Normal?

It seems like I spend about half of my time wanting to argue or inform the world that my child is not different from anyone else’s child, and then the other half the time wanting to argue or inform the world that he is not the same.

Is this an every-mom thing? An every-adoptive-mom thing? Or just me?

I have always been a bit of a devil’s advocate, “advocate” being meant typically in the more argumentative sense than those lovely grace-filled people who might only ever be accused of leaving a trail of understanding and flower petals in their wake everywhere they go.

It’s true, though, that sometimes in foster-and-adopt world, like at conferences or whatever, sometimes I feel like I just don’t have enough diagnoses and acronyms, or enough dealings with war-torn developing-world national governments, or even just enough humans filling up beds to quite be taken seriously. But then in bio-kid-land-world, it seems sometimes like so many things people struggle with and/or solutions they’ve found sometimes just don’t apply to us. And the truth is, it’s ALL helpful, when I am not in gross self-pity land, and it’s ALL unhelpful when I’m just being a little turd.

I have a healthy, brilliant, spectacularly coordinated, pretty-well-attached kid. Who also has some fairly significant struggles with an explosive temper, the likes of which I frankly haven’t seen anywhere else. And who may or may not have some pretty obsessive and incredibly deep-seated control issues, which yes, I know, every toddler has. But not every toddler was left to his own devices at multiple fairly critical points in his development, for all intents and purposes, or at least as far as he was able to perceive, fending for himself. And on and on. The struggles are there, still. Make no mistake. How do they compare with prenatal-vitamin lactation-specialist Baby-Bjorn kids*? How do they compare with adopted-nonverbal-at-4-years-old-and-12-pounds-with-laundry-list-of-developmental-emotional-and-other-diagnoses?

Who knows? Who cares? I mean, I care, but does it change the way I parent my kid? I don’t know.

Maybe it’s normal, maybe it’s not. And then of course, the age-old question, “What the heck is ‘normal’ anyway?'”

It’s “normal” for a human being who has dealt with legitimate threats on his personal safety at multiple points entirely too close to his own actual birth, to be quite prickly in the face of actual or perceived adversity. It’s “normal” for a kid to not just melt immediately into 100% warmth and security and lovey-dovey happiness, fully convinced of their safety and fully confident in their caregivers, when placed with total strangers at 23 months old. The license framed and hanging on our wall means nothing to him. The classes we took, our character references… nada. We have to earn his trust.

I’ll be honest, I thought it would be a lot easier. I knew it’d be hard, but I didn’t know how hard.

And yes, we have come soooooooooooooo far. And the victories are so sweet, for being hard-won. But the set-backs, when we thought we were starting to see the promised land, can sure be bitter.

I have tried at a lot of points in the past to make this blog kind of like a commercial for foster care and adoption – part information, part compelling call to action, part personal insight, with a hopeful upturn at the end. I’ve always been honest. I haven’t been faking. But I do often wait for the hopeful glimmer to show up before I post, because I don’t want to post in the doldrums and have people be like “Ew gross, I never want to do that.”

Well, I’m done with that.

Of course it’s hopeful. As long as I believe in Jesus, and I do, it will always be hopeful.

We have had a difficult time with our boy. This does not come remotely, ever, close to the difficult time he has had. We signed up for it. He did not. We had training. He did not. I question how much help the training really was, but still. We had roughly 3 decades a piece of people teaching, instructing, mentoring, supporting, and encouraging us into and through the world, before we ever encountered this situation. He did not.

There are ways in which his “behavior” is getting better. There are ways that I feel like I’m not sure if it ever will.

This is not the point, people. First of all, my son is not “his behavior.” But beyond that, the truth is this: It might get easier, it might get harder. We are doing it because we were called to it, and because we can, and because he deserves it. He hugs my neck and tells me I am pretty and tells me he loves me and tells me stories and makes me so proud. But he would deserve it – parents who provide for him and teach him and try their broken best to love him unconditionally – even if he did zero of those things, ever.

You could adopt and see huge changes in your child, see them blossom under your care and attention, respond to your affection, grow into an upstanding member of society, and thank you for your role in their lives (as their MOM AND DAD, not grateful for being adopted but grateful like anyone with loving parents can and should be). Or you could adopt and spend and spend and spend, and never this side of “paradise” see any fruit from it whatsoever.

I hope that anyone considering adoption, or parenting at all, or any other calling or mission that might be tugging at them, can recognize that it has to be about the obedience, and not about the result. Good work needs to be done because it is worth doing. Not because of the results, or the thanks, or anything else. That might come, and it might not. You do it because it’s right.

One other thing that is simply impossible to impress upon people who are either considering adoption or think that they would never consider adoption is this: You cannot comprehend how unfathomably human this child is to me. I don’t even know how to begin to explain it. No one else is like him. There are groups of statistics that he fits into: X% of kids that show these signs of separation anxiety after being moved into a new home, Y% of kids that reach this developmental milestone, Z% for height and weight, articles or books that describe him to a T regarding certain reactions or fears, any and everything. These are meaningless.

It’s so easy to be fearful of common diagnoses or issues, of therapists’ offices (or therapists’ BILLS), of horror stories you’ve heard of this or that random friend of a cousin of a neighbor. But do try and think of the way that your spouse, or your mother, or your bio kid, or whatever; what statistical groups do they fit into? Do those have ANYTHING to do with your affection for them? Are those enough to make you reconsider the value of having a relationship with them? Consider that to someone, somewhere, they could look like a list of potential “challenges,” and consider how awful it seems to you, to have that be the reason someone would write them off entirely.

Well now, look at that. I got on here a little bit wanting to vent, feeling a smidge frustrated, and kind of isolated. And here I am, accidentally trying to talk you into it, again. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it is. That’s where my heart of hearts is – glad, grateful that I have done it, and chomping at the bit to do it again.**

Sometimes I feel like this whole job is making me into a terrible person. Parents? Am I the only one? I feel like it’s making me grouchy, self-centered because of the way I am in survival mode half the time and I have all but forgotten how to have a decent thoughtful conversation, overly neurotic because I am trying to keep the maximum number of vital factors at maximum capacity to avoid meltdowns, kind of a loner because half the time even when presented with the option to do something fun I just want 10 minutes of peace and quiet and my own brain to converse with, harpy and bossy because I spend so much of my time with a human who lives and breathes to contradict and challenge every single minute word that escapes my lips,*** and we won’t even TALK about what it’s doing to my girlish figger or my greying hair or my SKIN, for the sweet preshus love. We won’t even talk about it. In addition, I think I’ve mentioned how I have discovered a heretofore dormant BUT WHOA NELLY IMPRESSIVE short temper.

But if it brings out the worst, do you think maybe then, once the worst is out in the daylight, refusing not to be seen… it might be able to then get started on killing the worst? In me? Maybe?

So maybe in the end, it’s making me better? I don’t know.

In church-ese, this is called sanctification. Making holy. A process that, if things are going the right way, never ever stops until you’re worm food. And I hereby thank my parents and my church for helping me understand what that means so that I have ANY HOPE of understanding what it is, even while in the middle of it. The fact that I’ve argued with Dane more in the past 16 months than in the 98 months before that might actually be making us better, in the long run. And I see it, I do.

Well, and that’s what it is: hope. This is good. This is serving a purpose. For me and for us.


*If you are reading this and hearing disdain or sarcasm or dismissiveness of either “type” of kids I am trying to make allusion to, know that that is not intended. In our experience, there are two “worlds” we dip into at various times, two groups of moms, two fairly distinct sets of parenting advice and literature, etc.

**On that note – we have been trying SINCE JULY to get back on the active list and everything is taking so beyond forever that it is about to make me switch agencies except for the fact that that would ABSOLUTELY be cutting off the nose to spite the face, and baby with the bathwater, and if you shoot the old ornery lame horse that’s pulling your cart, yes you don’t have to deal with the old ornery lame horse any more but then also you don’t have anything to pull your cart, so. We’re close? Ish? Which is also what I would have said if you asked me at Thanksgiving? And Christmas? So LORD KNOWS???

***The latest, which is my FAVORITE, is that he has that grody painful-to-look-at little boy ring of chapped-ness creeping out from his lips, now halfway up to the nose and down to the chin, and when we try to put Chapstick on it or Neosporin or anything else, he screeches and flails and refuses, and if we do put it on, he licks it off immediately, and if we tell him that licking it off will give him an owie, he will likely reply “I WANT a owie!” and he will tell us, straight out, “if you put on Chapstick I will lick it off!” and he will do it in the most aggressive, provoking way a human being has ever licked Chapstick off of their own face. So if you see our child with a huge gross red angry patch on his face, know that we have literally held him down to apply medicine, which he then violently wipes off on anything he can reach, and then gets right up in our faces and licks it again. So what’s a good mom to do but make roasted corn on the cob (one of his favorites) with a little cayenne and chili powder (he loves spicy, usually) and let him dig his little face up into it and then be like “oh? What’s that? I thought you WANTED a owie?”

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One comment on “Normal?
  1. HF says:

    Thanks for this. My friend Lauren sent it to me. I loved that you said that you see your son, and he is not his behavior. We’re (hopefully? maybe? finally?) on the cusp of being approved FPs, and I’m starting to get nervous that I will mess our family up. Just need to keep taking steps and see what happens.

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