Monday, August 12, 2013

A New "School" Year

It seems the world is all back in the back to school frenzy. After a summer of day trips and playgrounds, creek walks and fun everyone is school shopping and buying new clothes, books, pencils, backpacks, lunchboxes etc. The first year we chose to homeschool, I remember feeling a little nostalgic as everyone else was posting back to school pictures on Facebook. This year, I am also overwhelmed with feelings, but they sure are different feelings. While truth be told there ARE days where I wish I could just get a break and send the bigger ones off on the bus, I am SO grateful I have the choice to opt out of that scene.

I am so glad that every family gets the chance to make the choice of what works best for THEM. I don't think there is a one sized fits all answer for all families and all kids. I think there are great schools out there, and amazing teachers who are striving to teach outside of the box (Howard is one of them, though I might be biased). There may come a day where school works best for our family, but for now...I am grateful that we don't HAVE to subscribe to sending them to school every day.

I cannot count how many times people ask about our family and comment on how busy things must be and then they find out we "school" our kids at home and they make comments like, "I don't know how you do it!" or "You must be so patient", and the truth just fits for works and I am NOT SO patient, but God sure does provide me A LOT of opportunities to practice that skill each day. :)

For us, I am glad that as everyone goes back to school, we will get full run of the zoo, children's museum, science museums and playgrounds again, I am glad that we can live at a pace that works for us and incorporate learning into our activities all day long. For us a new "school year" never really starts because the previous one never really ended. We are learning all day every day and following the kids interests and we are astounded at how they are growing and thriving. Learning and living are one in the same and we've seen the kids just take off learning things they are excited about and that they likely wouldn't be necessarily learning in a classroom that is confined to teaching standardized test material.

It has taken us a few years and a lot of mistakes and trying to recreate school at home to realize, that I don't need to spend hundreds of dollars on curriculum and materials, letting a kid loose at the library has proven to be much more lucrative for us although, I also have learned to set aside a little money in the budget for the fees that often follow a trip to the library. Learning to trust these kids to KNOW what they want to learn and trust the process that they will WANT to be educated when it is made relevant to them has not been easy for me and sometimes I still struggle, but last year instead of spending a fortune on curriculum, I set aside some money for daytrips and projects and both Luke, Ben and even Hope went so far above and beyond my expectations that I just couldn't argue with the process.

“True learning -learning that is permanent and useful, that leads to intelligent action and further learning, can arise only out of the experience, interest, and concerns of the learner” ~John Holt

I feel like we are intentionally preparing our kids for real life. Learning isn't just for certain hours and certain days of the week here...we find teachable moments all day long every single day and it is a fit for us. As we begin our fall and Howard goes back to school, and tries to inspire and make a difference, I get to do the same for my own kids and I am grateful. I am grateful that I have that choice, and I am grateful that for those families who school is a fit for, get that choice. There ARE great schools out there, great teachers, and I am sure many great parents who supplement those schools and help their children learn and discover in their time out of school. There is no perfect situation, I am just super grateful we found what works for us right now.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Adoption: One Year Out

A year ago August 3rd, our adoption of Jacob was finalized. Little did I know this was just the beginning. I think I went into adoption thinking that it was the fairy tale that it looked to be. I was a bit naive and that might be an okay thing. I remember reading this blog from Jen Hatmaker and I can tell you that I referenced it more times than I can count in this past year. This year has, even with all we've been through been one of the hardest yet.

I am going to be real with you here.  We brought Jacob home and I was so happy to have him here and for us to be a big happy family, and for the first few weeks it was just that...but as reality set in I found myself disillusioned.  I expected to love him so fiercely in an instant, the way I did my biological kids...the trouble adoption, biology isn't on your side...there are no post pregnancy hormone surges to keep you euphoric and adoring as this child wakes up incessantly at night as he is only used to hospital noises.  For me, bonding did not happen immediately and it made me feel like a horrible person.  I was honest with our social worker that visited and she kept reassuring me that what I was feeling was normal and to just give it more time...that bonding takes time in adoption.

I'd read so many "Hallmark" stories of adoption and love at first sight, and that might be reality for some, but it wasn't for me.  I kept going back to Jen's blog to remind myself to put those feelings on the back burner and just let my hands care for this boy, I had to constantly remind myself that he was NOT in fact a tiny terrorist who'd come from Arizona to make my life miserable, but that he was a sweet gift of God who'd endured more than a baby ever should and that he needed to be held and loved and to learn to enjoy those things.

Each time he'd push me away, my heart would sink, I had figured that adopting him at three months was still early enough to bypass any grief issues or attachment problems...and I was wrong.  Adoption is NOT the natural way of things.  It is necessary BECAUSE of the brokenness of this world so to disillusion ourselves into believing it is a happy fairy tale doesn't do any one any good.  It is hard, it is heart wrenching, exhausting work.  It is worth every tear and every heartbreak.  Each time we lay ourselves down and allow ourselves to be His hands and feet to one of his children, he blesses us...boy has he blessed us.

It seemed like the more love I tried to lavish upon him, the more he resisted me.  It almost felt personal...he had more issues with me than anyone and I was the one who came to the hospital and got him...oh WAIT, I was the one who went to the hospital and took him from all he knew.  We sometimes think that because babies are so tiny, they are just resilient and can move beyond early hardship unscathed, the trouble is...those first weeks and months are key to development...they set the stage so to speak, and what we were missing was that we needed acknowledge that so that Jacob could move forward.  He'd missed out on all of those early snuggles and cuddles and he didn't know how to receive them...his normal changed in an instant and he was and is grieving.  

I have never lived life feeling so isolated, exhausted and overwhelmed...I have never had so many people in and out of our home on a regular basis watching us under a microscope to be sure we are thriving as a family.  I wasn't prepared for trying to learn to juggle biological family along with all of this or for sorting out what exactly is best for Jacob in that arena.   I read "The Connected Child" by Dr. Purvis and everything began to click.  Jacob wasn't showing a stubborn and tantrum throwing terrorist personality.  Jacob was simply using the coping skills he'd developed on his own.  Slowly we've begun to see our boy in a different light, we'd not given enough credit to the trauma he'd suffered.

Truthfully I say all of this and it has been intensely hard for us, but the hardship on our part isn't even a fraction of the hardship and loss on Jacob's part and once we really acknowledged that and educated ourselves on how to parent him, things have taken off at light speed in a much better direction.  We all know that each of our children need different things from us as parents and for Jacob, his needs are far different than the needs of our oldest three.

Parenting Jacob has been humbling, I've had to re examine all of my parenting techniques and all I thought I knew about child rearing and really come at it from a different angle.  I am beaming as I tell you that today my aunt watched Jacob for about an hour for us and when I walked back in he ran to me with his arms wide open and it might just have been the best feeling I've ever felt.  It was genuine.  He is my son and I am his mom, and it has taken time for us to fall in love with each other and I am head over heels.

Adoption has been hard, I am being authentic here, there are a lot of messy and hard things that no one tells you.  It has caused me to really make some much needed changes and examine my relationship with my kids, my husband and our God.  There were times in this past year that I wasn't sure I could put my feet on the floor and do this another morning, but one foot in front of the other, we did it.  Jacob is blossoming and he is TOTALLY a beloved member of this family!  He is the sweetest, funniest and most adorable curly haired little guy you can imagine and we are AMAZINGLY blessed to get to be his family.

I read this quote on a blog today and found it to ring SO very true in my heart...the bittersweet that is adoption is summed up right here...

"Adoption is an imperfect answer to an impossible question. I happen to wish that all Babies could be raised by their first mothers & fathers, the people who brought them into this world, the people whose blood history they share. But we don’t live in a world where “shoulds” always happen. Life is messy and painful, life includes loss and heartache. And so adoption exists.
And make no mistake I believe adoption is absolutely beautiful. I believe my family, built on adoption, is beautiful. It is the family I always wanted. It is the only family I wanted.  But I am very aware that I am the one in this adoption triad (the first parents, the child, the adoptive parents) who suffered the least loss to get to this place, to be part of this family. I am “the lucky” one."

Adoption is crazy hard and crazy beautiful and it has changed my life.  It has made me a more understanding, more patient, more compassionate person.  It has helped me to understand God's relationship with us in ways I never imagined.  Jacob was hand chosen for our family and I am so excited to see more of his sweet and spunky personality blossom in the coming years.  It has been hard for me to look at him and rejoice that he is my son when I know his first mom hurts and misses him.  I pray for her daily and I love her more than she'll ever know. I hurt for her but Jacob NEEDS me to rejoice for him...he DESERVES to have a mommy who rejoices for the gift that he is and rejoice I will!

If you are out there and you are in your first year and you are exhausted and overwhelmed, misunderstood and at the end of your rope...I urge you to keep hanging on because the miracle follows the hardship...I look back and see how far we've come and I am just so humbled that God has chosen to use us at all. It may not be a fairy tale, but there is HOPE!   I encourage you to seek out an attachment counselor and read "The Connected Child".  If I had to do it all over again, would I?  Well stay tuned...round two has already begun.  :)

His grace IS enough.