Missing My Son’s Mom: An Adoption Confession

Psst…for those who are new, it’s a November Adoption Celebration Month on my blog!  Have you ever wondered or worried if you’d be able to handle a relationship with an adopted child’s birth parent?  Find courage in reading my personal story and the perspective of my friends at the end of the post!  Thanks for stopping in! 


It’s irrational to expect to meet an intimate stranger at a retail store- but welcome to my irrational imagination. I scanned the Babies “R” Us for any sign of what I believed her face must look like. Why on earth would she be here of all places? You don’t have to convince me I’m crazy. I’ve never actually met her. To be honest, I don’t even have a picture and I don’t know where she lives. But I know her name. And I know I see pieces of her in my now three year old son…because the woman I’m looking for gave birth to him.

Photo Credit: Mysticsartdesign (pixabay.com)

We have friends for whom the decision to adopt seemed quick and calculated. Our desire was always there, but we meandered and poked and investigated quite a bit before deciding to pursue a child through the foster care system. By the time we jumped in we had two young biological children, but my heart longed for another baby. After six months of licensing and home study, and seven months of waiting (a story for another time) we got a miracle phone call and our lives swelled to make room for a three day old infant with no name.

My husband found metered parking by a snow bank near the hospital in the dead of winter, me with grungy hair and a gloriously bewildered heart. We met some social workers in the lobby, then down a hall, up an elevator, wrong floor, elevator down, and stopped. That final antiseptic clean hallway we conquered is still etched in my memory. There was a small conference style room at the end on the right where we were told to wait. Wait. Wait for a little boy with a total of zero shared DNA that we’d only known about for 72 hrs.

The door opened, and they wheeled in a tiny baby with a nose that melted my heart (I’m so serious) in a slightly oversized Christmas outfit, even though the holiday was well over. Now what? With my biological children, people asked in the hospital if they could hold my baby. But this was foreign territory; a baby not from my own body. I found myself asking someone else permission to pick up that precious almost-mine child. Seven something pounds doesn’t do true justice to the weight of the miracle I held in my hands that day.

Our first family picture the night we brought our foster (soon to be adopted!) son home.

As beautiful as that hospital moment was and remains to me, it owns an untold sadness as well. Though we often want to view adoption through the celebratory lens of love that grafts a new limb on a family tree, it’s not natural for a limb to need a new tree in the first place. As I heard at an adoption group early on, no adoption story comes about without loss first. That hospital may be last place my son ever encounters his biological mom, the one who brought him into this world and carries a family history I know so little about. I had no idea how painful it would be to own just tiny scraps of the story that rightfully belongs to my son.

Initially we had some limited contact with our son’s biological brothers, and though we haven’t had the chance to see them lately, I’m beyond grateful for those moments. They’ve each been able to hold him as a baby, and one brother even passed our baby’s picture along to his biological mom. Briefly we thought a window might be opening up to meet her, but she never reached back out. I don’t judge her for it; her life is full of it’s own grief and loss, that I’ll never be able to know or erase.

Why was I so afraid of contact with the birthparents when we first started our adoption journey? In my insecurity, I couldn’t imagine trying to maintain a relationship with a woman who, in my mind, had a stronger claim to my child than I did. How agonizing might that be? But by the time we were waiting for a child, I knew in my heart that I would make room for that possibility because it would be in my child’s best interest. We would adopt not just this child, but his story as well.

I never dreamed of the pain on the other side of the coin. I never conceieved we simply wouldn’t know his mom or dad at all. In all my rosy adoption dreams, not one included me frantically searching the internet, or the aisles of a random Babies “R” Us, for a strange, precious face. I’ve dreamed of his mom and long to be able to look into her face and see my son’s eyes, or cheeks, or (bless me) his nose. I can only offer him his resemblance to his biological brothers as we have their pictures and I share them when I tell him his birth story. This is his thread-bare history-the bits and pieces of his pre-story melted into the story of how he filled our lives with joy. But I long to give him more.

Oh I know there’d be a distinct pain in the knowing, in the seeing. Maybe it would be much harder than I imagine, trying to let my son grow up knowing two moms. Would he face a more personal rejection? Would he struggle to make his two worlds fit together? I can’t speak into that because it’s not our story. But for those who have always thought like I did that it would be better not to muddle through an open adoption, communicating with your child’s biological parents, I can only say there’s a deep loss to not knowing them as well.

When we send our children off to school for the first time or to camp perhaps, we often feel we’re somehow missing a piece of who they are by not being with them. We eagerly anticipate asking them how their day was, who they played with, if anything bad happened, so we can fill in the gaps we missed. Because our child’s story is part of our story and we want to own all of it. The same is true of my adopted child: somehow I feel I’ve missed a piece of who he is by not being there to access and know the roots of his life that are invisibly intertwined with mine. There are questions I can’t ask or answer: Where did he get his whimsy and love for dance? Is his extroverted self a carbon copy of his dad? Did that smile get passed down from a great-grandfather? And those are just the tip of the iceberg. In the end, I’m simply left with swiss cheese pieces of his heritage.

Maybe one day we’ll learn a bit more about his biological mom and reconnect our son with the thread of his past that remains. In the meantime, I’m not sure I’ll ever stop wondering where she is and trying to find her face in even the least likely places. Whether I meet her or not, she’ll always be part of our story.

 


 

Thoughts on Birth-parents from other Adoptive families…

Caroline’s Story: (foster-adoption) “Our daughter’s birth mother visited her several times when she was very young.  It was important to me that I always treated her with kindness and compassion. I wanted to make sure I respected her dignity and I hoped that she would see that her baby was being taken care of by a safe and loving family.” 

 Lisa’s Story: (Private US adoption) “We have a semi open adoption with G-‘s birth mother.  From day one we decided we wanted G- to know her story.  Once she turned 3 and could kind of understand things we started mentioning her birth mother as her ‘tummy’ mommy and that she couldn’t care for G- the way [my husband] and I could so we adopted her.  We would read adoption books to her and still do to this day. She seems to get it…as much as a 4 year old can.  We also have made it a point to meet with her birth mother once a year and we send her pictures every month.  We want G- to know her story and if in the future she wants a relationship with her birth mother that door has already been opened for her. 

Briana’s Story: (foster-adoption) “We met her [birth mom] a few times and agreed to send a few emails a year.  She has not responded to them since the first one.  We are open to emails and letters but not interested in visits.  We might be when F- is older and has a better understanding of the entire situation.

Pamela’s Story: (Sibling Adoption from Ethiopia): “Since it is an international adoption distance hinders relationship with birthparents/family. We worked with another agency program to locate birth family and send letters and photos of children. We intend to travel back to Ethiopia in a couple years to reconnect with birth family. We describe our family as a blended family so that the children maintain their connection to birth family within our family.”

TERMS DEFINED:

Closed adoption: An adoption in which the adoptive parents do not maintain any kind of relationship with the birth parents through visits or correspondence.  This was once a very common kind of adoption, sometimes with parents never telling their child about their adoption at all.  But studies are showing more benefits to open or semi-open adoptions, though they aren’t always possible.

Semi-Open and Open adoption: Adoptive and birth families maintain some form of ongoing contact.  This could mean the adoptive family sends emails or pictures to the biological parent(s).  It could even mean occasional visits.  In private adoptions, an agency usually helps coordinate the parameters for ongoing contact.  Semi-open adoption involves non-identifying contact (bio family doesn’t have access to adoptive families last name, address, etc.)- but correspondence (and even visits- see Lisa’s Story) can occur.

In foster-adoption, prior to adoption, the state will decide the amount of contact the biological parent has.  The biological parent is given specific goals to reach in order to be reunified, and visits are often a part of that.  The state may also require that the foster-child visit with his or her biological siblings.  Post adoption, the adoptive families can decide what amount of contact with the biological family is safe or healthy or their child.

Dear Husband, I Can Explain…

Husband of mine, when you get home you may have a few minor questions for me.  You know, mostly revolving around when and why the sanity left our home.

While I’m not able to fully answer that without a lawyer present, I can at least explain a few of your areas of concern.

For starters…the smell.  If you’re picking up on some briny floral with a vague hint of greasy garage you’re right on track.

You know how I went to our son’s classroom and saw how his teacher used those great essential oils?  I thought I’d try to recreate that calm atmosphere at home by using some soothing lavender in our diffuser.  You know, to keep everyone from losing their sanity.

Except lavender is a liar and doesn’t actually have the solutions to all my problems.

See…shortly after the kids got home from school I followed our sneaky three year old down the stairs and discovered an oily liquid all over the place.  After a brief interrogation, our little man procured a bottle of WD-40 which I can’t imagine how he found. (Side bar- I’m thinking we may need to reevaluate our basement shelving now that we have curious ninja boys.)

So it turns out the calming lavender wasn’t really a match for oil-aggeddon and the irritability and minor panic that followed.  There was a lot of hand washing and label reading and, fair warning, I wouldn’t look in the trash can if I were you.  Although- bright spot- your exercise machine glides like a charm now.  I wish I could tell you which boy to thank for that.

BUT, when I punished our son for lying about his involvement in the oil escapade, I may have caused a teeeeensy emotional landslide.  Which leads me to the situation with the van.  (Don’t look now.) Apparently losing TV and computer privileges for today warranted him packing up the house and plotting a trip to visit Nana and Papa in Alabama. 

I hugged him goodbye and took pictures of the kids because it was sort of funny for awhile.  Except the six year old was dead serious and had a rather robust packing list. 

And eventually I had to wrestle him out of the van and tell him why it wasn’t plausible for him to actually drive hundreds of miles today and return home for school Monday.

Which brings me to that last smell…while I was trying to get God knows what out of the fridge to scrounge them up a dinner to lure them home before they started hitch-hiking down to Dixie, I had some small kerfuffle.  Don’t ask me how I did it, but the short story is that the fridge shelf slid and I lost control of a pickle jar with a poorly secured lid.  (Don’t say a word- we both know I’m the too-lose-lid culprit but we’ll not discuss it again.) 

As with the oil, the lavender was fairly intimidated by the pickle stench.  I may need to give it some self confidence lessons.

So to recap: don’t go in the basement, if you see green on the floor it’s pickle juice not pee, I’m looking into some stronger lavender essential oils…and we might need to plan an actual trip to Alabama to talk the kids off the ledge.

Also, can I go out in the morning?  Possibly?  I could even take just one child…preferably a compliant one who’s in a good mood and hasn’t touched anything with pickles lately.

Thanks and I love you.

~Your pickle splattered Wife

 

 

 

Immature Mom Moment?

My counselor asked me once why I always feel behind.  Oh gracious, I could write a book about that.

But it all starts with intending to wake up before my children, and snoozing in just a few extra peaceful minutes only to find one of them waking me up instead.  (A kid at 6am is harder to ignore than an alarm at 5:45 apparently.)

This morning my usual three year old culprit greeted me and I had to shush him and whisk him down the stairs before he woke up the other two angelic sleeping children. (And “angelic” is a word we seldom use in this house.)

Then I sat down to have my “quiet time” where I read a chapter of a book or some chapters in my Bible or pray (or for the love of all things sugar-free be ALONE).  But I find myself feeling guilty that while I’m trying to have a calm conversation with God I have to keep yelling at a mischievous child.  I think God gets it but its awkward.

Finally my little guy wore me down, as usual, and I invited him to join my “quiet time” if he could, in fact, be quiet.  Bless his heart.  He lowered his voice to a toddler whisper, but the kid never stopped talking. Asking me questions.  Wanting me to see what he was working on.

Death glare.  “Child…you will learn what quiet means if it is the only legacy I pass on to you.”

Finally my older daughter came in and I gave up my not-so-quiet endeavor to look something up on the computer for her.  Next thing I knew, I looked over and my preschooler was wielding his scissors and must have been bored with paper because he was now intent on trying to cut my new blue shirt.

I mom panicked into over-reacting umm….just a smidge we’ll say.  My poor son was surprised and hurt by how quickly I over-scolded him. 

I shooed my daughter out of the room and told her to get dressed, I plucked my crying three year old up and put him in time-out with yet another firm reminder that “we ONLY cut paper” (which his little brain will file away in the same place he puts my rules about not coloring on the wall).

Then in anger I called out passive aggressively to no one in particular (but specifically my husband) something about having to handle all the things myself just because I’m “mom”.  (Translation: obviously we are in crisis mode and if my tirade and a crying child didn’t get you down here…I’m going to lay out an additional suuuuper subtle hint for you.)

Then I sat down for a brief moment, probably to stew in irritability even though my shirt didn’t actually get cut after all.  And suddenly it occurred to me…my husband had kissed me goodbye a good 15 minutes ago and left for work already.  He clearly had no idea of the shirt and scissors kerfuffle and thankfully he also missed my immature mom moment of taking my frustration out on him.

I’m actually relieved because the minute I realized he wasn’t there I saw my Mom meltdown for what it was- that kind of embarrassing time when my kids witnessed me yelling at literally no one because of a blue shirt.  I had made a mistake but since he wasn’t there I got to take it back and start over.  (How often does that happen?)

Whew.  With any luck he won’t even read this blog and he’ll be none the wiser. 😉

Now my big kids are at school and my son has been sneaking his own lunch while I type.  But I think its worth it to take a minute to cheer you up with my immaturity.


 

What about you?  Any embarrassing or slightly over-reacting moments from your parenting career?  Feel free to share- sometimes being able to laugh at ourselves brings us a little perspective on our frustrations for today.

What Twinkies Taught Me About Human Dignity

“Fat people gotta eat!” she said as she poked around an end of aisle snack food display at the grocery store.  She’d been talking half to herself, half to my three year old son who has the innocence and charm to engage many a stranger.

I was on a pointless search for an almond butter that didn’t cost a million dollars, but I smiled as she emphasized her statement by grabbing at her perfectly thin stomach.  I assured her that she was more than fine in the weight department but not to be deterred, she good naturedly revealed her undershirt to reiterate her point.

She never stopped moving and I wondered if she really cared what anyone thought of her, stomach or otherwise, the way she confidently rattled on, side-stepping social expectations in a delightful child-like way.  But as she poked her head around me to say hi to my son, she unexpectedly threw off my own sense of social balance:  As though she literally couldn’t help herself, she invited my sugar-loving preschooler over to a veritable heaven of Hostess products and said, “Want a treat?  You can only pick two.  Which ones do you want?”

My son hid behind me at first as though even he was unsure of what to do in this situation.  But confection wins out every time and before I really knew what had happened, he was throwing a box each of Twinkies and Ding Dongs into my cart.

Our new friend grinned and waved me along, “Just follow me and I’ll buy ’em when I check out.”

What had I gotten myself into?  I didn’t have a strong social map for this situation (do they make books for this kind of thing?), and all my brain synapses were firing on awkward.  How did this shopping trip turn into me playing follow-the-leader with a stranger who wanted to buy my kid infamously bad-for-you treats?

Still, though I may never know her whole story, I sensed that this woman might be someone who frequently found herself on the receiving end of help.  How often did she feel really seen?  How often did she feel the simple dignity of giving an impromptu gift to someone who couldn’t help their self?

So what that my three year old would have more Polysorbate 60 (apparently a Twinkie ingredient) than he knew what to do with.  So what that we didn’t need them and I could have bought them myself.

We continued our unlikely procession, she occasionally turning behind to encourage my lagging son to keep going.  At one point we split down different aisles but she told me she’d catch me up front.  My son, far more aware of the situation than I’d given him credit for, said in his earnest way, “Need her!  Red shirt!”  He could identify down to the shirt color the woman who was funding his treats and he feared we’d lost her.

But as we rounded another aisle she shuffled past and kept waving us along as though we’d never left her sights.  True to her word, she presented my son with his prize bag of goodies as she rung up her own things in the self check-out.  I scanned my items too and thanked her, enjoying her ongoing irritated conversation with the finicky self-check out system.  Before we left she told us where she lived and that we should stop by sometime and head to the lake.  Her generous sincerity somehow rubbed like sandpaper against my own inhibitions and slowness to welcome people with such open-handed hospitality.

As we walked out the door she called loudly to my son again, “Love ya babe!”  Maybe we’d call it taboo.  Maybe we’d say it was a lack of social awareness. But from the time we encountered her, the woman was simply reacting in the present with a warmth and realness that most of us would be too embarrassed to show.  (And maybe that’s more a tragedy than we realize.)

Though she didn’t hear him, my son, now tagging at my heels, met her free child-like emotion with his own: “I lud you too.”

And though admittedly I had to fight that place in my head that worried about my son freely throwing out “I love yous” to strangers, I started tearing up a bit at the exchange I’d just witnessed.  My son didn’t see the strange, the uncomfortable, or the awkward.  He didn’t care her gender, clothing choice, education level or race.  Yes he was mostly fixated on the Twinkies, but I also believe he saw her as an equal.  And isn’t that what I say I believe too?  That we’re all equals?

It made me stop to ask myself how I think about each person I see.  Do I really believe each person has equal dignity?  Do I honestly believe that each person I encounter has a dignity that goes beyond what they’ve ACCOMPLISHED, what they can GIVE, or how they PRESENT themselves? Am I so busy trying to secure my own dignity and worth through helping others that I stop seeing each person as intrinsically valuable?

Do I forget that our human need for each other doesn’t depend on our culture’s definition of who qualifies as “needy” but on the fundamental premise that each of us has some incalculable imprint of our Creator to share with the world?

Silly though my story may be, I didn’t give that woman dignity by letting her buy my son Twinkies.  Her dignity was her own beautiful birthright, Creator bestowed, not to be increased or diminished by a fellow creation.  But in letting her buy my son something seemingly insignificant, I believe I acknowledged in my heart the dignity that was always hers.  In watching her interact with my son I witnessed a piece of her that filled my own soul with more joy than a Twinkie has crème.

As I shared this story with my dad I lamented that my first reaction towards people is to see their social status, their worth according to culture, not their intrinsic dignity.  How can I change that first reaction?

And he wisely suggested that perhaps we can’t control that first reaction, but that God is more concerned with our “second look” at people.  Maybe we can’t help that first feeling of superiority (or inferiority even), that knee-jerk scan of who a person is and how valuable they are based on our first glance.  But we give that reaction to God and let Him shape our second look so that we are able to lay down our man-made view of dignity and see people through the filter of His free love.

So may we pray to acknowledge and embrace the full dignity of others on the streets, in our homes, and occasionally even in the Twinkie aisle.


Have a story to share about your own encounter with the dignity in others?  No story is small or insignificant…I hope you’ll share your moment and revelations with the rest of us.  Or start a conversation on my facebook page at www.facebook.com/lesstobemore. Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

Help! Is My Kid Broken or Am I?

Angry little voices broke the veil between reality and whatever vague dream my sleepy mind wandered in.  I yelled one of those pointless things we say as parents when we our plans don’t include dealing with petty and ridiculous now or ever.  “Everyone just work it out!”

I scanned the closest electronic device for the time: 6:30am.  For real, children?  As the arguing escalated, I went into the hall to find all three children awake with books creatively stacked across my daughter’s floor.  My brows went up, which is quite a feat for that hour: “How long have you guys been up?”

My answer-ready daughter filled me in: Her 6 year old brother had come into her room at some point in the night to “sleep”, which apparently translates more closely to “stay up and play”.  Alarmed by the prospect of handling severely sleep deprived children, I pressed further.  “Exactly how long have you been playing?”  She mused that it might have been starting to get light out when he came in.

(Can anyone say espresso please?)

Thus began one of those mornings when I knew exactly which kid would meltdown.  Sure enough, despite a relatively normal morning routine, my middle son was a puddle before 8am.  And by the time the bus rolled through, he decided he’d rather hide than ride.  My eight year old willingly stepped onto the bus but my son?  He threw off his backpack, kicked off his shoes, and retreated under a blanket on the living room couch.  So I mustered my politest smile (the last one of the hour) and sent the driver down the road with just one kid, my mind whirling about how to get my son out the door (for the love) for what was likely a regular day for most kids.

After delivering an ultimatum that should earn me an honorary lawyer’s degree, I convinced him to go to school and we dropped him off miraculously by 9am.  But even though it wasn’t easy, with him it could easily have been a lot worse.

So here’s my thing: am I intentionally raising one of my kids to throw tantrums and hit me when he’s mad?  Have I spent hours teaching one kid to obey authority while letting the others run amok with no direction?  Mm…gonna have to say no.

I have three kids- one who willingly complies and responds well to discipline, one that schmoozed two boxes of Twinkies from a stranger at the store today (not really the point, but still…), and one who is chronically difficult for me to direct.  Discipline and positive motivators alike…they’ve all failed at one point or another.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s an amazing kid: he’s sensitive, thinks of others, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to build rockets or bridges when he grows up.  But he also has bursts of anger that his almost 7 year old self should have kicked to the curb at age 4.  He gets very stuck in a thought pattern and has a hard time unlocking.  Sometimes he’s trying to be difficult, other times you can tell he feels like he’s the victim and he’s lashing out in his own misdirected attempt to right the wrongs he feels.  (And trust me, his episodes aren’t pretty.)

Often I feel like I’m doing something terribly wrong with him.  If I’d just been more consistent…if I’d just set clearer boundaries when he was a three month old.  If only I were more structured and less irritable.  And all of that has left me with guilt that is about as helpful as a hole in my window screen.

We could all be better parents (understatement of the century) but I’m realizing that’s not the only issue.

When it comes to our kids, there are some areas that we expect differences in.  We assume not all children will be equally athletic or artistic.  We understand that some will be amazing dancers and others will trip over their feet fifty times a day.  Some can belt and carry a tune at age three and some, well…bless their heart.

While we wouldn’t look down on all children for lacking the coordination to dribble a ball down the court, we sometimes set more uniform standards for what kids should be doing behaviorally.  We think ALL kids should be able to sit, focus, respond well to discipline.  ALL kids should be able to access words to tell us what’s wrong and deal with it rather than take it out in unhealthy ways.  And because we think ALL kids should be able to comply with our standard behavioral expectations, we either think something is wrong with the kid or with the parents and their discipline.

We say things like, “If that were MY kid…” or “If they just told him no more often…”  We label kids in negative ways.  We act like there’s an obvious, uniform answer for all our kids.  But what if there’s not?

Honestly, in the past I’ve been more judgmental about other people’s parenting or their kids. I probably still am occasionally.  But I’m beginning to realize what I wish I’d known long ago- just like all kids aren’t artistic or athletic equals- not all kids are behavioral equals either.

It’s not that we shouldn’t have healthy limits and goals for our children whatever their DNA and personality.  It’s just that we can’t plug in some easy formula for each of them and expect to get the same neat and tidy results.

Some kids wrestle with anxiety through no fault of their own or their parents.  Some kids throw hour long tantrums over something that other kids would get over in two minutes.  Some kids are naturally compliant and some aren’t.  Some, like mine, have anger bursts that surprise and undo me despite repeated attempts to curb and improve his behavior.

My point is simply this: each kid is so wildly different, and parenting is an all-out exhausting endeavor where you can’t use the same owner’s manual for more than one kid.  In my experience, the owner’s manual is pretty incomplete to begin with.

Certainly we as parents play a huge part in raising up responsible, well-adjusted kids.  But I also know this: each one of my kids processes and responds to direction, discipline, and motivators in irritatingly unique ways.

From missing buses to outbursts on one hand, to high-flung drama and irrational tears for another; from the sheer crazy of a three year old who crashes into everything, to an eight year old that I sometimes have to tell to please put down her book while her friend is over.

They’re all so very different.  And we as parents are too.  Parenting is part figuring out who my kids are and part figuring out who I am and uncovering how to meet constructively in the middle.  With discipline.  With goals.  And hopefully always with love.

I’m a mess.  My kids are a mess.  We’re not perfect and both my parenting and their behavior could be a lot better a lot of the time.  But we’re a work in progress and I imagine you are too.

If you have felt judged or incompetent as a parent because your kid didn’t seem to fit neatly into the behavior or discipline “norm”, please share your story!  How have you learned to let go of people’s expectations?  How have you learned to help your child or yourself overcome some difficulties (like anger, anxiety, OCD, etc) that other kids don’t deal with as frequently?

Let’s encourage each other with our stories.

 

Wanted: Failing Moms

I stifled my suffocating emotions as I cuddled the boy I’d reduced to frightened tears only moments before.  It didn’t matter that he had pushed all my buttons.  It didn’t matter that he’d angrily pulled the dresser drawers onto his bed and had plastered the floor with his crumpled clothes.  It didn’t matter that I’d started out as calm-super-mom patiently asking him to make things right.

He pushed.  And he pushed some more.  And I lost it.

Not in the “Christian” way.  Not in the “Oh Honey, we all make mistakes sometimes” way.  In the way that leaves you questioning why God would for a minute trust YOU as a mother.  What kind of mom could not just misplace her temper but lose it like a lego stuck in the van seat.

And for a whole night all I could think was that I wanted two things: one impossible and the other nearly so.  I wanted to rewind and undo my monster moment with my son more than anything.  And I desperately hoped in the basement of my soul that there was even one other Mom who had struggled with anger like I had.  Just one other mom like me that looked sweet and put together in church or the school pick up line but couldn’t always keep her stuff glued when push came to shove.

I scrambled through my list of friends, but fear has a way of isolating our worst broken places from the very people who could help us walk through it.  Sympathize with us.  Cry with us while we trudge slowly towards a better way to love.  And while I knew none of my friends were “perfect moms”, were there any that wouldn’t just listen to my bad mom confession, but silently nod their head and give me a look that said, “You’re not alone”?

Suddenly, I no longer cared whether I “looked bad” to other moms- I was overwhelmingly afraid of my capacity to BE a bad mom.  Not all the time.  Not most of the time maybe.  But in that broken moment when I didn’t have a blessed excuse to stand on for my actions.

So often the church and even school mom circles feels a little like that scene from “Mean Girls”

when Lyndsay Lohan (Cady) first gets invited with the “mean girl” clique to Rachel McAdams’ (Regina’s) home.  Cady looks on, confused, as the three other gorgeous girls take turns looking in the mirror and lamenting over their physical “flaws”.  One girl laments that her “pores are huge” and another decries that her “nailbeds suck”.  They’ve made it a ritual to feel better about themselves by each sharing some superficial shortcoming with the others.  But their bond is as shallow as their confessions.

In the same way, we’re willing to share what we consider our kind-of-bad stuff.  The way we’re hopelessly late because God didn’t bless us with an internal clock.  The way we indulge in a little too much coffee, but doesn’t everyone?  Even the cute little mistakes we make as moms like accidentally driving our kids to school on a national holiday or caving and letting the three year old help himself to a gazillion church doughnuts.  (Yes, I’ve done both.)

But when and where do we talk about the gritty stuff?  The real “bad mom” stuff?  The “I’m pretty sure I’m raising a murderer” stuff.  The “I cried myself to sleep over my mistake” stuff.  The mom fails that go beyond the superficial bad of dessert for breakfast or lying about the whereabouts of their toy when you know good and well you gave it to goodwill.

And while I’m not proud of myself, I figure the conversation has to start somewhere.  So here it is:

I’m not always a good mom.  I’m not always an OK mom, even.  Sometimes I screw up so bad I don’t want to tell any of you about it.  Sometimes I’m afraid if people only really knew… (and I’m afraid to finish that sentence.)

This isn’t a cry for accolades- I really am not looking for someone to tell me “I’m sure you aren’t as bad as you think, Sweetie.”

I want someone who will look me in the eye and tell me that I did screw up.  And then hug me and tell me that they’ve been there too.  Maybe not the same way.  But that parenthood has broken them in ways they’re afraid to tell anyone about too.  That they’re afraid sometimes of their own capacity to squish and scar the little lives they’ve been entrusted with. That some “bad mom” moments can’t be laughed away over coffee or numbed away over wine, but spill out in hot guilty tears in a pillow and linger long after the offense is over.

To any moms who feel this way: you. are. not. alone.  I see you and feel for you.  And while you may have made a mistake that isn’t “cute” or excusable- you are human.  And maybe you need to take a step to work towards change.  I know I do.  But don’t forget that your love for your child is so much stronger than that moment of brokenness.  Don’t for a second give up completely.  And whatever you do, don’t hide the shame away- because shame has a way of magnifying itself in secret and maybe our healing begins in pulling back the curtain to our vulnerable moments and letting someone see our real flaws.

So I’m putting out the application to you.. “Wanted: Failing Moms”.  Your brokenness is not too big for this space.  And if you need to vent publicly or through a private message, I’m more than willing to listen.  And I have a feeling we’re not as alone as we think.

How To Leave Your Vacation in 10 Steps (Vacation Days 7/8)

Sweet Connecticut!!!!

(Aaaand, now I’m going to have This Song in my head the rest of the week.)

We are finally home after leaving Virginia Beach yesterday and coloring all over the dining room mirrors of my friend’s house where we stayed the night.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Here’s “how to leave your vacation” in 10 easy steps:

1: Recognize the signs that you and your children are going into vacation insanity mode caused by lack of consistent sleep and routine. (Hanging off the coffee table while watching TV…check!)  2: Plan a family photo shoot the day before you leave.  Expect to take 80 or so shots of your kids, and leave with 1 or 2 that are…well…better growling than not looking at all.

3: Assess all the things that you had once packed so carefully…breathe in… and haphazardly shove them into the nearest available suitcase. Suck it up! Now is not the time to cry over a little disorganization!!

4: Walk your kids down to the beach to say “good-bye”.  Your desire to stare longingly out over the beautiful, rippling water will be cut short by your boys running away from you.  You should probably catch them, even though they’re being punks and they can totally hear you yelling at them to come back. Ahem.

5: Start your trip carefully following your phone’s GPS and trustingly believe it when it says the “accident in the tunnel” will only cause you an 11 minute delay.  After waiting in dead standstill traffic for 5 minutes, turn around in a mostly legal way. Er.  Close enough.  (It will take you months to trust your GPS again…but with therapy you’ll make it.) Pull over to take a depressing family picture while your husband researches a new route.) 

6: Regroup at a cute little rest area complete with lawn art and a toddler sized toilet.  (Decide to use the toddler toilet because frankly the bathroom line is unnecessary.) Be careful to avoid the “wet floor” signs…they’re kind of subtle.

Step 7: After some crazy rain and flash flooding, finally make it to your overnight stay at a friend’s house.  Let the kids run amok in her home and obsess over their exotic door mail slot.  

Step 8: Take your time in the morning to properly release your family chaos all over your friend’s peaceful townhouse.  Allow your friends to cook you an amazing breakfast and drool over the delicious Croatian leftovers they generously send you home with.

Step 9: Stop about an hour away from home to grab a bit to eat.  In an irritated attempt to find your son’s shoes that he likely threw during a moment of car rage, inadvertently drop the soft cooler that’s holding your new coffee mug.  Take a moment to mourn your loss. Step 10: Power through that last hour of trip and then beam briefly at your trip odometer.  Not too shabby.  Now, quit smiling and get inside to start unpacking and dealing with the post-trip melt-downs. These are simply signs that you’re alive and made it.  

(We loved VA, but it’s good to be back CT.  For those who survived all of our mini-vacation episodes…thanks so much for sharing this adventure with us.  It’s been a blast!)

Sincerely,

~Carrye

Hiding from Vacation (Vaca Day 6)

Well CT,

Tomorrow we’ll be returning to you and I’m starting to feel it.  The “it” of swimming in anything but normal, without the floatie of routine or consistency.  I’m feeling the lack of sleep, and questioning the sanity of my decision to combine a back to back late evening of gaming with my whim to catch the 5:55am sunrise.  I’m struggling with the oddness of seeing my husband every day and not remembering the last full conversation we had because although Virginia is for lovers, family vacation is not.  (The top scintillating conversations we’ve had so far this week are: “Did you put sunscreen on the kids, or was I supposed to?” and “I think I saw a jellyfish in the water.”)  In looking through our pictures, I found an unfortunate trend.  Let’s see if you can figure it out:

(Ummm, yeah, you can ignore that last picture my son took of me pretending to be attacked by a giant lobster statue…) But the common denominator for all the OTHER pictures above is simply that my husband and I aren’t in any of the pictures together because we’re always tag-teaming kid duty.  I actually think the fine-print on all family vacation contracts stipulates that couples-only pictures are strictly prohibited, with the exception of dude ranch trips or travel to Ohio and Yemen.)

As my mom said today, vacation feels like its supposed to be a delicious mini-slice of heaven on earth, and yet we’ll always be falling a bit short of perfection.  (Even with delicious food, precious family fun, surf and java.)

And eventually something about the relaxation of vacation actually draws a renewed desire for something truly purposeful and intentional in our pre-trip lives.  With any luck we leave paradise with a piece of peace, a reminder to slow long enough to savor people over agendas, and a vision of our smallness in the midst of vast creation that gives us fresh taste of humility’s wisdom.

But I’m not sure my emotions have quite caught up to all that wisdom, so for the next few minutes I’ll just finish hiding from vacation here in the AC without the kids.  I’m like a chameleon; I’m blending so well with the wall art I bet you can’t even see me.If you can’t spot me, don’t worry.  You can catch me in person in a couple days.

~Incognito Carrye

 

 

Three Ships to Neptune (Vaca Day 5)

Hi Again CT,

Miss us yet?  It’s been five days, not that you’re counting or anything.  Virginia decided today that we’d hung out together enough for her to be vulnerable and really be herself…so we got a scorcher.We might brave the beach later.  You know, at midnight or something when we its really too dangerous to swim, but we won’t succumb to heat-induced irritability syndrome.  (And I’m probably the most susceptible to that particular ailment.)

So instead, we took to the sea more figuratively…by checking out a nearby coffee roastery called “Three Ships“.  (Its named after the 3 ships of the Virginia Company of London that set sail in 1606 and landed here at modern day Virginia Beach.)

I’ll be honest…we didn’t all love it.  My middle child felt it was a necessary place to come unglued and take an undying oath to be miserable.  (And apparently the breathtaking smells of java and comfort food were offensive to his untrained nose.) So he and his dad checked out the hip umbrellas outside.Inside, the other kids happily ordered their iced “kid cappuccinos” (an actual coffee-free item on the menu),

And then we all sat and slurped our ice beverages, because when in Rome…And to my Avocado on Brioche, may I just say in a bad paraphrase…(Sorry in advance, Carly Rae) “Hey…I know we just became acquainted, and this is absolutely insane…but I’d love to give you my digits…so…you know, give me a ring sometime, perhaps.” 

Once my husband pried me away from coffee heaven, we headed to my son’s vision of a perfect outing: a trip to see the statue of Neptune at Neptune’s Park.  Because what could a 6 year old boy love more than checking out an oversized muscular hero awkwardly clutching a sea turtle.But although King Tritan here perked up my boys, my wave crashing daughter apparently does not do so well in heat without water.  So we stopped for a quick pick-me-up at a candy shop where we found this random squid…and such delectably unique treats as this…And do you know what my kids first choices were????  Jelly beans and a ring pop.  Pure and generic sugar over high-quality chocolate novelty.  Where did we go wrong as parents??  Anyway, that irrational candy decision making must have been exhausting, because two out of three fell fast asleep on the way back to our beach house.  And a 66.6% napping ratio is about as likely as finding a winning lottery ticket in a dolphin’s mouth.  And that rare miracle, friends, is how vacation is supposed to be done.  Until tomorrow…

Calm, cool and coffeed up…Carrye

 

Son of a Beach (9 Problems With Paradise: Vaca Day 4)

Don’t judge me CT….I love the ocean- really I do.  But there are just a few minor issues I have with paradise.  So I made a quick list:1. Rental coffee cups. (The one of the left.) For some reason, most of the lake-house or cottage rentals I’ve been in are stocked with coffee cups the size of thimbles.  I know we’re on vacation and everyone should be perky and happy but for. the. love.  I have three good pint-sized reasons to require heavy amounts of java regardless of the situation.  The mini-cup is “cute” in an itty bitty baby romper kind of way (aww…) but cute isn’t going to keep me awake.  So my husband picked me up a slightly larger model to try on for size.  And yes.  It is making me Awesome.

2: Beach crabs.  OK, they’re actually pretty cool and probably don’t belong on this list.  But this morning when I woke up early to catch some sunrise and read and I noticed all these little holes in the sand.Next thing  I know, I’m catching sneaky ghost crab movement out of the corner of my eye and a bunch of these little guys prairie dogging out, flinging sand.Not creepy all by itself…but I definitely got a little bit of that Hitchcock’s The Birds vibe from the whole thing.  Or maybe that scene from Jurassic Park when the tiny dinosaurs nibble that guy to his death.

3: STUPID ICE CREAM TRUCK!!!!  OK, does anyone else feel like ice cream trucks are the last legally acceptable form of child-stalking?  They started showing up at my kids’ school earlier this summer and my kids are well-aware that I’m not forking over the money.  The whole world can be at peace and then that irritating carnival music starts filtering in, hazy at first, and the kids melt faster than the ice-cream.  There’s a truck seriously patrolling our block and I’m afraid I’m going to forever have gorgeous beach scenes (like the one below from this morning) eerily tangled up with some creepy version of “It’s a Small World”.  Not cool.4: Shaving.  People, if you don’t know by now, I’m pretty low-maintenance in the beautification department.  I air-dry my hair and my shower schedule is more based around whether I wake up in time than on cleanliness.  (Now you know my shame.)  Anyway…who has time to stay beach shaved all the time?  I see all these apparently “normal” people who seem quite capable of smooth-leg upkeep…not this girl.  Hence my swim shorts and stubble-forgiving flowy bathing suit top.  Moving on before I say too much.

5: Billiards.  No, I’m not condemning billiards, you’ll have to watch Music Man for that.  I’m just saying I don’t play often…in fact, virtually only on vacation at this point. 

So when I played pool with my 6 year old today I had a whole bunch of ugly false starts.  Bad. I finally and proudly hit a ball in a pocket (kind of the idea) and that jerk of an 8-ball followed suit and fell in too.  Then my husband came to watch us and got a front row seat to my embarrassment.  Painful.

6: Photo ops.  I have a little issue with expectations.  I’m sure eventually these expectations are going to create an extensive money-making opportunity for some therapist out there.  And one of my expectations of vacations is that we document with photos. I don’t expect perfect pictures- I don’t need my kids to be matching or smudge free.  But it would be nice if everyone were looking, or heck even just angled slightly towards the camera.  And maybe if every pose wasn’t a growl or a karate chop move.  I don’t know.  Just saying. 7: Diabetes + Beach = LAME.  I won’t go into the whole dramatic sob-story of all my diabetes related fears, but let’s just say it complicates beaching.  You have to bring all this medical junk with you, and somehow I feel like I’m a bathing suit model for a hospital.  Maybe if I stuck a bow on my pump.  Eh. That and everyone and their mother is eating ice cream in front of me.  (Obviously not from the truck.)  And sometimes you just really want to gorge yourself on ice cream, but I can’t.  So I drink coffee instead.  Which only perpetuates issue #1.  8: Sand. You can really only tell your kids to “not throw sand” so many times. And its not even entirely their fault because the wind is a sneaky wingman and doesn’t leave a lot of safe places for shaking out beach toys.  But the eyes, children, for the love of all things sweet, watch out for the eyes!

9: ACDC.  Not the band, actually, I just made up a new acronym.  Air Conditioning Death Chill.  You know that amazing feeling you get when you walk out of the sweltering heat into the cool oasis bliss of an air-conditioned room?  And then, five minutes of AC later, you feel the need to check your children for frost-bite?  The back and forth hot to cold is just confusing. I packed for the beach weather, just not for the AC.

Well.  That’s all for now.  Wishing you peaceful, balmy weather as wonderful as ours here.  And maybe a little less sand?

~Carrye