adoption, family

Do You Deserve Love? Are You Sure?

ychurcheaster

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!

momkid

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.

menLuke

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.

papahat

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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family, parenting

Why I Don’t Co-Sleep, and I Don’t Care If You Do

yhair

I Lied. This entire post is about to be a lie! My husband and I always had a pact. We would be the only two people in our bed.

We would make time to spend with just each other, every night. Mom and Dad’s “Special Married Time” was sacred in our house. Yes, sometimes our kids would wake with nightmares, and we’d tuck them back into bed. But then Luke and I would return to bed. Alone. We like to spend time together and we like to have sex (and here’s how I had to explain it to my kids!) We both think it’s important to our marriage. So the bottom line is, “no kids allowed.”

But then we adopted kids. Traumatized kids who came from hard places. We did our best to maintain that boundary, until last night. It was our 9 year wedding anniversary. We’d been together for 10 years exactly (We got married on the first anniversary of our very first date.) After a decade together, we wanted to do something special. Since my recent back surgery, I haven’t been able to do much, though. The original “out-on-a-date” plan was replaced with a tentative plan to make very, very gentle love, then have chinese food and watch our new favorite zombie show in bed. I even put on make-up! (Carl’s comment was, “What happened to your face?!)

And so, we put our children to bed. Mary began to sob and cry. Her eyes weren’t even open but she was crying. She hasn’t been afraid of bedtime in almost 3 years. Ever since she got back from the hospital, and I had my back surgery, she’s been afraid again. We’ve done our best to soothe her fears. We use a soothing sounds noise machine, a sensory pillow, her blankie, essential oils, and her favorite cat. Carl even slept on the floor of his room one night so that she could see him across the narrow hallway and wouldn’t feel “alone.” He tired of that after about 3 nights of her waking up crying.

OK, I lied again. We attempted to put Mary to bed. First dad stayed with her. Then I awkwardly hobbled in on my walker to lie uncomfortably on her bed to hold her. She claimed she “couldn’t breathe” because she was so scared. I held her back against my chest as we breathed in and out together using a “belly breathing” technique to calm her. Then I rubbed her back in circles and whispered soothingly, “mommy’s here,” over and over again until she finally fell asleep. Then I clumsily angled of of her bed and back to my walker. Ouch! Definitely time for my pain medication.

Now, Luke and I knew she would wake up again at some point. She is really and truly scared, probably because she is triggered. It may be my back injury that makes her scared to be away from me. It may be that she has been away from us at the inpatient unit in the hospital. Either way, Luke and I knew our anniversary celebration was on a time schedule. So we got to it right away. And then we put our Pajamas back on and went to sleep.

Sure enough, Carl woke us up around 1:00 AM to tell us, “Mary is crying AGAIN!” Not being able to go up and down the stairs more than twice, a day I gave in. We ALL needed sleep after the last week of Mary waking to cry repeatedly through the night. “Send her up,”I said, defeatedly.

Mary came up, clutching her blankie, hiccuping and trying to stifle her sobs. “Climb in,” I told her. And she did with an instant sigh of relief. We all slept amazingly well after that. Mary was snuggly and warm. I typically snuggle Luke but this was even rather pleasant.

I realize that every family is different. Some people do this all of the time. Hey, I don’t judge that. If this is what works for a family, then why not? After last night I am able to see the appeal of holding your child close and helping them to feel safe. I just don’t personally want to do it all the time.

So I spoke to Mary about how we would need to address her new night fear with her therapists. She agreed. I explained in a gentle way that we love her and we want her to feel safe. We just don’t want her in our bed every night. I held my breath and waited for her to protest, or beg, or even cry.

Instead she nodded and said, “Yeah, I don’t want to hear Daddy snoring all night, either.” Well, there you have it!

 

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

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adoption disruption, family, grief, parenting

Switching Shampoo: Grief in Distupted Adoption

So, Luke is pissed. Pissed. Mad, steaming, angry, seeing red, blow-a-gasket, pissed. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my husband this mad in nearly a decade. Today just happens to be one of those days. He is typically calm and steady. He is always the voice of reason. Just, not so much today. His exact words were, “Of course I’m pissed! I’m sick of them! They did this to you on purpose and I am pissed at them! All I hear about is them and look what they’ve done to you! Do you see me calling them? I won’t do a thing to help them. I’m not going to play their games.” He is, of course, right. They were trying to hurt me as deeply as possible, thus making it easier for them to walk away. The “they” he is referring to are Marcus and Sean. Our 17 and 14-year-old boys who recently disrupted out of our home.

It worked. I am but a shadow of myself these days. This day, in particular, has been difficult for me. A friend’s 14-year-old son attended a social function with her recently. He obligingly took pictures of us grown women acting like silly children. He held his baby cousin most of the time. Sure, he rolled his eyes at his mother and poked fun at her, but he was there.  He was right there with her. I went home and cried for hours. Today I’m mad and prickly. I’m snapping at everyone for no reason and I can’t seem to get back on track. I feel like there’s a cartoon storm cloud brewing over my head and I’m just spoiling for a fight.

I sometimes feel that my intense level a grief over these teens is a huge inconvenience to him and to the rest of the family.It can hit me so hard over the smallest things. I look at the door knob on our basement door and remember Marcus installing it. I stumble across Sean’s favorite chicken salad sandwich in a picture at Dunkin’ Donuts.  There are times that it consumes me so much that I cry. I spend time alone. I go into our room and shut the door to be alone. I can tell that I am not myself. In our family I am usually laughing and baking brownies and singing crazy songs. I always find the bright side, the half-full glass, the silver lining. Lately I can’t seem to find my own smile.

It occurs to me that I can switch back to my old shampoo again.  Sean was so hyper-sensitive to smells that I had to switch hair products. This was to keep him from gagging on long car rides with me. I still buy the Sean-approved brands of shampoo and conditioner, out of habit. Why am I doing this? Why am I holding out hope? Why can’t I let go? My therapist tells me that I don’t need to let go. Grief is a process. I am grieving the loss of a child. But, wouldn’t it be easier to let it all go? Wouldn’t it be easier if they just weren’t my problem anymore? Sometimes, in my deepest, darkest places, I admit this is true. It would be so much easier. If we had never become this entangled with them, if I had never fallen in love with parenting these chickens, wouldn’t things be better right now? They would be, but that isn’t the point.

All anger is born of fear. I admit that I am angry at the teens. It comes and goes. I am angry because I fear that they never really loved me, even a little bit. I am angry because when I am in my darkest place, I fear that I didn’t actually make any impact on them. I am afraid that I wasn’t a good parent.

Luke is afraid, too. He is afraid for me. He is afraid that the fun-loving, optimistic wife is MIA and he wants me to come back. I am precious to him and he wants to protect me. Of course he is mad.

If I am being honest, the hardest part was losing Sean. When Marcus left, I wasn’t all that surprised. He has struggled back and forth with loyalty to his biological mother for a long time. He went through a phase before where he got incredibly close to me and then just completely cut off contact. He always seemed to have one foot out the door, in case things didn’t work out. Not so with Sean. Sean was my cuddle buddy, my cooking buddy, my constant companion. Now he is my yesterday, my memory, my once-upon-a-time.

It’s not as if they are dead. They simply don’t wish to be in our family. They can’t handle being in any family. The question is, how do I move on? How do I come back from this? And then my fear creeps in. Do I ever come back from this? Can I?

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

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