Monday, December 21, 2015

I Became A Mother In A Parking Lot

Motherhood is such a loaded word. 

How different mothers live into motherhood is always going to be very different, even when it's sort of the same. 

How mothers become mothers is a little more similar than different.  The baby has got to come out of the female body - vaginally or cesarean.  Of course, where and how babies are born differ in so many ways, depending on culture, geography, socioeconomic status, preference, and many other factors, but the truth is, there are two ways for a baby to come into the world.

Most mothers I know experienced this sort of introduction to motherhood - pregnancy, labor, delivery, and infant. 

A fewer number of mothers I know had a much different sort of labor and delivery.  

As a mother through adoption, my delivery occurred in a parking lot of a park and ride off of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  This was the same parking lot that my husband and I had met to pick up or drop off our son from and with his foster family for several pre-adoptive visits prior to his permanent home coming.  This parking lot wasn't special, it was just a simple matter of accessibility.  It was about the mid-way point between us and my son's foster family, so that's where we met.  

We came to know this particular parking-lot really well. 

However, on December 20, 2013 there would be no trip back to trade him off once again.  This time, we were picking him up to bring him home for good. 

We met in our usual spot, but this time everyone piled out of the cars as we moved the few things he had into our car, took pictures, shared hugs, and said thank yous and goodbyes.

My husband sat in the backseat with our son on the way home.  As I drove on the Turnpike, watching occasionally and cautiously in the rear-view mirror at my growing family, it struck me that I just became a mother.  

I was a new mom and, though the labor and delivery were much different, I was definitely feeling all the feelings of a new mom: 

I was overjoyed. 

I was excited. 

I was terrified. 

And I cried as I watched my family in the backseat - joy and fear, excitement and intimidation - I cried because I had just become a mother in a parking lot. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

"He Ate The Whole Biscuit!"

I received this picture as a text message this morning from my son's daycare teacher with the text "He ate the whole biscuit!" I was sitting at my desk at work when I opened the text and I actually started to cry. 

Tears of Joy.

My boy is so much like other three year olds in so many ways, that sometimes it's difficult for others to see how much he has struggled in his short little life.

Eating is one of those struggles.

For various reasons, my son did not really start eating solid foods until he was almost 19 months old. For those of you who have raised children or are in the throes of raising little ones now, just think about that.  

Actually, just think about what it takes to eat in general: how your mouth has to move so that your teeth grind the food; how you have to keep your lips closed (for the most part, anyway) to keep from making a mess; how you have to get used to textures and tastes; how to keep the food from sliding and hiding in your cheeks; how to know when you've chewed the food enough so that you can swallow it without choking; how its feels to swallow food; this list can go on, but the mechanics of eating are quite complex which is why babies are introduced to soft solids early in life.  It's a learning process.  One that my son was not introduced to at a developmentally appropriate age.  

So my husband and I began our parenting journey with some unique challenges, one of which was teaching our son how to eat.  We had the help of doctors and specialists.  We had a nutritionist come to the house every other week for weigh-ins and discuss strategies.  We went to a feeding clinic for feeding therapy.  We spent months with our little guy strapped into a high-chair (long past the age that most kids want to sit in a booster seat or real chair). We spent meal after meal eating with our mouths open so that he could actually see the process of chewing. Throughout meals, we would periodically open our mouths (yes, with chewed food) so he could see what it looked like.  We would say "Ah!" really loudly after swallowing and again open our mouths so he could see that the food was gone. His wonderful daycare providers would sit and spoon feed him baby food while the rest of his peers were eating their lunches of regular leftovers.  Needless to say, eating has been a huge challenge.  

And while most parents know the frustration at one time or another of cooking a hot meal, only to have it thrown on the floor or across the table or fed to the dog, I know that frustration too, but I also know the pain watching my child choke or think he's choking with almost every bite because of a sensitive gag reflex.  I know the pain of having a roll of paper towels handy at every meal because vomiting was a pretty common occurrence (yes, at almost every meal).  But mostly, I know the pain of severe anxiety that if he didn't make enough progress we would be facing some pretty serious medical interventions like an NG tube placed down his nose or a feeding tube surgically placed in his stomach.

However, with perseverance, help from professionals, and good luck, we have avoided medical intervention and my son has started making progress.  He's still not quite on the chart and he still has a medical diagnosis of failure to thrive, but he's making progress. 

He has foods he likes, he tries new foods, and he will open our pantry to pick out his own snacks.  Our pantry which is stocked with all the snacks I know to be unhealthy - the sugar and high fructose corn syrup abound in our "food closet."  It is filled with all sorts of snack foods right at eye level. Snack foods that I know many parents raising health-conscious kids would balk at - off-brand Doritos, cheesy poofs, crackers, gummy snacks, granola bars - but snacks that my son will eat.  He will eat!

So, I don't talk meals or food choices with other parents because others are pretty quick to judge about eating patterns and routines.  I was raised by a health/family and consumer science teacher.  I knew about proteins, trans-fats, and carbs long before the general public assumed those words in our societal vocabulary.  Every time I open a new bag of chips, I feel the weight of the phrase "poor food choices," but I open the bag of chips that I know he will eat and my heart is happy, because he is eating, actually eating.  Feeding himself, chewing, swallowing (without gagging or vomiting), and reaching in the bowl for more.  For more! These are victories in my house, not poor food choices, but victories. 

So today, my son ate a biscuit...and I cried happy tears because "He ate the whole biscuit!"

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My Son's New Shoes

I went shoe shopping with my 3 and a half year old son last week.  In an attempt to let him practice some autonomy, I let him pick out his shoes.  

He quickly bypassed Batman, Lightning McQueen, and all other "boy" shoes because his eyes were caught by a pair of pink sparkly shoes, decorated with the faces of the the queen and princess from Frozen.  My son LOVES Frozen (and even that is an understatement), so of course he would LOVE those shoes.  He shouted "Anna! Elsa!" and then grabbed the box and held it to his chest.  

I really didn't hesitate.  I asked him simply, "Are you going to wear those shoes?"  He responded with a resounding, "Yes!"  (Plus they were on sale, so that was great.)

For the record, my boy has never liked shoes that much, he wears them out of necessity, but he's never had a fondness for footwear in general.  These shoes, though, he was practically begging to wear out of the store. 

He and I made our way to the cashier and he just kept babbling about Anna and Elsa.  I was actually pretty proud of the whole shopping trip in general - he had listened well, held my hand the whole time, was engaging in conversation, and was really happy - so I was happy.  

I was happy to pay for the new shoes. 

I was happy to let him hold his shoes all the way home (we didn't put them on in the store). 

I was happy when he asked to hear his songs in the car - U2's album, Songs of Innocence. 

I was happy...until I thought about how pink those shoes were.  Really pink.  And really sparkly. 

As we drove home, my heart went from joyful over the whole positive shopping experience, to just plain fearful.  Those shoes in a matter of 20 minutes went from being a great chance for my son to make his own choices, to everything that I will not be able to protect my son from - teasing, mean people, accidents - all of it. 

Those shoes would probably not result in much teasing at his age (though we have had some neighborhood boys ask why he's wearing "girl shoes") but those shoes are just the first of many choices that I know my son will make in his life that will result in having to deal with mean and misguided people.  Mean and misguided people that I will not be able to protect him from.  Mean and misguided people that he's going to have to figure out a way to deal with in the moment, hopefully by standing up for his beliefs with grace and courage.  And I fear, because of those shoes, he will be dealing with mean and misguided people a lot sooner than I think I was ready for.  

However, I know that my son is strong.  I know most parents say this about their children, but my child has been through more in his short little life than anyone should ever have to...and he not only fought through and survived, he came through it being compassionate and sensitive, loving and willing to be loved.  This says a lot about the strength I know he has to stand up to the mean and misguided people he will encounter.  It also helps me to know that he will be ok. 

For now, he has been joyfully showing off his shoes to almost everyone and he hasn't heard the negative comments or seemed to have noticed the snickering as much as I have.  For now, we will celebrate the fact that he loves (LOVES) his new shoes despite what others may think.  For now, and for always, I will love my son and will do my best to be supportive...for all of the "new shoes" that we encounter in the future.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mother's Day Anxiety

Mother’s Day is fast approaching.  It’s a little less than three weeks away. 

I have been keeping a count-down of sorts to this holiday.

It’s a holiday that was started in the United States in 1908 by Anna Jarvis to honor her mother, who was a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War, and to honor all mothers, “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”  Which is actually very cool, if you think about how it started.  

Of course, now it’s more of holiday that seems to exist more for commercial purposes.

When I was growing up, Mother’s Day, was typically celebrated by spending time in the flower garden with my mother.  That’s all she ever wanted on Mother’s Day, that my sister and I help her plant, weed, and water.  I know at times, I was reluctant to participate in this family activity, but for the record, I always looked forward to it.

Early in my married life, Mother’s Day became a day that I quietly celebrated that I didn’t have children.  My husband and I were still very free from the responsibility of children and we loved it.  

About six years into our marriage, Mother’s Day became something that I secretly despised, because I wanted to be a mother and I wasn’t.  I was tired of being questioned on that day (and many other days throughout the year) about when I would have children. It made me feel sad and isolated and alone.

And now...I’m a mother.  

I’m a mother of a beautiful, sensitive, funny, strong three year old boy.  He is amazing!  He fills my heart with joy and love every single day.  I couldn’t imagine my life, or our family, without him.  He is my son.  I am his mother. 

He is also my son through adoption.  Which means that another woman carried him and gave birth to him.  

And here is where I struggle with Mother’s Day anxiety.

I have a lot of feelings about my son’s birth mother which will remain buried deep in my heart and never shared for all of eternity.  

My son’s adoption process, began almost a year and a half ago.  He was living with a foster family for several months as a two year old, before coming home to us. 

Read into that what you will, but it comes down to the fact that my son was taken from his birth mother by the state and was not returned to her. 

So, I count down to Mother’s Day...the day that I struggle deeply with a whole host of emotions for the woman who gave birth to my son.  

My heart and my head just cannot process and recognize Mother’s Day as a day to personally celebrate.  I celebrate every day that my son is who he is and that he is mine. However, Mother’s Day will never be a day that I proudly proclaim as “my holiday.” 

Maybe I’ll just go work in a flower garden and insist that my family help me.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Why I Hate Disney's Tarzan

My son has decided that Disney's Tarzan (1999) is a new favorite...and frankly, though I am not a super crazy fanatic, I love most things Disney.

Tarzan, however, is not my favorite...actually I think I hate it.

In case you have missed the basic plot-line of any Tarzan movie, it's pretty straight forward - A man raised by gorillas must decide where he really belongs when he discovers he's human (tag-line straight from Internet Movie Database).

Did you catch it?  Right there in the brief description of this beautifully produced, award winning movie?

"...when he discovers that he is human."

I know, I know, this may not seem like much, but I have been in a deep emotional and philosophical struggle with this movie for the past couple of months as my toddler is enthralled with it and we watch it with him up to five times a week.

In the words of Phil Collins song, You'll Be In My Heart, my son is "one so small" who "seems so strong."  And my son, much like Tarzan, was, not by gorillas (though I'm sure some days he sees me as one) and no, his birth parents didn't get eaten by a leopard.

(And side note here: Seriously, can this movie be any more depressing and/or emotional?!? In the opening scene, baby Tarzan and his parents are shipwrecked, they build an amazing tree house to start a new life, only to have his parents eaten by a leopard, the same leopard who eats the baby of the mama gorilla.  Then mama gorilla finds abandoned baby Tarzan. All scored by a super moving Phil Collin's song.  Way to set the scene, Disney.)

However, the fact that my son is adopted is the reason why I hate this movie so much.

The mama gorilla, Kala, finds baby Tarzan and brings him back to the band of gorillas and claims, amidst questioning by the others, that she's his mother now.  In this scene I am cheering for her - good job, Kala!  Way to claim your child!  Even though he is clearly not your biological offspring, there is no question in your heart that he is yours.  Way to go!

And then...

Kala raises her son to be one of the band of gorillas, which in and of itself is not a bad thing...but Kala NEVER tells her son the truth about who he is.  There are scenes throughout the movie where Tarzan notices how he is physically different, but Kala never addresses the why of those differences.  It is left up to strangers (Jane and her Father) to help Tarzan discover and claim his human identity when he is a grown man.  I repeat, it is not until Tarzan is an ADULT that STRANGERS help him figure out HIS STORY.  This is something his mother should have been doing all along. 

Now I realize that this is a movie about action, adventure, tree swinging, and the discovery of self.  Disney did not intend this to be a commentary about families formed through adoption and best practices to care for children who are adopted.  However, I tend to take it very personally and be very emotional when adopted children (even fictional adopted children) are lied to/not told the truth about their biological past.

Every family who has come together through adoption is different.  Every family will choose to share details differently and will choose to answer questions differently, but most families, these days, are pretty honest and open with their children about their adoption.

Kala did none of this.  She, at one point in the movie, helps Tarzan to see how they are the same (they both have eyes, ears, hands, and beating hearts), but she never affirms that "yes, you are different, because...(story however Kala wants to tell it)...but you're still my son and I will love you forever."

My son, physically looks a lot like me and my husband, but we have never hidden from him that he was adopted.  We tell him about the day we met and we tell him about his adoption day.  We also tell him that any time he has questions or wants to know more about his biological past, we will do our best to answer those questions.  

My son is three years old, but I want him growing up knowing that his adoption story is one for him to embrace.  My son also knows that his daddy and I love him "forever and ever and ever and always" and nothing will change that.

For now, I will deal with my anger and frustration over the poor parenting choices by a fictional gorilla mother by crying silently while we watch the movie together and over-eating chocolate while hiding in the kitchen...and I'm breathing a sigh of relief that I think we have moved onto Finding Nemo.