adoption, family

Do You Deserve Love? Are You Sure?

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Why are we able to receive love from others? What  does it do for us in our daily lives? How do we know that we are worthy of love? How do we expect others to love us? Can we and should we reciprocate that love? Is love helpful or is it dangerous to us? Have you ever questioned any of these things?

I haven’t. Each day when I venture into the world I am wrapped an invisible blanket of my husband’s love. It acts as a buffer for me when I face adversity, frustration, or disappointment. Sure, I might get frustrated or make a mistake at work. I might embarrass myself in a social situation. It doesn’t penetrate my protective cloak. None of these negative experiences define me. The upset they cause doesn’t change any core image I have of myself. I still believe in my own innate goodness. After all, I am cherished by someone. I am safe. He knows the real me. He sees me. He hears me.

I do not question my right to be known in this way. We have been married for almost 10 years now. In the first year of our marriage we lived in the tiniest apartment imaginable with little shoebox bedrooms. I remember having to climb over the teeny full sized bed to open the drawers to my dresser. We didn’t have any money. We lived in a bad section of the city where we both worked. Each night we would fit together like puzzle pieces in that narrow bed. Luke and I whispered and laughed quietly long into the night. Bills and city shootings be damned. It was as if we were apart from the rest of the world in our own private cocoon of young love. Somewhere during that time I developed the odd habit of tucking the soles of my feet into the back of his knees while we slept. It reminded me that I wasn’t alone. I was seen. I was heard.

The first year we brought home our little chickens was both the hardest and the best. Being a new mom filled me with a sense of joy and contentment. We were also living in the middle of their intense trauma responses and seemingly chaotic functioning. There were many times that I questioned if our children were happy with us. Were we the right parents to give them what they needed. But I had someone who believed in me just as much as I believed in him. Even though our children weren’t in a place to reciprocate our love yet, I still had that invisible cloak. I was seen. I was heard.

Whenever I would doubt myself all I had to do was tuck my feet into the back of Luke’s Knees. On the couch, in bed, it didn’t matter. This one action reminded me that I belonged somewhere. Physical touch is my primary love language. I read somewhere that the average couple in the U.S. spends only 3 seconds per week kissing. I found this to be ridiculous. I probably spent 3 seconds in the morning kissing Luke before breakfast. Having a physical relationship is probably the most sustaining act of love for me. Dancing in the kitchen with my husband, making love, the feel of his legs on the soles of my feet even though we now sleep in a king sized bed, these things sustain me. They let me know, despite any circumstances we face, I am seen. I am heard.

Please don’t think that I am recommending for all readers to walk around sticking their feet behind their unsuspecting partner’s knees. That would be weird. What I am saying is that we all have our own relational roadmaps. Love sustains us. How do we know that we deserve this? What was it that gave me the map to believe this? How does love, in any form, sustain me?

The answer seems so simple to me.

I am safe to love zombies, because of my mom. She gave me a roadmap  that showed me I am worthy of being seen and heard. She also gave me my favorite book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. My dad was unreliable throughout my childhood. He always loved me but he was in and out of the picture. He didn’t really see me. He didn’t really know me. From birth, my mother has always been the consistent variable in my life. I love zombies? She hid a stuffed zombie around our house performing various tasks such as making coffee or reading a magazine. I needed spinal surgery? She was there. Twice. Someone noticed me. I was important because she was seeing me in all the glory of my good, bad , and incredibly weird parts. And let’s face it, I was a pretty rotten teenager. Sorry, Mom!

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Mom with baby me.

When I was young my mother wore Bluegrass scented deodorant by Elizabeth Arden. When I needed comfort I would lean against her and just breathe her in. It was the scent of home.When we crossed a busy street I reached for her hand automatically. When I insisted on wearing a pot on my head to preschool, she rolled with it. She survived my painful 14-year-old self torturing an innocent guitar. Her touch kept me safe. Her love kept me safe. To this day, when I pass the Elizabeth Arden counter in a department store I become instantly calm. I smile. Home.

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Luke and me

That roadmap of love created a template that I now carry with me. It taught me to love others the way I was loved as a child. Well, maybe not the torturing a guitar part. No, Carl CANNOT have an electric guitar.  I’m not that good of a parent. Mom taught  me what kind of love I deserved. Now I feel safe in my relationships. When I married Luke I chose wisely. I knew instinctively that I deserved a partner in this life who would treat me a certain way. I deserved to be seen. I deserved to be heard. Also, he didn’t (attempt to) play an electric guitar. Whew!

My step dad wanted to wear flippers and a cape when he married my mom. It didn’t even give me pause. This fun-loving, zany guy was a good choice for her. It never occurred to me not to love him. Family means safety. I do not question my importance in his life. I do not question his batman footie pajamas.  My kids know him as “Papa.” He provides me (and possibly Gotham City) with a sense of safety. I know beyond a doubt that he sees me. He hears me.

I recently had a scary appointment with my neurosurgeon. After having an extremely rare reaction to the titanium implant in my back, we needed to discuss the possibility of removing it. My fear reaction was visceral. I needed both of my parents. Cape or no cape, Papa had to save the day. I knew he would.

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Papa

I hope to give this roadmap to my children. It’s almost impossible for me to understand why it’s so hard for them to accept love. Their experiences from their biological home shaped a different outlook. I’ve never been through those things. I cannot imagine what they have survived. All I can do now is follow in the footsteps of my parents. I want my children to grow up with their own stuffed zombies. Wear whatever capes or pots they choose. And hopefully, they find their own Luke. Everyone needs a place to tuck their feet in.

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Mary’s 8th birthday cape, made by Nana.

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption, family

Love Notes: Adventures in Hypoarousal

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“She doesn’t speak,” is what they told me, 2 years ago. Her disclosure paperwork referred to past trauma that caused her not to speak outside of her foster home. Her social worker spoke to her through an older brother. “Very sad, confused, little girl” was the description in a letter from her teacher.”Selectively mute,” said the hospital therapists. She stared at the ground with her head turned away. She simply didn’t respond in public. Mary would fold into herself and become as small as possible. She would hide away behind her brothers, or in a corner, anywhere she felt she would remain unseen.

Hypoarousal is the term used to describe this condition. It’s one way that children respond to continued trauma in their developmental years. They shut down, try to block everything out. They make themselves so small they are almost no longer a part of the abuse that is taking place. And yet, they are still there. Trauma stays with them no matter how they try to shut it out.

It’s hard to remember the Mary of 2 years ago who silently stared at the floor while picking at her fingernails. She spoke to me on the first day that we met. It was only a few words but it was enough. The second time we met she stared intently into my eyes, as if to size me up. She fell headlong into this family. Mary opened up in a way that was unprecedented for her. She began to engage and talk and she wanted to be heard. She would be silent no more. Along with this flood of words came a flood of pent up emotions.

The trauma she had fought so hard to avoid, to ignore, came crashing back. Along with her words came her rages. All of those feelings of hurt, sadness, and fear twisted into rage. Those feelings were simply too much for a 7-year-old girl. The trauma was too much. At times she would scream for hours. She smashed everything in her room. She bashed her head into the wall. She stabbed me with pencils and bit me and clawed at me with her nails. She tried to break out of the windows in the car. All the while her mind would be in another time and place. She would think she was with another mom, in another home. She was expressing all the anger she never let herself feel.

During those early days I questioned a lot. Maybe she didn’t like this family. Maybe she was unhappy living with her brother Carl again. Maybe taking her out of her foster home was a big mistake. Maybe she would never attach. Maybe she could never really love us.

In those times of doubt I would look at her sketch book. I would see her school art projects hanging on the fridge. In every single one she drew her family or wrote her full name with our last name. She drew the words “mom & dad” in curly cue letters all over each project and picture she made. She would leave elaborately painted flowers and mermaids with the caption, “Mommy” for me to find. They were love notes. Despite her unleashed feelings of rage, she was also experiencing great big feelings of love for her family.

Now, 2 years later, I can look back and see. I know she had to go through those early stages in order to trust in this family. She had to believe. She had to learn that she was stronger than her feelings, stronger than her past. Mary is 9-years-old now. She’s had 1 violent meltdown in the last 12 months, and it didn’t last very long. She is still learning to regulate her feelings, but she is winning against her trauma.

Today, Mary is a cheerleader on a team. That once-silent little girl shouts and jumps and leads the group in chants. People watch her and she loves the attention. Our daughter, who once wished to be invisible, is now the focus of the crowd. I am so proud of this little warrior.

Tonight I tucked Mary into her bed, and looked around. She has her artwork from the past few years displayed on the walls. I spotted an old rainbow etching she made me in those first months home. It said, “I love you mommy,” at the bottom. A love note. A love note from the time when those words were so hard to say. A love note from my daughter to me.

I love you too, honey. I’m so proud of you. This is my love note.

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

 

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adoption, family

The Weight of the World

It takes a village to raise a family. Logically I know this, but sometimes I don’t ask for help. I’m not sure why. My family life is complicated. Sometimes it feels like it will take an army rather than a village!  I’m protective over our children because not everyone understands their trauma. I’m hesitant to let others into our little world (outside the bogging community…obviously!)

After injuring my back at work, I’m starting to see how much I can’t do on my own. This scares me. 

At church this Sunday, our Reverand prayed over me. She offered prayers of healing for my back. It went something like this:

“Dear Lord, please help Abigail heal. She carries the weight of so many on her back. The weight of work, the weight of her family, the weight of responsibility. Heal her and watch over her. Amen.”

The Reverand is right. Sometimes it feels like the weight of the world. Parenting is hard work. Work is hard work. Heck, being a grown-up is hard work! The thing is, I’m not alone on this journey. I have a strong and loving family. 

Over the holidays my parents made the journey from the mid-west to our little New England town. They sold their house. They left their friends and their church behind. They came with their cat to live in a house they’d seen only on the internet. They did it for our family. For me. 

My mom has flown out to visit us in the past. She’s offered me backup when we were in crisis mode. She’s visited Mary in the psychiatric unit of the hospital with me. My mother has seen the Littles rage and anger. She also sees their love and creativity. She has never once questioned their place in this family. She just loves us, warts and all! 

My parents now live about ten minutes away from us on the other side of town. They come for dinner, we go to church together, and they take our Littles occasionally to give Luke and I some alone time. My step-dad makes “black cows” for the kids with coke and ice cream. My mother reads aloud to them as she did for me so long ago. My husband takes my step-father to doctor’s appointments. It’s family. We aren’t alone out here, not anymore. 

I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have my mommy when I’m hurt like this. She’s offered to drive me places or come with me to work. She keeps me company when I’m stuck at home. Sometimes she makes me coffee with a bit of Kaulua in it. She loves me. When I’m with her I am reminded of a time when I was safe and small and someone else made the tough decisions. 

Luke and I are not alone. I don’t have to carry all of the weight on my back. For now, my body is telling me to slow down. I’m hurt but I have my family. 

I only hope that one day I can be the kind of mom who radiates safety and love. I want to be the mom who shares the weight of the world. When I finally grow up? I want to be just like my mom. 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved. 

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