I Grew You in My Heart; An Adoptive Mother’s Tale

444_1059332878140_804_nOne of the hardest things a mom can hear from her daughter, I think, is,

“You can’t tell me what to do. You’re not my mother!”

Sigh! Ouch! Hmmmm… I had expected to hear those words someday. I thought I had prepared myself. But my mind is blank. I’m searching my mind for words to say.

“But I’m the only mom you’ve ever known.”

…Inadequate words for a tense situation. How do I explain to my 13-year-old daughter that being a mom is more than simply giving birth?

I think back to the phone call I received asking me to be your adoptive mom and the subsequent nervous anticipation of your birth. I remember the crazy nine-hour drive to greet your arrival into the world only to arrive after your birth. I recall holding your tiny self in my arms for the first time and falling deeply, irrevocably in love. I remember the fearful excitement I felt the first time I changed your clothes before leaving the hospital. You were so small and precious…were you breakable? I remember taking you home for the first time well aware that your teenage birthparents could change their minds and take you away from us.

I think back on sleepless nights, rocking you in my arms and singing lullaby after lullaby until you finally drifted off to sleep. I remember watching your misery when you broke out in chicken pox, nights spent in the hospital when you had asthma, and watching the pediatric emergency dentist extract your loose baby teeth after your fall on the dry and hardened Southern California lawn. I think of the many times I suffered through “advice” from well-meaning aunts, uncles and grandparents about discipline; spanking, time-outs, consistency…all traditional methods for a nontraditional child.

I remember watching the same videos over and over. I hear the stories I read to you before bedtime and hear the songs I sang, night after night until you fell asleep. I smile at your silly antics; mud bathes, imaginary friends, belting a pillow to your backside for protection when you were learning to roller skate, the wonder in your eyes as you examined spiders and bird’s eggs and toads, your pouty face when you wanted to get your way.

I remember kicks and screams and tears and worrying if we would be accused of being child abusers or kidnappers as we carried you through the mall as you tantrumed. I remember questioning my parenting skills when nothing seemed to work.

I think back on the hours we spent in meetings with teachers, principals, educational psychologists, special education teachers, occupational therapists, psychiatrists, doctors and neurologists. Letters were written protesting inadequate school policies geared toward traditional learning styles that discriminated against different learning styles. I remember being angry and hurt for you because the “system” won, then trying to support your disappointment with the outcomes of these policies, finding ways to cheer you up and make you feel smart and special and loved.

Motherhood is the ache I feel when you suffer, the joy I feel over your accomplishments and successes, the day to day moments watching you grow and develop, the cookies baked, the foods served, the bathes given, the diapers changed. It is the warmth of snuggles, the tears shed, the worry deep within my heart if I am doing the right things and making the right decisions for you. Being a mom is all that and more. It is much, much more than growing you in my belly. I am your mom. I grew you in my heart.

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Cookie Cutter Kids in a Colorless World

20150416_190352As I was perusing Facebook I came across a post that began “Back in the old days….” As I read this post I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable.

“…We came home from school & did our homework, no game playing.” After being in school for six or seven hours, I think these kids need a break. They need to play. They need to exercise and move their bodies. In fact, I’d say, they shouldn’t even have homework. Many educators agree that homework does not improve learning, and in the case of my kids, it even worked towards developing a distinct hatred of school, where learning became a burden rather than a joy. Even since we began home schooling, it has been difficult for my son to get out of this negative mode of thinking.

“We took our school clothes off and did not go outside and play in them.” Purely on a laundry saving, water saving, ecological viewpoint, I’d rather my kids didn’t change two or three times a day. School clothes get dirty at school, so if my kids want to roll around in the grass in them when they come home, I would be fine with that. Since we home school, school clothes and play clothes are one and the same.

“We didn’t sit & listen to grown ups talk, we left the room until company left.” I really don’t get this one AT all. Are they saying that kids are incapable of carrying on intelligent conversation? Are they saying that it is rude for kids to be in the same room with adults? Are they saying that adult conversation is inappropriate for kids? Are they saying kids…I really don’t get it. In my reality, my kids would rather not hang out with boring adults anyway, but they DO have that option. I believe that kids can learn a lot about the world by being around adults, and some kids relate better to adults than to kids their own age.

“We ate what was cooked, or nothing.” In addition, many households during this time required the children to eat everything on their plates before being allowed to have dessert. There are a lot of families who still have these sorts of rules; however, when you have one or two children with sensory differences you tend see the world a little bit less rigidly. It’s hard to force a child to eat chili if he hates spicy food, or to eat black beans if he will only eat refried. So I make adjustments to the menu. I make my son a quesadilla instead of making him eat chili. Of course, in an ideal world, I’d love to give up my job as short order cook, but with hungry skinny kids, I will stick with it a while longer. And hey, let’s all eat dessert first!

“When told to do something, we did it. We didn’t say I will do it later”. I will give them a concession on this one. It IS nice to have my kids do what I ask. However, what makes me feel uncomfortable is the implication that if they don’t do it there will be severe punishment. I want my kids to learn to do things because they are part of the family and have responsibilities, not because if they don’t, they won’t be able to sit down for a week.

All too often adults look back on their childhoods and seem to say, “I survived and I turned out okay” then they raise their children the same. Nothing changes. No one changes. No one grows. No one steps outside the box. They are raising a bunch of cookie cutters in a colorless world.

I believe that children are creative, colorful and intelligent human beings. They are entitled to have opinions, to have likes and dislikes, to do things in creative ways. When we hold our kids too tightly to rigid rules and see our way as the only way, we stifle their individuality and creativity. I don’t want my kids to grow up JUST like my generation. It is a different world now. Cookie cutter kids will not flourish in a world that changes so rapidly.

Spring Cleaning

Spring has sprung and my mental list of to-dos has turned another page.

  1. Clutter Clean-up
  2. Take the clothes my kids have outgrown to the Salvation Army (the stack is getting huge)
  3. Clean up the yard after the snow and ice of winter
  4. Plant grass seed and flowers
  5. Clean the refrigerator
  6. Wash windows

And that’s just the start. My most important task, however, is to re-evaluate my son’s home school plan. Cameron is in 7th grade and has, in the past several months, progressively, come to a stand still in his learning journey. I have failed, it seems, my most important job. Have I been so enamored with all the cool things I could teach him that I neglected him, his interests and his learning style?

We have been on the home school train with Cameron for about three years now so you would think we would have it all together. But it hasn’t been easy and when I look back I wonder if there isn’t a better road to take. This journey started when, suddenly, my preteen boy suddenly decided NOT to go to school. I begged him to go, I pleaded, I tried logic, loss of privileges, and my go-to-convincer-of-all-things, I bribed. Nothing could persuade him to return to school. After discussing this somewhat thoroughly with him, he finally asked to be home schooled. I did some research, talked to my husband, and away we went.

Home schooling is challenging in the best of circumstances, but when you have a middle school age boy with ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome it can be even more challenging. He likes to do things on his terms and in his time frame and nothing, I mean, NOTHING, can change his perspective.

I am not a helicopter parent. I am an easygoing peacemaker. I step back and offer advice and give my children my opinions and my perspectives, but I generally leave the paths they take up to them. I believe that my children are intelligent human beings and have the ability to make decisions about their own peculiar lives. I give them the power to make mistakes or to soar, to shine or to crash-land.

We have had a lot of bumpy roads along the way. At one point I threw in the proverbial towel, because of his stubborn refusal to do “the” work, and we sent him back to traditional school. That lasted about three months and suddenly he refused to go. AGAIN.

Yes, I am probably a sucker. Yes, I am probably easily manipulated. Yes, if I held out he might get with the “program”. But when I looked at things from his perspective I tend to understand his unusual logic and the subtleties of his unique functioning. He has noise sensitivity and touch sensitivity and learning challenges and social awkwardness and he is easily overwhelmed. The classroom was crowded and noisy. It was too small for so many children. I know I would be overwhelmed, so I can only imagine how he must have felt.

So, now we are back on the home school train. We run into roadblocks. We have lots of starts and stops. We start one thing and change to another. We try one method and move on to a different method. Cameron gets bored easily with the same routine, so we switch things up and try a different routine. Around Christmas things started to go south, then he had major surgery so we talked about giving “unschooling” a try until after he had recuperated and then we would “re-evaluate the situation”. I would love to give him free-reign and let him choose what and how he learns, but I fear that his propensity for gaming outweighs his desire to actually learn. So now, we have begun to “talk”. What about switching it up and trying something new? …AGAIN. But what? How do I convince my 13-year-old Asperger’s kid with ADHD to do something schoolish… yet still allow him his autonomy? Is that even possible?

I’m consistently inconsistent, I’m afraid, I am confused, I feel guilt, I worry, I lose perspective, I get frustrated, I question myself. But it isn’t about me, right? It’s about Cameron and his journey. As long as I hold out my hand to catch him when he falls, as long as I give him a boost so he can fly, isn’t that what’s important? Seeing Cameron and his journey through eyes of love…isn’t that where the answers lie?