An Open Letter to the Pews Behind Me

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Last night, I once again braved the Church pew with four lively young children.  Ordinary enough, I know that thousands upon thousands of mothers complete an identical ritual every week.  But our situation is a bit unique, and for those of you in the pews behind me, you know all of this.

You know that I am not just an ordinary parishioner; I’m your pastor’s wife.  I sit up front with my four children who are absolutely capable of being well behaved during a service… but are not always.  You know that we just adopted two of our children this summer, that neither can walk and both have special needs and come from neglected orphanage backgrounds.  You know that the pastor’s kids, my kids, have been struggling more the last few weeks.  Three of the last four services I have had to take someone out screaming.

You know that last night was the worst they have ever been, one raging, cursing, flailing child (yes he was cursing at me in Russian); one uncomfortable little girl who began screaming and crying while I was on the other side of the building; a little one too quick to follow in his older brother’s disobedient footsteps; and a little girl who should know better… but just couldn’t help herself; and a poor grandmother trying desperately to salvage the entire ordeal before the entire pew made a grand exit.

I know you have concerns.  Perhaps you are concerned that I’m too strict or too lenient with my children in Church.  You might be worried about our biological children after seeing our adopted son throw punches in the middle of the sermon last night.  I know that you are concerned about my wellbeing; most of you ask every time we see each other how I’m holding up.  Maybe you’re worried that our family is too much for anyone, or how can Pastor possibly have enough time or energy for his work after all that?  You might certainly be wondering how on Earth we are going to manage with Mambo #5 who is arriving very quickly after the New Year.

I know there might be a lot of wondering and a lot of speculation, and probably even a little bit of talking after last night’s episode.  And so, since I’m in the fishbowl already, I thought I might as well join the conversation.  Our family’s struggles are no secret, or at least they aren’t after last night.  I know you have concerns and I know you have questions, so here is my two cents about the matter.  No matter how much or how little you saw last night, here’s what I really want you to know.

I take my children to Church for a reason.  Yes, they disrupt the service.  I wish they wouldn’t but they do.  I could sit in the back, or I could give them food or toys or any number of distractions.  I could make it easier on them and on myself, and on your ears too.  But I don’t.  Why?  Not because distractions are bad parenting, I certainly make use of them.  But when we go to Church to meet our Lord and Savior, to honor and thank Him, to physically touch and consume His Life, to sing praises along with the entire host of Heaven, well… why on Earth would I distract my children from such a great experience?  Why wouldn’t I want to give them a front row seat to the miracles taking place before their eyes?

No they don’t appreciate it, and they never will either – unless I teach them, show them, tell them what an honor it is to be in the presence of God at Church.  And by giving them distractions from God, I would be making it difficult to later assert that He is the One Thing Needful.  Everyone’s kids are different, and parenting during Church will look different for everyone.  I know my children, and I know what they are capable of.  Each one of them is more than capable of participating in the service without distractions.  Why would I expect less from them than what I know they can do?

Yes, I’m a bad mom.  But not last night, last night I actually did really well.  Ever since coming home with our new little ones I have struggled with my temper, really struggled.  Some Sunday mornings my little ones make it through the service, but I don’t.  I end up snapping or being too firm with their fidgety little hands.  It makes for less noise and distraction, but it puts a whole lot of sin on my plate.

Last night though?  I kept my cool under the pressure cooker of the worst rage our son has had in months.  I was hit, spit at, cursed at, bit, scratched and a myriad of other infractions.  But not once did I raise my voice at him.  Not once did I lose my temper.  I was present and calm and I weathered the storm, even when the rest of my children crumbled under the chaos – I continued to calmly go about damage control the best I could.  I refused to enter the crazy cycle with my hurting, traumatized son.  Instead I just waited him out, I put him to bed and I told him I loved him.

My son is not a bad child.  What you saw was not a temper tantrum; it is what they call a “rage”.  Raging is a behavior stemming from neglect, abuse or trauma.  It is a fear response, and it happened at least daily when we first came home.  About two months ago his rages stopped.  We had been doing very well keeping him close to us and not letting other adults give him affection that would be confusing to a child for whom every adult had been interchangeable his whole life.  One day a flip switched, and he just stopped raging.  Overnight he transformed into our best behaved child.

But the holidays are usually a very difficult time for children like my son.  More affection from other adults, more visitors, more sugar, more presents… it’s all too much and it can send them toppling back into the confusion and chaos in their mind.  In the last week we’ve seen the rages slowly come back, and last night was the grand finale topping it all off… right in the front pew for all to see.

Often these children don’t rage in public, they wait until they feel safe – at home.  But you have done such a wonderful job of making our son feel welcome and safe, and apparently he doesn’t mind showing off at church now either.  So for his sake, and the sake of all children who come with struggles and special needs – don’t assume a child is bad, especially if you see them acting unusually loud, aggressive, manipulative or crazy in public.  Over-the-top behaviors don’t indicate a bad child or even bad parenting, they indicate hurt and fear.  Show generous amounts of compassion to this child’s parents, and pray healing over their child.

Our other children are safe, but not untouched.  Yes, he came out swinging last night, and yes some of those punches landed.  But I can count on one hand the number of times, out of many many rages, that he has ever laid a finger on another child.  And I can assure you, no one has ever been really hurt.  My husband and I are the ones that trigger his insecurities and fears of being left or hurt.  He is afraid of loving us, because he’s never been able to love an adult or caregiver before without being hurt by that affection.

He’s not afraid of loving his siblings.  That means, either myself or my husband is always physically there when the raging begins, and it is very simple for us to keep other children safe at that point.  Close quarters in the pew complicates things a bit, as you might have guessed.  But my point is – don’t worry about our children.  They are safe.  This doesn’t mean that they are not untouched by the trauma that their siblings have endured; it has affected them greatly too.  Some of that you even got to see yesterday as they followed suit in acting like hooligans in the middle of the Divine Service.  They were just as tired and stressed as I was over the whole thing.

Adoption is hard for them too.  They have seen the trauma and aggression and neglect and fear and pain that their brother and sister have endured.  They are acutely aware of the suffering of people so close to them.  Both of them have been changed and, as their parents, we are working so hard to make those changes positive for them.  But it is a lot to process for little minds, and this will also take time.  Give them grace too.

One more sibling is not too much.  Yes, having five children developmentally five and under is going to be CRAZY!  I know.  And I’m so excited.  I won’t write a whole post on that here, but someone else did, and it’s a really great read if you are interested: “Why Have More Kids?”

We are bruised but not crushed.  Our family is weary of all that this adoption has taken out of us.  Adoption is not an easy road, and many of you might be looking at our ragged, weary bunch thinking that you are so glad you aren’t in our shoes, or that you could never do it or maybe even that we bit off more than we can chew or that we shouldn’t do this either.  That’s just not the case.  With God’s help we are making it.  We are surviving the transition.  Not only that, we really are thriving with His provision and mercy.  All of us are healing, growing, learning and becoming stronger.  And we’re doing it together, which is the best part.

These are our children, and we knew they were ours.  We love them dearly and want them exactly where they are now, right here with us.  Our life isn’t perfect or easy or comfortable, but we have a life together.  None of our children are starving or being drugged or beat up.  None of our children have to be cold at night or go for days without being touched.  No one is lacking medical care and no one is alone.  Those are not things that our family takes for granted anymore, because it wasn’t always this way.  We are so blessed to be where we are… and perhaps from the outside it looks like a life that is unpreferrable, one that you would not choose.

But from our point of view, we are clinging desperately to our Savior, because He’s our only hope left.  And we would not change that for the world.  Hardship, discomfort, pain, loss… it’s all a part of adoption.  And it’s a great privilege and blessing to endure it for the sake of these little ones, for the sake of our Lord.  Don’t feel sorry for us.  The joy and love we are creating is worth so much more than what we’ve lost, and we wouldn’t change it for the world.

Adoption is Not Love

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Isn’t that a great picture?  Jacob took it of the two of us as we were sitting and enjoying each other yesterday, one of his first selfies!  I would love to just post the picture and skip the not-so-glamorous background… but that would be doing a disservice to you and everyone who reads this little blog.  You see, this picture symbolizes a great victory for us: my son and I cuddling and genuinely having fun together.  It is terribly simple, but it took a lot of tears and effort for us to come that far.

There is a dirty little secret the adoption community never likes talking about.  And I understand why, it’s a really tough subject.  It’s a hard pill for us to swallow as parents, let alone to share publicly with the world.  I mean, it’s totally confusing.  You see this adorable or heart wrenching or emotionally pulling picture of a small helpless child whose eyes are just crying to be loved.  Your heart immediately aches, you “fall in love”, you pray and talk with your spouse and pray some more and before you know it you’re shelling out all your savings and spending all your free time in piles of paperwork, and headaches and nights where you can’t sleep because “your baby” is alone somewhere, cold and hungry and totally clueless that anyone is coming to help them.

And then after what seems like absolutely forever, you get the word that it’s time to travel and meet this picture face to face and you can’t hardly stand the wait any longer.  You put your whole life on hold to jump head first into a sleep deprived marathon in a foreign country you’ve never been to before, running on pure adrenaline with the thought of meeting your child for the first time.  Then you get to the orphanage and see their face (just as cute as you thought they’d be) and “fall in love” all over again.  You visit and bring them cookies and toys and attention they’ve never had before.

They light up like a tree on Christmas, their personalities blossom before your eyes, they’re so sweet and lovely and they call you “Mama” and “Papa” and brag to everyone that they have a family and they’re going to America.  The day finally comes and you bust them out of the orphanage forever, you do a marathon of flights back home, exhausted, but so happy to be there… and after a week or two the dust settles and you start to come out of your fog to see your new life with this child you “loved” for so long from afar… only to realize you don’t love them at all.  In fact, you don’t even think you like them, and what on Earth have you done to your family?  And is there a way to undo this?

All the compliance and love you received back at the orphanage has turned into manipulation and tantrums and anger and confusion… so much confusion.  And then you become angry and frustrated and of course you’ve read all the books.  You know their behavior is from trauma and profound neglect and abandonment and fear; you know it is not their fault, and yet you still can’t help but despise the chaos they have brought into your home.  And you begin to wonder, do I still love this child?  Did I ever really love him at all?

Friends, I have a confession to make.  For months I shouted and shouted for Jacob and Hope.  I told you how much I loved them, how I loved Hope for years, how much we desperately wanted them home.  We swore we would go to the moon and back if we had to, and then we did. (Ok, ok… we went to Ukraine, but it felt as far as the moon and took about the same amount of time.)  We were told dozens and dozens of times how brave we were, how much love we had, how awesome what we were doing was, etc.  I saw adoption t-shirts being sold all year with the slogan “Adoption is Love” glistening on the front.  I believed it, I believed it with my whole heart.  But now I know better…

If you have ever been married you might understand this a little better.  When my husband and I were engaged, I told him I loved him every day and I *thought* I meant it.  In a way I was right, but not really.  Love isn’t that fluttery feeling you get in your stomach when your handsome, strong, doting new beau walks in the door.  It’s not writing little love notes in class instead of paying attention to a boring lecture or staying up for hours talking about what your babies will look like one day.  Sure those things feel great and we love to feel them, but those feelings are not love.

Many couples have told me, and I agree, that they didn’t love their spouse on their wedding day.  How could they?  The wedding is the moment you agree to love, that you make the decision to love, but the wedding isn’t love in and of itself.  Love is still giving your husband a kiss when he gets home every day, even when that fluttery feeling in your stomach hasn’t visited in months.  Love is listening and empathizing, giving your undivided attention when your mind wants to wander every other direction.  It’s making an effort to do things the way your spouse likes them, instead of always leaning toward your preferences.  It’s not saying anything when he takes the last cookie that was supposed to be yours.  Love is forgiving and asking forgiveness every single time you annoy each other, anger each other and hurt each other.  Love is serving that person, feeding, cleaning up after, holding, cherishing that person even when you don’t feel like doing any of it at all.  Especially when you don’t feel like doing any of it at all.

The adoption process can be long and grueling and hard and painful, but it isn’t really love.  Much like a wedding, adopting an orphan isn’t loving them, it’s just making the decision to start loving them.  Adoptive parents aren’t great because they made it through a home study, got on an airplane and signed a few papers.  They are great when, after months and years of hard stuff, they still choose to love this child they brought home.  We’re just like any parent really.  No one told me how awesome I was for making it through pregnancy and labor!  They mostly just said, been there done that :)  But as the child grows and blossoms… you start to see the effects of love take place and you think, what a great job they are doing with their kids.

So back to my confession, I won’t go into the gory details but… Jacob and I?  We’ve had a hard time bonding with one another.  Hope and I have struggled too, but she is a little more forgiving, she just loves everybody.  I brought these two treasures home and almost immediately began wondering what this terrible mistake was that we had made.  Scared and shaken by the reality check that I had two children I felt no good will toward, I turned to my dear friends and mentors in the adoption community.  And what did I hear?  I heard how common this is, how attachment is hard (even for parents!), that we shouldn’t expect to “feel” loving toward our new children right away.

I learned about how important newborn bonding is not just for the baby but for the mother, and how we need to be gentle with ourselves because we lost such an important stage of development in our relationship just as much as our child did.  I found out how many adoptive parents feel the exact same way, how depression is common, even typical, post adoption.  I stashed some new strategies up my sleeve and I resolved to fake loving my children until I really did love them…

But then someone led me to the Scripture, and what does it say about love? In His sermon on the mount, Jesus tells us: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Love our enemies?  Does that mean that we should like them or have warm fuzzy feelings around them or enjoy every second of our time together?  No… so what does love mean?  It means to pray and to serve and to put another’s needs before your own… especially when you don’t feel like doing any of it at all.

It means, feed them, rock them, hug them and dress them, help them and speak kindly to them… especially when you feel like recoiling instead.  It means read them a story when you’d rather shoo them away.  It means take two minutes and cool down so you can coach yourself on how to talk softly and not be harsh.  It means, dear adoptive parent, don’t panic when you get home and find that you don’t feel loving toward your child.  I don’t always feel loving toward my husband, but I choose to love him anyway, and when I fail I ask his forgiveness and most importantly… I never give up.  And never once have I said I didn’t love him just because the feeling vanished in that moment (or day or week or month…).

There have been many times in these first few weeks that I failed both of my newly adopted children, especially Jacob.  I didn’t feel like I loved him, and it showed.  But I repented and I tried again. I’m not perfect, but we’re doing so much better.  He’s finally beginning to attach, to seek me out, to trust me.  And I’m finding that I am beginning to feel that love for him again as well.  For me, adopting Jacob wasn’t the loving part… mothering him is the loving, and it is sometimes a battle minute to minute, fighting against all of my feelings and weaknesses.  But it is a battle that, with God’s help, I am persevering through.  We will make it through this difficult transition, because I made the choice to love this boy every day of the rest of my life, and that’s exactly what I am going to do.

Remember the picture I posted?  That was me and Jacob yesterday, with all the fun, happy, loving, mommy-and-son feelings you would expect us to have during a moment like that.  It was a great moment, and those moments are becoming more and more common.  But they are hard won moments, moments of joy breaking through days and weeks full of the loss, and confusion and heartache that is adoption.  Healing is a beautiful thing, but it is both bitter and sweet.  My prayer tonight is that we might all learn to take the bitterness and the sweetness together, with a thankful heart, as we seek to love all those whom God has placed in our path… especially when we don’t feel like it at all.

P.S. – If you are an adoptive parent who is feeling more of that loss and heartache right now and less of the love and joy you expected…  First, be gentle with yourself, and do reach out to someone you can trust.  I am no expert in attachment, but there are plenty of people who can help and resources where you can find the tools to fight this battle for your family and the child you have chosen to love.  Please don’t keep it hidden, because you are not alone, and there is hope and healing on this long and winding road.

Just for Jacob

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I have been so focused the last few days on the hardship we’re dealing with.  Short version, there is no news.  So today, instead, I am going to take the opportunity to talk about sweet Jacob and how well he is doing and all the progress he’s made since coming home.  We really have had a great week with him, filled with highlights and milestones.  Here are a few things just for Jacob…

First English Words.  He has always repeated English words with prompting, but typically he doesn’t use them spontaneously in conversation.  I think I posted before about his very first sentence in Ukraine,“Take off booties!” (Directed at his little brother.)  But we hadn’t had any since then.

Well, the day after we arrived home I was cooking dinner and he came in speaking Russian very earnestly.  I told him apologetically “Ya nee ponamayu”, or “I don’t understand”.  He thought for a few seconds and then said “Yum, yum, yum!”, communicating successfully that he wanted to eat.  It was super awesome and adorable.  Other words he says now regularly are bye-bye, shoes, ok and water (referring to our backyard pool which is his favorite thing ever).

He Knows His Name.  Back in Kiev at our embassy medical, the doctor asked his name and he replied “My name is Yura, but when I’m with my mom they call me Jacob.”  That was a little disheartening, honestly.  But twice since we’ve been home he has owned his name.  He spoke with a family friend on the phone in Russian the other day.  Our friend greeted him as Yura and he immediately corrected saying “My name’s not Yura, it’s Jacob.”  He also corrected Babushka a couple times.  This is so exciting!

Trust is beginning to show.  Orphanage nannies are not the most attentive of supervisors.  Usually if someone  is harassing you, you need to handle it on your own.  When we first had Jacob, if one of his siblings would do something he disliked he immediately tried to amend the situation himself, usually by yelling, swatting or grabbing.  Now, if I’m in the room, he waits patiently for me to correct the injustice, or he calls for me if I’m not within eyesight.  Huge progress!  He has also stopped crying when I take a toy away for dinner or bedtime and tell him that he will be able to use it later.  He is starting to trust!

He’s reaching out for affection.  Between night time cuddles, random hugs during the day, giving kisses on the cheek, being held or holding hands… this kid has started truly enjoying and seeking out touch and affection.  Something he did a little at first, but also became adverse to after just a little interaction.  He is seeking these little moments out more and more, and tolerating them longer, and I couldn’t be more pleased.  He is also reaching out with affectionate words, like telling me “good night” at bedtime.  Wonderful emotional progress!

Attachment, maybe? I hope!  It’s so hard to say if we’re making progress here or not, and one day it might feel like we definitely are, while the next I see red flags all over again.  But he is certainly (at least for now) preferring me over Mima (who has been staying with us this week) and others.  He asks for me specifically for getting dressed and other things, even though I am the tough disciplinary figure at this point! This is hugely comforting to me, and I think it will continue to get better.

He is such a joy!  I can’t wait for all six of us to be together again.  Jake said he thinks it will be even better than our wedding day.  I might have to agree.

All That’s Left is to Pray

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^^^ Photo bomb for the win.

It’s officially official!  Yesterday Jake spent fifteen hours in the car chasing papers.  He drove two hours to pick up Jacob’s new birth certificate, drove two hours back to the first passport office, then went to the second passport office, then went to the orphanage to pick up Jacob to drive two hours back to the third passport office (How does it even make sense that there are three of them?!?!) and when they were finished he drove two hours back home, dropped Jacob off at the orphanage and came back to the apartment.

But once it was all said and done our paper chase was over and we are technically, practically, officially Jacob’s parents with legal custody and everything.  There is something about knowing I can snatch him away whenever I feel like it that just gives me warm, fuzzy happy feelings.  We have not had Gotcha Day yet, though.  The director is graciously allowing Jacob to spend the rest of this week there without even charging us for lodging, lol.  You would think we’d want him with us now that we can bust him out any time, but practically this is so much better.

The travel time between Gotcha Day and arriving home is typically extremely stressful for kids, especially in his age range.  The longer it’s drawn out the more difficult it will be.  We want to get home as fast as possible once we pick him up.  Second, we already know he gets sick a lot, and it’s very common for the children to become ill once leaving the orphanage, being exposed to so many new things during such a stressful time.  The last thing we want is for him to be sick during his Embassy medical.  We need him healthy so there won’t be any complications getting a Visa.

So, really, our best option is to wait until the last minute.  We will very likely pick him up and head straight to the train for Hope’s city, no dilly dallying!  We have been visiting each day still, and I will be perfectly honest, the visits have gone from stellar to trying.  It’s not that much has changed, there are just little things here and there… Red flags popping up that are setting our minds toward focusing on the hard realities of parenting a hurting child.

One thing we know… Jacob is not attached to us.  He loves our visits, he loves the toys and food and new experiences we bring, he loves the idea of having his own house and even of having a family.  He doesn’t want to be alone, he wants people to love him and he knows that we are offering him that.  But what he doesn’t know is that we are the only ones who can offer him these things.

As much as it hurts for my mama’s heart to think of it this way, in his mind Jake and I are totally replaceable.  We are characters in his fairy tale ending that can be switched out for new ones if things don’t quite go his way.  While they were driving the four hour round trip to the passport office yesterday, our son was actively reaching out to the driver and our facilitator, calling them Mama and Papa.  They spoke Russian, he connected with them in that moment, and since they were in his fairy tale he could put them in our roles.

To institutionalized children all adults are the same and they are totally interchangeable.  One day I do believe he will know what it means to call me Mama, but for now, to him it is a temporary title not limited to myself.  It’s one he can apply to any nice lady who might help him get what it is that he wants in that moment.  It’s a tough reality to grapple with.  Attachment is going to be work, which is why if you know us in real life it is so important that you help us keep tight boundaries with him.  He will so need them.

Attachment isn’t the only red flag we’ve seen.  He’s been testing us more; we’re supposed to be in the honeymoon period but we are already seeing behavioral issues surface.  His compliance is waning, and I am feeling a downward spiral of that coming on after Gotcha Day.  He uses his emotions as weapons and tools.  Some people refer to this as emotional manipulation, which is technically true.  But I don’t like putting that label on a child in this instance.  It’s a survival skill in the orphanage; he’s had learn to use it so his basic needs can be met.  No child should ever need to do this!  It’s tragic!

He’s not trying to be a bad kid.   This is just the only way he knows how to be.  We have also noticed that he does not have appropriate reactions to pain.  He laughs when he gets hurt, breaks my heart.  This is also a common thread shared by many institutionalized children and their atypical experiences with pain, adult reactions, etc.  Our boy is hurting, he is very much hurting.  I don’t think he understands the extent to which he has been hurt; everything up to this point has just been normal life for him.

It hurts me to see him this way.  It terrifies me to think of the great responsibility we have being the healing presence in his life.  I felt very prepared coming into this and I feel so under prepared and so inadequate as the time swiftly moves forward to bring him home and begin this long, grueling journey.  At this point all I have left to do is pray that God gives us the wisdom, patience and strength to be the parents he so desperately needs.

On the Rails Again

IMG_03601:25am here and we are on the train again.  I have slept a little but not much.  I have been going back and forth in my mind about what to even write about today.  There are so many emotions.  After spending nearly a week with Juri, we have so much hope for him.  He is such a joy, and we can’t wait to make him a part of our family.

At the same time we are dreading leaving him for these one or two weeks and afraid that what little bonding we have done is going to unravel in that time, that when we come back he won’t be certain that we are going to stay.  We left once, why wouldn’t that be the pattern?  But it isn’t anything we can do anything about, so I am trying to leave Juri’s heart in God’s hands.

I feel so not in control, and for anyone who knows me, you’ll know that’s way out of my comfort zone.  All of these thoughts and feelings are swirling at or beneath the surface, and I’m feeling terribly guilty that my thoughts aren’t more focused on Janna.  After all, she is the only reason we are leaving our precious son for any length of time.

I do remember not feeling excited right before we met Juri, and from those I’ve talked to it’s a totally normal feeling.  I am sure when we get to her city and her orphanage I will feel differently, but now and for the last few days, this train has been the very last place I wanted to be.

Unless our facilitators can pull off a miracle we won’t even get to meet Janna until next week.  Our referral appointment is tomorrow (or later today I guess) and we pick up the referral on Friday, which doesn’t give us enough travel time to be in her city before the weekend and, of course, Monday is a holiday.  So instead we will just spend three days doing nothing, no paperwork, no visiting… nothing at all.  Three seemingly wasted days.

I know three days doesn’t seem like much, but I am new to this whole being-away-from-my-child thing.  There is a reason why we brought our two bio kiddos with us, lol!  And three days away from Juri doing absolutely nothing just sounds like torture to me.

We certainly covet your prayers this next week, for our strength and peace, and for protection and a hedge around Juri’s heart and whatever bonding we may have developed while we could be with him.  Pray also for wisdom as we go to meet Janna and accept her referral.

One last little thought, I have been having people ask us about our “Sponsor a Mile” fundraiser, so I will do an entire post on that directly after this one.  Keep your eyes out for it!

P.S. – Our kids are becoming pros at sleeping on the train.  They are doing so well amidst all the upheaval and uncertainty.  We’re really proud of them.

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Eto Maiya Mama

Today we said good-bye to Juri for the next week or two as we prepare to travel back to the capital to get Janna’s referral.  Our train leaves tonight, hopefully I will sleep this time.  Today has just been difficult for me.  Two words: attachment and bonding.  Last week when we got here it was so wonderful just to see this child we have been dreaming of for the last year, to hear his voice, his laugh, to be the reason for his smile.  I have been using pregnancy metaphors so, I suppose, to continue that I will liken it to those initial few contractions that you are so giddy about.

On the very first visit he started calling us “mama” and “papa”.  “Eto maiya Mama” (This is my Mama), is a phrase I have gotten used to hearing these last few days.  Even his group appears to understand, as when I walk up they all run back to him excitedly exclaiming in Russian “Juri, your Mama is here!”  And I’ll be honest, I have enjoyed it, but today it seems at best bittersweet.

You see, no one ever told Juri that we are his Mama and Papa.  His nannies said that he had visitors, but that is all.  We gave him presents and treats and lots of attention.  And for him, that is what a “mama” is, it’s a lady who sits on a bench with you for an hour every day and gives you snacks and toys.  He is always overjoyed to see me, but what child wouldn’t be overjoyed to see the nice lady who always says nice things, gives him extra snacks and plays with only him every day?

Juri has had some serious amounts of fun this week that he usually is never privileged to have.  But he hasn’t had a family experience.  He hasn’t really been a part of our family or been introduced to what it means to live in a family environment.  He’s had extra food and extra toys and extra love, but to him that is all that we are.

I am his Mama, in my heart, and hopefully soon legally, practically, and forever in every way.  But my son has many “mamas” in his life, and he has no real idea what that word is supposed to mean.  His first mama left him, the woman he calls “mama” now is a paid nanny who works at the orphanage and “his mama” is the nice lady who plays with just him and no one else.

It’s so difficult to explain all the emotions, and part of it is that I know we are leaving him for a while.  I wrote a sweet paragraph that I asked the nanny to read to him before I left.  In it I told him we would be gone for one or two weeks.  I am not sure what I was expecting, but there was no reaction at all.  It was as if it didn’t even bother him that we weren’t coming again tomorrow.

I don’t know if he was just not listening or if it honestly didn’t matter to him.  But the truth is, even with all the wonderful days we’ve had, there’s no way to know if he’s bonding yet.  Attachment is much more difficult than that for a child who has seen every adult in his life as totally interchangeable.

IMG_0353Reality is beginning to set in after the very joyous rush of meeting our son for the first time, and it’s a hard reality for me to face.  It was almost easier to love this boy that I had never met than it is to now love a boy who I have met and who does not know to love me back.  I’m sure it will come with time, but there are no expectations of him, and even if he never really loves me I will always be his Mama.

Adoption is a beautifully redemptive work.  But that word “redemptive” is key, it means that something first had to be lost.  Adoption is a joy that always comes from loss.  Today I am feeling a very tiny part of the loss that Juri has carried his whole life, and it is painful, but a burden I pray that I can learn to rejoice in helping him carry in the days and weeks and years to come.

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