are definitely seasons of motherhood where exhaustion is unavoidable (with a two week-old in our house right now, that season is definitely upon me), but I don’t think it should be the norm. This month’s Morning Conversation allowed me to talk through why we’re so tired, how we sabotage our ability to get rest, and how to prioritize our need for refreshment.

You can listen to the interview via the link below and/or read my additional thoughts underneath it.

-Motherhood can bring about a deep exhaustion that drives us to seek out rest. Meeting the needs of dependent children can mean physical exhaustion as we spend the hours we should be sleeping rocking the sick child, changing the wet beds, chasing away the nightmares, and doing the 4 a.m. feedings (sometimes all in the same night). We can experience emotional exhaustion as we deal with temper tantrums, or rebellious teens, or preschooler dramatics, or irrational fears (our own and our child’s), or the marital conflict that parenting can bring. We can experience spiritual exhaustion when we find ourselves falling asleep during our prayer time, continually interrupted when we try to read our Bibles, and isolated from Christian community because of our sick kids or feeding schedules or lack of childcare. It’s this exhaustion that points us toward a need for rest.

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October 24, 2014
by Maralee

The Bittersweet of Adoption Birthdays

Seven years apart to the day, on two separate continents, two women labored and birthed my children. One woman I may never see face-to-face, but I see her in our son’s eyes every day. One woman I met as I left the hospital with her baby and she left with an empty carseat. Both are women I love for giving the gift of life to two of the most precious people on the planet and on their shared birthday, I am especially thankful for their first mothers.

In the days before I experienced childbirth I remember watching a show where a woman gave birth. The intensity and obvious pain of it all made me thankful I didn’t have to experience labor and delivery, even though for years I had grieved my inability to do what seems most natural for a woman to do. I was trying to see the silver lining of my infertility, but then the doctor on this show said, “Statistically, the most dangerous thing a woman will ever do in her life is give birth” and the thought struck me— a woman who is a stranger to me took all the risk and I reap all the reward. And I cried. I escaped the pain and fear and recovery of giving birth, but SHE didn’t.

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