I Was Thinking…
Thirteen years ago today we successfully navigated the U.S. adoption process, the Russian adoption process, and then a Russian courtroom to finally be awarded custody of our beautiful daughters!
I chuckle as I look back and think both about how excited we were, but also how hard we thought it was.Yes, we had challenges...the pages and pages of application we had to fill out, documents we had to acquire before we could even begin, the wait, 42 hour plane delays, search for the father, 9/11 - will we even be able to go?, the first adoption in the region, expenses, KGB, judges disappearing 20 minutes before court, and so much more. But we were in love; these were our daughters, and we went WAY out of our box to bring them home. No Matter What!
Reality is that the process was preparing us for the REAL parenting. Hard was yet to come! While I would not change a minute of the past 13 years, I have to say that they have been both thee most challenging, but at the same time one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done! After my marriage, the "labor," "delivery" and "raising" of all 6 of my children has been my fulfillment!
The girls were 3, 4 and almost 6 when we adopted them. Their luggage/baggage was full. By that age, they had experienced more fear, loss and deprivation than most adults in the U.S. ever do. The lows got really low. The highs were few and far between for many years. I finally realized my goal was to help us be at neutral as much of the time as possible...which is harder than you might think!
Neutral would create a new safe experience for the girls. But neutral had all kinds of implications for our life. Neutral meant changing a lot. It was hard. It made us feel different. It made our choices hard to understand. It eventually created more closeness inside of our little family, but along the way caused huge gaps in our other relationships. We made lots of hard choices to be the girls No Matter What parents. Honestly, many times we were mad about having to make them. It was not easy or pretty!
The past thirteen years are full of defining moments. Moments I'd rather forget because of the things I said, thought or did and beautiful moments of healing and realizations. I wouldn't change one thing. It has made us all who we are today.
Yes, a little more gray, a few too many pounds from stress eating, a little shell-shocked, but also more aware of the responsibility of the power we hold to uplift and also break down another person's very being with our every move both as parents and fellow human beings. The way I see others has been forever changed. These thirteen years have helped me heal my holes and to tweak the unrealistic expectations that came from those holes. The understanding that I must meet others where they are at because that is the best they have to give our relationship has been life changing. I am a better person for this journey. (There are days in the past 13 years I would have argued with myself about this, but looking back I know it is true) I am a better wife. I am a better mother. I am a better daughter. I am a better friend.
We have seen great healing! We still see the ramifications of loss sometimes. Mostly, it just lurks on the fringes and not at the core anymore, so that is good. The challenges are still biggest for our daughter who endured the most without us, but I feel confident we have given her a "one and only" and she didn't have that before. The lows are nowhere near as low and there are lots and lots of highs. Neutral is now the place where we come back to when we need to rest.
I couldn't be more proud or feel more love for my three girls. I am excited to see what the next 13 years will bring. I work hard to remember what I have learned...I have to be careful about my next set of expectations. But I'll share my secret expectations with you - I dream of being surrounded by my kids and grandkids experiencing all the ups and downs of life TOGETHER!
I Was Thinking…
This week is a big week at our house. This week includes Adoption Day! Thursday would have been our court date 13 years ago and Saturday the day we arrived home. Big stuff!
There are so many schools of thought on what to do in regards to what to call this day. Many, mostly adult adoptees, have shared that the name "Gotcha Day" is NOT something they are comfortable with. As I have read about it and discussed it with some, they shared with me that it makes them feel like a thing, so to speak. They also feel it has a scary connotation to it. Like you are sneaking up on someone and you "got" or you "grab" them. I can really see their side of this situation. When you are a child with a history of abandonment, neglect, abuse, trauma, fear and confusion, I can see that your tendencies toward misunderstanding the positive intentions of this name would be great!. The reality is that my own daughter cried all the way home...from Russia! Many years later she told us that the orphanage workers had told her to be good because we were witches and if she was naughty we would eat her. The insight of these adult adoptees rang true for our situation so I changed my use of the lingo. I wanted to choose the more neutral words that couldn't be misconstrued in any way. Now we refer to our court day as ADOPTION DAY.
As for what to do, whether to celebrate or not, is another debate. There are so many variables to consider. Early on we wanted to celebrate because we were happy that our daughters had joined our family. We also wanted them to feel special. The first year we had a party and invited family and friends. To be honest, it did NOT pan out to REALLY be in the best interest of the girls. Sure they got gifts and were happy about that, but the anxiety they endured was horrible. We had fall out behavior from that party for days and days. The next two or three years we celebrated, but with just our family. The six kids, my husband, and myself.
The fifth year home was a reality check! As I finished painting the picture of our evening of celebrating our 5th Adoption Day, which entailed dinner at a local Chinese restaurant we frequented, then home for a Disney movie and bed, my oldest daughter looked me square in the eye and asked, "and then we have to go back to Russia?" Needless to say, I WAS FLOORED! Had she wondered this every year? I realized she was walking around waiting for "the other shoe to drop" and now we wanted her to celebrate it. Not a wonder we had fall out!
As our sixth Adoption Day grew near, I was contemplating about what to do. Celebrate? Not Celebrate? Then one day we were running errands and I had the two younger girls in the car with me. They were 9 and 10 by now. I remember it well. We were sitting at a gas station and I had just climbed back in after starting the gas filling. They had been chatting and both turned forward with their attention towards me. The oldest of the two was the first to breach the subject. She just put it out there. She asked if we HAD to celebrate Adoption Day. Needless to say, I was a little thrown off...I hadn't even known that they had realized it was coming up. When I didn't answer right away, she jumped back in and went on to say that they really appreciated us celebrating, but what they really wanted was to be like everyone else. They said they just want to be Mannings. They told me that celebrating made them feel different. What was I going to say? I made sure they were sure, of course. It was actually a beautiful moment! I was so glad that they could tell me how they felt, that I could so easily help them feel "normal" and that they wanted to be a Manning. My questioning was over; I knew exactly what to do.
So we no longer mark their Adoption day with a special event. It IS and ALWAYS will be a special day for our family, but we honor their request. However, I will always celebrate the day they joined our family in my heart! I give them extra hugs and just love them up a bit more than normal on their day. I am pretty sure they know why and take it all in!
I guess it all comes back to meeting your child where THEY are, meeting THEIR needs. Not getting caught in doing what WE think is the "right" way, or what others are doing. Truly loving them the way THEY need to be loved!
I Was Thinking…
Yes, helping our kids heal is a big job, but SO much of the struggle we as parents of adopted and foster kids face is about how the world sees our journey. Well, November is National Adoption Month and I am very excited to celebrate the dedication of so many adoptive parents! I plan to #ShineALight on all the good, the stories of commitment and NO MATTER WHAT parenting, but also the realities of the job, the many hurdles and how our children’s success is directly affected by the misunderstandings of society!
I want to help others understand our parenting choices. I want to teach others how to support our families and how to relate to our children without undermining all we are trying to build with them. I am tired of the commercials that say just love them and it will all be okay…that is NOT accurate! It takes so much more than that, much less a special kind of love! Yes, I want every child to have a chance to have a parent, but I want those families to be supported; it needs to come out of the darkness…this IS hard! Our kids are hurt and they are affected by their loss for a REALLY LONG TIME!
Society needs to know the real scoop! We need to tell our story, be candid, transparent and open. No, not all of the stories are hard, but many are and we need there to be a balance! It is so much easier to look the other way and think, what a great thing they did, but I want society to know that lots of times they are hurting. They feel alone and hopeless. And the REAL story is that they keep on going, No Matter What, even when it is different than everyone else, even when they are exhausted, even after they have been emotionally hurt time and time again. This is the story of adoptive parents!
National Adoption month is really about creating the buzz about adoption so that more children can find forever families and that is great! I passionately believe that we need to celebrate Adoptive Parents who are already doing it too!
People that know better can do better! My plan is to help others know better! We need to be held up not judged. We need to be consulted not ignored. We need to be taught not abandoned!
This does not come from a place of anger; it comes from a place of HOPE! If we work together to #ShineALight, I believe the end result will not only help a child, but the bigger result will be peace and happiness for whole families!