At the end of the day

**We’re having a flash giveaway of an Ergo brand baby carrier: Click here to read how!  Ends Monday 10/8/12!**

So done.  I am almost ready to read a parenting book.  I have nothing left.  My children are behaving like they are on a sitcom.  Walk-ons in a sitcom where naughty children who are too bad to find endearing bring a rain of destructiveness and meanness down on the maligned main character.  Somebody please take over.

Loving them when I can’t like them

I have been trying for the past three days to dig out from the laundry and destruction they have created, and if anyone so much as breathes a sigh that sounds like “make them help you clean it up” I will Chuck Norris roundhouse you through this computer screen.  When the only good part of your day was Facebook, you know it was a complete waste.  And that’s even with my “super-homeschool mom” trip to a country park to walk the trails to find different kinds of leaves for our leaf book.  J and L wouldn’t hear of it and said “I’ll just see them on the ground.”  I don’t even have a picture to show you because it was so obnoxious that even the dog ran away.  (She did come back, covered in rank duckweed and slime.)

The coup de gras (which as a Spanish student, loosely translates to me as “top of fat”) was the complete sham of a bedtime routine we just pulled together that spanned the ranks from JR putting his pull-up on upside down in bed with his feet banging the wall during prayers to Lumpy having a complete fit about using the potty.  It was a battle I wasn’t about to lose, after spending each morning clogging up the washer for the first three loads of the day with tinkle duty since Friday.  Growth spurts hit this family hard.  As I was reduced to yelling at Lumpy to get her pull-up on, I realized that there was no parenting happening.  Just a full-on fight.  Parents versus kids.  Her only need was to say no to me.  My only need was to get her to comply.

You’re expecting me to say something like “and that’s when I took a deep breath and realized…”  But no.  Heck-freakin’ no.  All day long that little girl pushed me and disobeyed me and taunted me.  This garbage has to end.  I gave her space.  I let her twist her actions into compromises.  I was firm.  I put her in time out.  But at the end of the day, there was nothing left to teach.  Unlike JR, she never tantrumed and raged uncontrollably.  She fought tenaciously.  I got the pull-up on her, but I can’t say that I won.  I set her, screaming, in the bed and walked away, disgusted with it all.

Fine, laugh at me, but I really am trying my best, and don’t know why my kids don’t appreciate it.  But, I’m not supposed to say that, because that’s the kind of weakness older people see as an excuse to make a condescending comment about.  And I would tell someone this: Kids aren’t ever going to appreciate anything, because they are inherently selfish, as they were made to be.  Yes, I know that.  But what it feels like is that I must have done something wrong.  I must have ruined the day and spoiled my kids.

But in the middle of this lump of poop day, JR wrote down his own song today called “I love God.”  Cal pushed Hoss on the swing while I took Lumpy to the Port-a-Potty.  And Lumpy stopped pulling Hoss’ arm out of the socket when he screamed and bent down really low and asked “Hey, Hoss, do you want to be the princess now?”  And, I got Lumpy back and sweet again in time for a good night kiss.

At the end of the day, when all of my efforts were for nothing, sometimes all I get is a small reminder that I can try again tomorrow.

The Perfect Day

I always seem to know when I’m having a bad day.  Because it deviates from my perfect day.  So what is my perfect day?  I honestly don’t know.  I’ve never written it down before, but I do know that other people seem to have them as their “normal days,” with the “tough days” occurring at the frequency of “some,” as in “some days are like that.”  Well, my “less than perfect” days are the standard, if I’m honest here.  So, to have a frame of reference, I think it would be good if I actually wrote down what this mythical perfect day actually looks like.

7 AM: Wake naturally from the sense that it is morning and I own this day. Next to me is my husband, who is holding the baby/toddler who wandered in last night and wanted him, not me. I get dressed, make the bed, and have coffee brewing. I eat a bagel before going back upstairs to brush my teeth. Check facebook and email and only encouragement is waiting for me there.
8 AM: Children wander downstairs already dressed. They sit at the table and respectfully ask for cereal and juice and say “how’d you sleep mom? I dreamed I was a tiger!” Husband leaves for work and has lunch in hand that I thoughtfully individually proportioned for him while putting away dinner last night.
8:45 AM: Children have placed own bowls in sink and dog has not finished anyone’s cereal from off the dining room carpet. Everyone has used the potty without me telling them to.
9 Am: Children sit around table for morning routine (we read the Message Bible for like a minute and a half–the word devotional is ridiculous) and children seem to listen and don’t need scolding to sit still. Baby plays independently and doesn’t climb up sister’s and brother’s backs in his pursuit to ascend the table.
10 AM: We have gotten through two homeschool lessons with each child working with minimal assistance outside of instruction. All pieces of whatever I slaved over laminating are back in their bag. No one has a crayola mustache.
10:30 AM: We have snacks and the children actually go outside when I tell them to. I somehow discover the inner desire to wash the windows and vacuum our barely messy living room that only requires two minutes to pick up toys (which I will sigh messily over, thinking how wonderful I am for allowing the children to be children). I don’t need to bring out the carpet cleaner to suck up orange juice that isn’t allowed in the living room anyways. I don’t have to extract tape from every soft and hard surface a 4-foot reach from the ground.
11 AM: After the children don’t bring anything living or sand-based back from their outdoor adventures, we all go down to the basement and clean up together. I get a brilliant idea for lunch, and they continue cleaning and start an impromptu play while I go and fix a lunch that doesn’t involve a packet of cheese powder.
Noon: Children eat meals without crying. Hoss and Lumpy go down for nap at same time.
1 PM: Cal and JR and I bring out the microscope and investigate small creatures and household dust.
1:30 PM: We all sit down in the clean house and I fold a load of laundry while they watch and educational program. I finish folding and lay down next to them for a 30 minute power nap.
2:30 PM: Littles wake up and we all go play outside. Hoss doesn’t attempt to eat anything made of earth.
6:30 PM: Dinner is ready and made and I’m not exhausted.
7:30 PM: We play a family game. No one walks away crying.
8 PM: Bedtime routine.
8:30 PM: Kids in bed.
9 PM: Kids asleep. Pops does dishes while I write pithy blog post that receives 400 hits and adulation.
10 PM: We feel no guilt from avoiding doing something today.
11 PM: We head to bed and read for half an hour, until Hoss has his nightly wake-up, from which he will let me set him back down in his crib in peaceful rest.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask. Actually, it’s kind of boring. It’s not even that funny what the children aren’t doing. My perfect day is kind of…pathetic.

I don’t know what that means, but I have to say I still want it. Even when I’m typing here at 9:25 AM while the kids are still watching TV in their jammies, unfed, un-diapered, and I think I have a tinkle bed to change upstairs. Maybe we still have a chance at our perfect day, but I doubt it. Is it my fault? Probably? But, are we all going to be here, a day older and crayola-covered by the time it’s night again? God-willing. Most days we just get through it. But even when the perfect days are few and far between, we seem to fake it with moments of perfection.

Cal writing a book for her brother while I’m rocking the miserable baby Hoss to sleep for 45 minutes.
Lumpy laying herself down for a nap when she feels tired.
JR getting himself dressed and throwing his tape leftovers in the trash instead of in the couch cushions.
Hoss bopping to a song playing on Pandora while I try to come up with something for dinner at 6:25 PM.

Maybe the moments are all we can hope for. But I’ll always compare the bad days to the perfect ones that never seem to happen.

Heavy Work

**Our Auction to Bring Thadius home is now live!  Please check out our 50+ items, including an incredible hand-blown glass vase, Hoover vacuum, Ergo baby carrier, Gently used Halloween costume swap, Russian Language program, Silpada gift card, jewelry, and much more!***

Today was our third day at Vacation Bible School in our church.  With my three big kids and two “nieces of the heart” attending, I figured I better strap Hoss on my back and participate.  I have been stationed with the three-year olds as self-appointed potty master, spontaneous game provider, and conversation starter.  I love it.

The best thing about it is a little boy in the group who just reminds me so much of JR at 3.  He needs to wander sometimes, has to touch things–ok, everything– and interrupts with brilliant ideas.  For fun, let’s call him Matt.  Matt is simply not designed for the contained movement /quiet listening activities that an indoor class requires.  He can do it, sure, but only for short periods of time.

I seriously love him.

The other kids (even bouncy Lumpy) are content to sit and listen to a story while Matt’s feet are tapping out heavy metal drumbeats on the floor in front of him.  What on earth are we supposed to do with a child like Matt?  Like my JR?

Heavy work.

Little story for you.  Sometimes a woman in labor is interrupted by getting in a car, an unsettling nurse or doctor, or having an anxious relative in the room.  If this woman’s body secretes an adrenaline rush, it can take 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity (or a whopping dose of Pitocin, no comment) to overcome its effects.  Vigourous activity refocuses the body.

Antsy kids are very similar.

You can start disciplining them (“Sit still, Matt”), physically redirecting them (“Hold my hand now, Matt”), or punish them (“You’re going to have to leave the room if you can’t participate, Matt”).  But, you’ll fail.  The thing that reverses the antsy-ness in these kids is heavy work.  All of my kids need this some days.

I didn’t always call it “heavy work.”  I learned the term in this incredible adoption book, which should really be re-packaged as a plain old parenting book, The Connected Child.

I watched the practice of it through two amazing adoptive parents who committed fully to helping their son overcome his destructive behaviors.  It works like this: instead of making our expectations more clear to a bouncing, distracted child, my husband and I try to put their muscles to work.  Here’s how we do it.

1)  We set the task.  Note, no correction, I go to kid, and make the offer, no preamble.  A distracted child has a very hard time knowing what will bring him back down to earth.  This can be:
-“I really need someone to move 12 logs from the woodpile next to the shed.”
-“Can you please pull this laundry basket filled with all the books on the floor upstairs to your bedroom?”
-“Can you take all of the cans and put them in this box for me?”  

It has to be weird enough that the kiddo is intrigued.  Also, it can’t just be just a running activity or a large body-movement activity.  Those activities seem to ramp my kids up and encourage more distraction, with the calm alertness following maybe 30 minutes later.  It needs to have some resistance to make it count.  By setting the task for him we are also ferreting out true “energy overload” from disobedience. (The disobeying kid will refuse in a nasty way…well, my kids will anyway.)

2) Let go of any expectation that kiddo will return to a chilled-out state immediately.  Let him do heavy work until the group starts a new task.

3) Don’t make a big deal of it.  Thank him, and move on. Defend him if other kids ask what that was all about: “JR was just helping me with something.”

Today we were two hours in, and fresh from the creative (light) play room, where there was no splashing allowed at the water table and you could use playdough while sitting only. This meant music time was doomed from the start for Matt.  The problem came on suddenly, and I intended to step back, as one of the counselors was his regular babysitter. But I intervened when he was cornered, and about to be begged to sit and listen.  

I approached them and asked Matt to push the chairs across the carpet for me, which he could accomplish soundlessly and out of the line of sight of the other kids.  Without hesitation, he complied.  He moved heavy wooden chairs one side to the other five times while I stood back and “ignored” him.  The teacher, however, noticed, and came up to correct Matt, leaning on the chair he was about to start moving to get him to stop.  I don’t fault her at all.

The traditional model of good teaching means full compliance from every student, to ensure the knowledge is transferred and none of the other children are distracted.  But Matt is three years old.  He has ages to put in place the ability to override his body’s need to move in a way that is deliberate and calorie-burning and with great purpose.  But, he also has a good three years to be corrected, disciplined and pushed before he is ready into this desired outcome.

I came up to our teacher a half-second later, and briefly explained he was doing the work for me.  It really wasn’t fair of me to spring such a radical idea on her, directly in her line of sight, while she was in charge of the whole class.  She did smile indulgently at me, and continued the class, like it was part of the plan. Wonderful woman.  But, I thought it was worth the risk of insulting her, because Matt was so, so good at it.  When he initially refused to sit down, he wasn’t asking for unstructured, special exemption, breaking the rules time.  He was asking for something he could do with his body that would let some of the anxiety he was feeling burn itself out.  

At craft time, 10 minutes later, he sat down, was engaged in the craft, and was just part of the class.

And I felt really good.  Actually, egotistical parent that I am, I came here to brag about it.  But, mostly, to give you, and your kid, another tool. Our children were designed to learn with physical movement and play at this age.  We are transferring so much knowledge into them at such a young age, desk time is considered more and more valuable.  Maybe these ideas will let our classroom-bound little ones have access to heavy blocks instead of light-weight cardboard ones.  Or carry weights in relay races instead of light batons.  Or have full-weight balls to hurl at a target instead of lightweight foam balls to gently toss. Are we truly trying to teach our children that they must always be gentle? I’m not.

Heavy work can be lifeline for children who have not yet mastered homeschool or traditional classroom expectations of impulse control, contained play, fine-motor skills, and good listening.  I hope that someday when they are able to do these things, they will not be defined by the discipline and stigma of who they were as preschoolers.

Concerned

People who don’t know us and insult us are trolls and don’t deserve our attention.

But, people who do know us, and ask about our adoption with no interest in ever agreeing with us call themselves concerned. These are not the people who are concerned at first and want to hear how we are planning to do this, with a chance of saying “ok, then I’m pulling for you.” These are people who are concerned after we talk. They are still concerned after they read my blog. They are very concerned after they hear us “beg for money.”

The only way to explain it is that some people think it’s sinful to throw away a comfortable life for you and your kids by pursuing and bringing such a happiness time-bomb into your life.

These people don’t know about our kind of happiness. As gently as I can, I want to explain.

My kids aren’t happy because we are care-free.
My husband isn’t in love with me because I look a certain way.
I am not in love with my husband because he has a good job.
We are not secure because our bank accounts are full.
We are not promised able bodies because we were born with them.
We are not lucky because our biological children were all born healthy.

My kids are happy because we love them, discipline them, and meet their needs.
My husband is in love with me because he knows my heart.
I am in love with my husband because he is fully available to our family.
We are secure because God has promised to meet our needs.
We are promised a life bigger than any we could plan, sometimes through adversity.
We are lucky because all of our children have been hand-picked by God for us.

I know that the origin of their concern is love. But when the concern has no end, and we are willing to walk away if God sets a roadblock before us, it begs the question what should a family that rescues a child with Down syndrome from an Eastern European orphanage look like?

Should they be childless?
Should they be wealthy?
Should they have a sibling with Down syndrome?
Should they be experienced special needs caregivers?
Should they be older?
Should their children be older?

Because Reeces Rainbow alone has 500 children waiting for someone who qualifies. Are there 500 families in the United States right now who meet all of those criteria?

But how could Psalm 68:6 be true, then? God sets the lonely in families.

Well, why isn’t God doing this anymore? Why is He abandoning these children?
Oh yeah. He’s not. Families who are called don’t have the energy to fight all of their concerned relations. It’s just too radical.

And there are just so many orphans, why not pick one who has a shot at a normal life? Those “Downs babies” will never give anything back.

The mom of Andrew Banar would beg to differ. The mom of Dylan Keuhl would beg to differ. The mom of Sarah Ely would beg to differ.

And I know why these people are concerned. They see us and know we are not saints. They see us and truly believe that the reason we are happy, and they are not, is because we have everything good going for us now. Because they want our kind of happiness, which they see as founded on luck and circumstances. And we are gambling with it. Using our happiness and our children as the ante in a delusional poker game. How is this fair to our “real” children? Why can’t we just take care of what’s at home? How will we ever retire?

Your mission field is in your home already.

So, here’s what I cannot explain. Our kind of happiness does not come from events. Our kind of happiness does not come from luck, or health, or from fertility, or from money. These things only enhance our happiness. The source of our happiness is a peace in our hearts that tells us that no one is forgotten by our Maker. Our happiness created a marriage based on trust, and compassion. Our happiness allowed us to give up control over the size of our family. Our happiness sustained our decisions when we chose to birth at home. Our happiness has caused us to live a life that concerned friends and family consider far too radical to be rational.

And if what I have just said does not make your brain flood with peace, then I can never explain your concerns away. We are in this world. We are not of this world. We dare to love like God has loved us.

And in a few short weeks, you will be able to look at our precious, perfect boy. Let’s say we get all the way there, and he is not available to be adopted anymore. It doesn’t matter. If he is well, and is being loved, we will rejoice. Because we know every step we are taking is not for our personal benefit. It’s to grow the family God has placed in our care. To safeguard the child He has chosen for us. To advocate for the children we will be leaving behind.

And, if you read my words, and want this kind of happiness, but don’t want this kind of calling, it’s ok. God will never shove you into international adoption kicking and screaming. No one has ever accidentally ended up adopting except in a Hallmark movie. We offered God our lives when we committed to become a family, when we married in the Catholic church. God offered us His life when He offered His son on Calvary. If we believe that He loves us and cares for us more than we could, and loves our children–all of our children–more than we could, how is this little boy, who needs our undivided attention for three 10-day trips and a Chevy Suburban’s worth of funds, be remotely considered anything but a blessing? He asks for so little. Our city is overwhelmed with resources and opportunities, and understanding. We are not special. We are barely sacrificing. We are continuing our lives, but adding an extra child. A child who will present greater challenges because he was institutionalized for a year than because he has 47 chromosomes. We are prepared to meet these challenges as best as we can, and God will equip us for the rest.

And now, if you still consider yourself concerned, I beg you to please do so silently. Don’t talk about us to our families, don’t speak about us when we are not there. If you wanted to know, if your heart was open to change, it would happen. I will pray that it does.

But we are pursuing Thadius’ adoption because God has made a way for us to pursue it. Your continued concern will only bring unhappiness for you and separation from us.

We are not concerned at all.

***

We have been so honored to be in contact with the young men and woman mentioned above. We will be featuring Dylan’s art and Andrew’s products in our Auction to Bring Thadius Home, being held via Facebook from 8/15/12 until 8/31/12. We are delighted to share in Sarah’s passion for all things Ohio State by offering our supporters “the chance to be in the band.

Closer to You

Tomorrow I will share our newest fundraiser project!  Stay tuned!

Some days I can’t believe we’re actually making progress on adopting Thadius, but we are.

Many people were thinking that once our home study was complete, and we were approved to travel, we would be bringing our son home on that trip.  Our country in Eastern Europe works a little differently.  So, in agonizingly sparse outline form, here are our next steps, as I understand them, that will lead us closer to our sweet boy.

Our homestudy is being finished right now.  Once finished, the homestudy needs to go to two places.

1) The US customs and immigration service does this beautiful thing now that allows adopted children to avoid having green cards, but quickly become American citizens.  To do this, we pre-approve our adoption through them so that we can get his travel visa at the US Embassy (with his country’s passport) just a day or two after we get him.  To prepare, we submit the USCIS form and homestudy here.  They will give us an appointment date to go get fingerprinted for background checks.  The approval should come within a month after that.

2) The whole homestudy must be included in our referral documents.  We have not been matched with Thadius officially.  Once we send the giant packet of documents (marriage certificates, financial statements, etc.), our country will match us with a child who fits the description we have provided.  Magically, this will be Thadius if he is still available.  (There is less uncertainty in this than it seems.)  1/3 of agency fees due at this point.

3) We receive our referral in 2-6 weeks and get to show you his picture!

4) We receive an invitation to meet the referred child so we can officially accept the referral. Remaining 2/3 agency fees due at this time.

5) We travel to the country for 5-7 days.

6) We meet with a magistrate and officially accept the referral.  We return home.

7) We compile any remaining documentation into an official dossier and submit them for translation ASAP.  In the meantime, our facilitator sends a paper back to the adoption center in our child’s region (about 30 days) and requests to bring our whole dossier before the judge.  Facilitator receives a date to bring dossier in.  Facilitator receives a court date (that we need to be at) 3 weeks out or so.

8) We receive the court date to return (now 2-3 months from our last visit).

9) We return to country for 10 days, get doctor’s exams, and appear before judge.  Adoption is granted, pending 30-day wait period.

10) 30-day wait period during which his family members may appeal.

11) We return to country for 4-7 days for gotcha trip.  Adoption from country is official!  Stop at US embassy and receive visa for our little man, who will become a US citizen when we land on US soil.  He will have dual citizenship with his birth country until age 18.

12) We have 4 follow-up visits from 3 months to 3 years from our social worker, who will write 4 brief reports to submit to the country that our child is doing well.

***

So, when I say we are acting in faith, you can see, I mean it.  When I say we are doing this in obedience to God’s call for us, I mean it.  When I say we aren’t doing this for personal gain, but to give life to someone for whom no one else is coming, I mean it.  Last year, fewer than 1,000 children were adopted from this country.  Even fewer of those children had an identified special need.  When I say that this is not only a huge financial hurdle, but an emotionally trying time, I mean it.

But when I say every word of encouragement is a blessing to us, I mean it.  When I tell you every dollar that you have given us tells us we are rescuing someone valuable, I mean it.  When I tell you that we will not grow weary, that we are achieving a level of organization, follow-through, and persistence we would have previously thought impossible, I mean that, too.

Because bringing Thadius home is not impossible, only difficult.  And we are not alone.  We have the greatest support network of families who are walking here with us.  But, even more importantly, we have a community of readers and friends who look at us, and look at the list above, and don’t see impossible.

All they see is one step closer to you.

Lessons For a Dollar

Every weekend after the offering at Mass, a kids’ offering is collected. That means that our kind priest holds the collection basket and swirls his finger in the air over his head, signaling the round-up. All of the children run forward and place their donations of money or a note about what they are sacrificing or doing this week in service to others.

My wonderful son is five years old. That’s old enough to see that money means things, and that mommy and daddy determine where the money is spent. Yesterday at the overcrowded farmer’s market, we saw a man selling pop guns. JR was instantly drawn to them, and I offered him both reasons we would not be getting that today: “We didn’t come for pop guns, but aren’t they great?” And the reminder “That’s not in your budget,” …clearly not what he wanted to hear.

So this morning, when it was time for Papa to hand out the kids’ dollars for the offering, JR refused to go. He didn’t look at me, he just smoothed his dollar out and rolled it up again, and said no. I reminded him that the money is used to do God’s work on earth, and if a friend was hungry, wouldn’t you invite him for dinner? The answer was still no, and Mass continued.

As we went up for communion, I gave JR another chance to drop his money off.  He refused.

After Mass, I explained that it really isn’t our money, but God’s money that He enabled us to earn. I asked JR to decide if his dollar should go to the collection or in the garbage. When we hide our offerings from God, it’s better that we put them in the garbage than to buy something for ourselves.

And that’s when he put his head on my shoulder and cried with the pure grief only a five year old can, “I want to buy a pop gun.”

Oh.

I saw it all in that moment. He didn’t know how to get what he wanted, and giving this dollar up would put him so far behind. I saw what a million mothers before have seen: a child who can’t have the desires of his heart, looking in the wrong place to get those things.

Oh.

So, I hugged him. Mass was long over and we were sitting out on the back steps and his heart was just able to hear. I told him our little secret. That when we give to God what belongs to God, He gives us the desires of our heart. That when we refuse to give more because then we won’t have enough, we are missing out on trusting God to meet our needs.  I told him that, even though we don’t have all the money to bring Thadius home, we are still giving money to families who have a more immediate need than we do.  We know that God is meeting our every need, and want.  JR said again through tears “I really want a pop gun.”  I put my arm around his shoulder and we headed out.

And just when I thought all hope was lost, as I walked our little boy back to the car, he put it in my hand.

A rolled-up, so much closer to a pop-gun, dollar bill. He pushed me back towards the church, and asked me to give it for him. We did it together.

Tonight I’m going to make a chart. Just this one time, instead of the usual $1 to earn this week, JR is going to have the chance for six. Five for a pop-gun, and one for church. Sometimes God works on a heart who can give you so much more than what you could ever raise on your own.
***
To date, your donations and purchases have raised $4,671. We are 1/3 of the way to being fully funded. Thank you all so much for letting go of the dollars that would have brought your own pop-guns home.