Tariku is 10!!

I’ve been thinking a lot about this post for Tariku. I kept trying to come up with a way to say just how much I love him-to come up with a phrase that embodies who he is or what he means to me. It’s kind of eluding me quite honestly.

Have you guys seen the movie Boyhood? I loved it. At all of the press junkets when it initially came out the press would ask the creator Richard Linklater to tell them about the movie he would always pause. It was a pregnant pause to be sure because, even though he had undoubtedly been rehearsed as to what to say, it just meant too much to him. How can you talk about this baby you’ve created, sweated over and cried about for 12 years in a way that can be used in a headline for page 6? Well you can’t. He tried, of course, but anyone who has seen the movie knows that no matter what Linklater said in those junkets probably didn’t do the film justice.

If you’ve been here long enough (or followed this blog’s predecessor hotflawedmama) you know that no one has ever worked harder than Tariku at accepting love.

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Even from the beginning we certainly wanted to be mom and son. I had thought of, prayed for and cried over him for months before he came home and I have no doubt across the ocean he was hesitantly excited about the possibility of a family.

Reality was, of course, harder than the daydreams (always is) and so for the last 7 years we’ve fought tooth and nail to get where we are-described a little more here-but no one has fought harder than Tariku.

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It’s really hard to believe Tariku is just 10-years-old. If you watch Tariku interact with the world you get the sense that he’s seen it all before. If you’re having a conversation with him you’ll notice immediately that he is listening. Not just listening but listening. His brow furrows, he makes really direct eye contact and it genuinely feels like he’s listening to it all-the words, the body language, the cadence of your words. It’s incredible. If you get an audience with Tariku you run the risk of believing the world was made just to hear your words.

Boy is he inquisitive! Of course on the days in which I am less than who I was made to be it can test my patience but most days I admire him for it. There are no “just because-s” with Tariku. I’ve taught all of my kids to wrestle with and question the world but no one does it quite like Tariku. Needless to say, he learns so much quicker than so many of his peers because he doesn’t just want to know why 1+1=2, he wants to know why you’re adding in the first place.

If ever we need something found within the house we call Tariku. If I need something done well (all mamas know what I mean by “done well” oy vey the half assing of kids-it will be the death of me) I call Tariku. It might not be fair but he is his mama’s son and darnit if we are working we are not going to pussyfoot around-we’ll get shit done right. (Mom, no need to remind me of my earlier years, I’ve come so far. 😉 )

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Zach and I coach a basketball team with Trysten, Tomas and Tariku on it. It’s for 5th and 6th grade boys. Tariku is in 4th grade and so often when Tariku makes a play or a shot that belies his age Zach and I just laugh. Tariku is often 2 steps ahead of his teammates because he thinks so quickly on his feet. He is just so freaking fun to watch.

I got a note from Tariku’s teacher last week about how impressed she was by Tariku befriending a new student. She said he had been so kind and helpful and it’s made her job so much easier. When I asked Tariku what kind of cupcakes he wanted for his school birthday he asked me to get cupcakes of all kinds so that everyone could find something they liked. When I asked who he wanted for his birthday party it took him 2 weeks to decide because he didn’t want anyone feeling left out.

This is Tariku. This is the guy who is turning 10 and the guy a truly flawed mama like myself gets to mother every day.

I don’t worry so much for Tariku about the world hurting him so much that he breaks, the world has already done a pretty great job of trying and yet here he stands. I worry more that he won’t open himself up to love, that he won’t become vulnerable enough to reap the scary big benefits of a relationship with someone.

I worry about that only because I know what it’s like to be loved by Tariku, a young man who asked his mama to take a picture of the sunset on his birthday because it was just so beautiful.

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Being loved by Tariku is just like looking up at a sunset and believing it was planned just for you. In this moment. Regardless of how badly you’ve messed up in the past.

Being the mom of Tariku feels like a once in a lifetime sunset, an awe inspiring blessing undeserved.

Happy birthday my Chooch. Love you so much.

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Tomas is 11!

Tomas is 11!

The first time I met Tomas I could tell he had been well rehearsed on how to act when meeting his new parents. Of course I was happy to see him but I wanted so badly to know how he was really feeling.

Last week we were talking about Zach’s long hair he was rockin’ when we picked up Tomas and Binyam. Zach is a bit embarrassed of it now but I was curious what Tomas thought then so I asked him, “Tomas, what did you think when you first saw us in Ethiopia? Did you think ‘what’s this guy with goofy hair doing here?”’

“Oh mom, I don’t remember what his hair looked like. I was just so happy you were finally there. I finally had a family. All of my friends had gone with their families and I watched them go but finally it was my turn.”

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At the “going away” ceremony in Ethiopia I could feel the fear in the boys, it was palpable. Tomas was going from Ethiopian adult to Ethiopian adult, never coming by Zach and me and Binyam played with a balloon for 2 hours straight.

So when it was our turn to cut the cake I wrapped my arm around Tomas and, even though he didn’t understand a word of English, whispered, “I don’t know when, but it’s going to be ok. We will be ok.”

As nervous as I was about bringing these young men into our family, it was nothing compared to what they were experiencing. But Tomas? Other than a few rocky initial weeks, he has entered almost every bit of life with a joie de vivre that defies his circumstances.

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The day before his birthday we invited 3 of his buds over for Skyzone fun. He is a head taller than most of his friends but is the gentlest giant I know.

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I was able to pick up some birthday donuts and, true to form, on the day of his birth he waited for everyone else to pick out their donuts before picking out his own. This is despite the fact that I had publicly stated Tomas and his friend Riley were to go first.

Like his older brother, he too chose Buffalo Wild Wings for his birthday dinner out. Tomas isn’t a foodie so much as he is a lover-of-all-food. Cooking for Tomas (and Tariku) is my favorite thing because I can’t remember a single time they didn’t proclaim each meal to be the best they’ve ever eaten. When Tomas (and Tariku) go to a friend’s house and I ask how it was, 99% of the time they will talk about how great of cooks the parents of the friend are. I freaking love that.

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There is a weird dichotomy to how I feel about Trysten getting older and how I feel about Tomas getting older. With Trysten I get to just embrace every new step towards adulthood. With Tomas, however, I feel a constant tightening of the chest as he gets older. He’s gone from this squishy faced, adorable 6-year-old brown boy (as he liked to call himself) to a sturdy, solid 11-year-old young, black man.

Studies prove over and again that being a young black man is one of the more dangerous things you can be in America.

So though I as his mother still see so much of his childlike innocence, I also get a front row seat (quite literally since Zach and I are his coaches) to the basketball games when the moms of the opposing team yell that he (and Tariku) are being aggressive and out of control even though they are playing almost exactly like their white counterparts. Though Tomas has a smile that lights up the whole world, I know that only those who know him are able to focus on that as a symbol of his undying love of all the things. Everyone else? Well it’s clear they don’t always look much further than his black skin.

I worry more about it with Tomas, I think, because sometimes social cues are lost entirely on him. Not because of some inability to see them but rather because he has a genuine need to and gift of seeing the good in everyone. As he’s gotten older so many of our conversations have been about becoming friends with kids who do the right thing and encourage him to do the right thing. Tomas is so easily susceptible to the kids who manipulate because he wants to believe they are as good as they say they are.

It blows being in a world where this son of mine who walks around this world as if he’s not wearing any skin can so easily be hurt. But there it is. And since it doesn’t seem to bother him, I’m trying to live every day the same way.

Happy birthday my Tomas-ay. May you continue to serve as a reminder to us all that being vulnerable can be the most beautiful and brutal thing in the world. But that the beauty is always worth it.

Love you.

Camp!

Last week all 5 of the kiddos went to resident camp here at Camp Eberhart, this marked the first time for Binyam (he’s always just done a week of day camp-coming home every night) and the first time for them all at our new camp. Though they all wanted to go back to Camp Abe Lincoln for a week as well, we just couldn’t make it work this year.

Every summer I try to plan their week of camp towards the end of summer for one main reason: we are positively sick of each other. If I plan their week away too soon after school lets out we are still in the honeymoon stages of summer. All blissed out on late nights and sleeping in. I’ve found a few weeks before school returns is the best time for all of us to send them away for a week. 😉

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It was a little bizarre for me not knowing all of the procedures for drop off and the like at this camp. Having lived at Abe Lincoln for 7 years I knew all of the ins and outs, as well as most of the counselors and all of the staff. I’m not quite there at Eberhart so I got to experience what a first time mom must feel like when dropping her kids off-a little overwhelmed. But because I’ve been there let me tell you-don’t let it stop you. It’s short lived uncomfortableness for a week of (mostly) bliss!

In past years I would often see the kids at least once a day, either walking by our house (at Abe Lincoln our house was in the middle of all camp activity) or at meals. This year I made it a point to stay away all week- I wanted to give them a legit camp experience. Though they saw Zach off and on during the week (hard to avoid when his office is in the main lodge) only Dailah saw me once and that was because she brought two of her friends to our house during their open period. 🙂

Zach and I had an awesome week together, heading to Kalamazoo and Chicago for some quick getaways. I’m so grateful for his new job that allows him to sneak away for a bit during the summer. Other than that one time when we had to go pick up our 2 new sons in Ethiopia for two weeks (!) Zach hasn’t been able to take an hour off any summer, let alone an afternoon or a whole night! Felt a little like playing hooky, which we all know makes everything feel a little more exciting!

The kids had so much fun. Every year I’m reminded why I send them to camp-they come back so mature and so proud of themselves. Remember how you felt the first time you really fled the coop? I remember the first time I came back from college I was walking just a little taller, feeling so much older because I had managed to survive without my parents. I think that’s essentially what camp does for kids. Yes, Trysten wore the same shirt for 6 straight days and Binyam forgot to bring a pillow altogether (one of my rules is that they are responsible for packing their things. I will not bring them anything they’ve forgotten). Yes, Tomas only wore his swimming trunks all week and Tariku lost his voice from all the camp songs and the yelling. It is not what our week would’ve looked like had they been with me but they lived and it only took 3 days for their feet to dislodge all of the dirt.

But more than that the reports from their counselors said things like, “He is a remarkably polite and respectful young man.” “He was so good at including everyone in group activities!” “He has a very amicable and generous personality which made him a joy to be around.” “He was one of the nicest boys I have ever had in my cabin.” “She brought just the perfect amount of joy, friendship and sassiness to the whole cabin!”

I love that. You’ve heard it said that character is what people are doing when no one is watching, right? For kids I think it’s what’s being done when their parents aren’t watching. I’m so proud of them for sticking to their guns even when it would’ve been pretty easy to forget all they’ve learned.

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As a quick aside for adoptive parents…camp can still be a little hard for my babes. Tariku actually picked a fight with me an hour before we dropped him off. Even though I knew it was a defense mechanism it was still really hard to not go for the bait. It’s so much easier for him to say good bye to us for a week if he convinces us all he never loved us anyway. And Tariku is always upset for a few days upon returning home (as evidenced in the above photo). This was the first year he didn’t cry for the first 2 nights home begging to go back to camp. Even Zach said this year that it was hard to see Tariku so loving with the kids and counselors-his arm flung around their shoulders. Looking like the weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Even after 6 years we have to remind ourselves that it might always be this way-life in a family is really hard, life in a group of friends with fewer expectations and fewer emotionally charged memories is WAY. Easier.

That said, every year gets a little bit better. Every year they assimilate a little more back into the family structure and every year I think it helps remind them of their permanency here. So please don’t let that be a reason you don’t send your kids.*

Note: no one pays me to endorse camp. Zach is such a stickler for rules, we even pay for our kids to go (should anyone question who is the better human between the pair of us they need only listen to our conversations about paying for camp. This involves mostly me whining about the cost and the fact that he’s the director maybe they should go for free and him reminding me that it is a non-profit and because we pay camp is able to afford to give a spot to a kid who can’t afford it. Point-Zach.)

*Obviously you know your kids better than I ever will so if attaching isn’t going well at all, probably they aren’t ready for camp.

And then we snuggled

If you’re not friends with me on Facebook then you don’t know that yesterday a seismic shift in parenting Tariku happened.

I was slow to wake up so Zach had opened our bedroom door to try to gently remind me to wake up (hearing 5 children run around and get ready for their day has that affect) when Tariku peeked his head in. He’s done this before, usually just says good morning and then is off.

But yesterday he hesitantly walked in a little further and came and snuggled with me. I hadn’t held my arms open inviting him (only because I was still groggy and hadn’t realized he was still in the room). It was all him initiating. And its as the first time it’s ever happened.

It should be said that Tariku and I have a very affectionate relationship but it’s always been because I’m an extremely affectionate person. Though 6 years ago he would bristle when I tried holding his hand or go in for the hug, he now lets me pretty effortlessly-though I would be surprised if he’ll ever be a hand holder, my apologies to his future wife. Tariku will sit by me if I ask him, he’ll keep his leg flung over my legs while we’re watching a movie if I place them there.

But to initiate it? It just doesn’t happen.

Because we’ve all felt that pain of rejection haven’t we? Our adopted kiddos more than most. Tariku has never been a risk taker-if you look hard enough you can physically see him weighing all options before he does anything. And initiating physical affection? Initiating love? Too risky for a guy who’s had his heart broken in one of the most significant ways one can. Though I’ve made more mistakes in parenting Tariku than I care to admit I can honestly say I’ve always understood that I would have to be the impetus for all the hugs and kisses and snuggles.

I guess I just hadn’t realized just how big of a deal it is to have someone you love so, so, so much crawl into bed and place his head on your shoulder without you asking for it.

But it’s a big freaking deal you guys.

Though I feel like it was a seismic shift I know that it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to happen all the time now. I know it doesn’t necessarily mean things will be vastly different from here on out. But I do believe if I continue to be vulnerable and look for the moments I can tell he’s wanting an “in” then maybe he’ll feel as open to it as he did yesterday.

So mamas out there, believe me when I tell you to keep at it. Keep loving on that babe that often doesn’t know what to do with your love. Keep being vulnerable yourself. I know how hard it is to constantly be the one to ask for hugs and kisses but keep. asking. Because you are showing that sweet child of yours that even though it’s scary to ask-it’s worth it. And maybe they’ll need to witness you going first for years or months before they work up enough courage to try it themselves, but stay strong. Stay open. Stay loving. Forgive yourself for the days when you don’t have it in you. One foot in front of the other. Hug upon hug.

6 years you guys. 6 years and one cuddle from him has made me *almost* forget the whole thing.

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Energy in, energy out

I go in waves of reading, you guys do that? I’ll read every day for hours on end for a few weeks and then I’ll not read a page for the next few weeks. I’m currently in a reading mood-something about winter does that to me. We keep our house a bit on the chilly side just so I can have a cup of coffee constantly in hand and a blanket (or 2) constantly wrapped around me.

I just finished Rob Bell’s, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. My mom-in-law graciously lent it to me whilst I was out with bootfoot. Once I was freed from my boot prison I went on quite the dry spell of reading (that’s what 9 weeks of heavy reading/TV watching will do to a person) so just got around to reading it the last few days. Last night I read this and have been percolating on it since,

We don’t transform our shadow side by denial but by entering into it, embracing it, facing it, and naming it because we believe God is with us and for us.

When we do this-name our fears and sins and failures and own up to them, describing them as clearly as we are able-we pass through them into the new life on the other side. We have faced the worst about ourselves and we have survived, making us strong in the only sense that actually matters. This is why resurrection is so central to the Jesus story: he faces the worst that can happen to a person, and comes out the other side alive in a new way. It is not a false strength we gain a posing and posturing and pretending, but a quiet, humble, grounded strength that has done the hard work of facing our most troubling inner torments and then watching them be transformed into sources of vitality and life.

Do you guys love that as much as I do?

When I look back on the last couple years of my life, years where I’ve been really trying to do the hard work-to face that which scares me the most about myself I realize it’s been both the worst few years (it was so much easier, on the surface anyway, when I was in denial) of my life but also the very best. Not only have my close relationships gotten stronger, more vibrant and beautiful but so have I. And it isn’t because I’ve scrubbed myself clean and come out on the other side smelling like roses-it’s because I’ve come on the other side battered and bruised with the realization that I am still utterly and completely loved.

Before-back when I was in complete denial about my shadow side-I tried so many different ways of earning love. Some didn’t hurt me or anyone else, some really hurt me or other people I love. I was floundering for an easier way to come to terms with grace. We all do this, right? When we aren’t convinced of how much we love we go over the top in trying to earn love, perhaps that’s just me.

Of course this showed itself in a myriad of ways but I was thinking this morning about the ways my denial affected my parenting specifically. I believe very much in the energy we put out into the world. I think for a long time the energy I was putting out reflected my inner turmoil. I would be telling my kids one thing, “Do the right thing, be honest, no lying, you are wholly and completely loved” but my energy was saying, “Lie if you’re scared of the truth, ehhhh I’m not convinced a person can be completely loved when all the shit is out there.”

Of all my kids Tariku was the best at projecting back to me exactly what I was putting out into the world. Perhaps that’s why for a very long time I didn’t fully attach to him. Who was this kid skeptical of my love, constantly lying and totally ill equipped for accepting love? Oh right, that kid is me. I am he. How terribly frustrating it can be to parent a child that exhibits the same behaviors and attitudes you dislike about yourself, right?

I’m sure you see where this is going. As I continue every. single. day to own my shit and walk through it, Tariku is mirroring that as well. The lying has all but stopped, he actually let me hold his hand for half a movie the other day. When I look at him to tell him I love him he looks back and I can tell more and more of him each day is taking it in-allowing it to settle into the parts of his heart darkened by the pain, loss and heartache he’s had in the past.

I think as parents we owe it to our kids to transform our shadow sides, don’t you? I think if we don’t we run the risk of our kids being so scared of their shadow sides they’ll do anything to keep it hidden. The truth is I’m not at all scared of my kids’s shadow sides. The truth is, they are young enough I see most of it. But I want them to feel free to discover it on their own and then talk it through with me. Then maybe when I tell them I love them or that God loves them they’ll know that I mean all of them-even the parts of them that hate me sometimes. 😉

I guess my goal for the new year is going to be that-to keep discovering that which scares me about myself and to step forward in faith-knowing I am God’s beloved. And to maybe take that leap of faith to share with my children all the ways in which I have failed so they know it’s a completely human and acceptable experience. I think they’re worth it, I think I am too.

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3 years

3 years ago Tomas and Binyam touched Iowa soil for the first time.

3 years ago I wrote this about being home.

3 years ago this was indicative of how Tomas felt about me.

3 years ago we would find Binyam awake, looking out a crack in the doorway hours after we put him to bed. So scared that something would change while he was sleeping, he remained vigilant until I figured out I had to sit by his bedside until he fell asleep.

3 years ago we didn’t have air conditioning in our house (yikes!)

3 years ago the kids looked like this.

So hard to believe it’s been only 3 years since bringing “The Birhanu brothers” home. I genuinely can’t picture my life without either of them and so to believe I have spent more time as a mom without them than with is kind of jarring to my senses.

We’ve come a long way from the time that Tomas wouldn’t look at me, let alone hold my hand. Most nights he can be found making a beeline for me to hug and kiss goodnight and forgetting to do the same for Zach. Binyam barely blinked the first few weeks home he was so over stimulated. He didn’t talk, he didn’t smile (much) he drooled constantly. Looking back, I’ve never actually seen a child exhibit fear in such a profound way at such a young age. Today he’s our giggle monster who falls asleep the second his head hits the pillow.

The first time I saw those two little boys I knew they were going to be ours. I knew they were adorable, I knew their social reports made them sound like perfect little angels. I knew of Binyam’s club feet and Tomas’s older age. I knew the bare minimum and yet, I knew they were my sons.

I had no idea Tomas was called “little mayor” in Ethiopia and that his ability to win over adults in split seconds would negatively affect our bonding. I had no idea Tomas would struggle so much with his working memory, forgetting details so easily-making it harder for him in school and any social setting that would require him to remember to bring things. 🙂

I had no idea Binyam would shut down when he felt attacked to the point of screaming and drooling for an hour at a time. I had no idea he would climb so far into himself that no one could get to him for hours or days. I had no idea that this would affect his schooling and his ability to maintain relationships.

But I also had no idea that Tomas would teach me all I ever needed to know about joy. I had no idea that when I heard Tomas laugh with absolute abandon for the first time that the sound would settle somewhere in my heart to be accessed in really tough moments. I had no idea that one day he would be the kid I turned to when I needed someone to tell me a story that would make me both laugh and cry. I had no idea one day he would hug me, without prompting, and I would feel more loved than I ever have in my whole life.

I had no idea that Binyam would one day look at me with his big eyes after getting discouraged and say things like, “I did it, mommy! I took deep breaths and I didn’t get angry like you said!” I had no idea that mothering Binyam would unleash a mama bear in me that had yet to be discovered. That when I didn’t think he was getting the help or attention he needed that I would unceasingly call every person I knew to get him an appointment with someone I knew could help. I had no idea when he gave me a kiss with those beautiful lips (snot included!) of his that I would know for certain all good and perfect things come to those who wait.

These last 3 years haven’t always been easy. There have been days when I wanted to give up. Days I wanted to start again. There have been many unanswered prayers, but many more answered even though I never thought to ask.

What I know for sure? Regardless of the fact that we knew nothing about these boys before we begged to adopt them, they have been two of life’s greatest blessings for me. Proof that we don’t always need to know every possible outcome of every possible equation to know fully what we are supposed to do. To me, Tomas and Binyam are proof of God’s grace to a gal like me, because surely no unworthy soul would ever be given two remarkable boys like them.

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Somedays

I get so mad at the world. At God. At the agency in Ethiopia. At whoever is around, really.

A few of my boys have issues that were so clear to us even when we picked them up in Ethiopia it angers me that they were never brought up in their reports. Nothing, not a word or a hint to any of it.

It wouldn’t have changed the outcome, we would still have brought these little rays of sunshine home, but it would’ve helped the transition I think. I could’ve gathered the necessary troops and had them prepared for battle upon my little ones gaining their American visas. Instead, years in, we are still playing catch up.

I told Zach today that it would almost be easier if the boys were diagnosed with something. I think for a lot of us in the adoption world people look at us funny when we say, “Well they are different. They’ve been through too much, it changes people.” Or we look like we are making excuses for behavior that is not “normal” for a kid their age. I always feel a little bit crazy saying things like, “I know he looks x age but please understand that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”

When I told Tariku’s teacher that he needs to eat every few hours or he’s practically incapable of making good decisions she patted me on the shoulder and shook her head. She made sure he ate every few hours but I couldn’t help but feel like I looked slightly off my rocker (perhaps I was projecting, the teacher was actually fabulous).

When I say I think it would be easier if they were diagnosed with something please don’t misunderstand…I know having children diagnosed with anything is many things but rarely easy. I just meant that if there’s no diagnosis, if there’s nothing we can point to and say, “My kid has this, please treat them delicately” then we end up feeling really overwhelmed and lonely.

My precious Bean is struggling a bit at camp. For a kid who is developmentally on target in a lot of ways, he struggles in social settings. If a child picks a different “swim buddy” over him he automatically assumes it’s because he’s not loved. If a counselor tries to redirect a misbehavior (which that counselor has every right to do!) he assumes-and will tell you-that it’s because he/she doesn’t like him. If he trips on accident, he assumes people are laughing at him. If he is overwhelmed-he shuts down, if he is over stimulated-he shuts down. Though camp is rife with all of these situations, I really believe it’s a safe place for him to grow and learn new and better ways of coping socially with his peers.

And you know what? He was like this in Ethiopia. He never played with anyone while we were there. He never talked to anyone when we were there. We never saw him interact with any child or caregiver during our time there. It was so obvious to us even after a few days, and yet no mention in any of his reports.

I know I’m shifting blame here, I get that. But sometimes I feel so hamstringed in raising kids who have such painful pasts because there isn’t the same kind of support that there is for kids with say, diabetes. There are no “Walks to Cure Trauma”. We parents in the trenches have no color that people would identify with what we’re going through, no slogans for which to paint on signs and march the capital streets.

The closest thing we have is this, blogs, and so here I am.

I get that it doesn’t have anything to do with me, but sometimes I feel like screaming my head off and saying, “Someone help them! Fix it for them!” Because I’ve spent so much of my time as their mommy wishing I could take it from them.

I broke down today because I just don’t understand how we live in a world in which boys like mine feel, even for a second, like they are unloved. That we live in a world that in many ways is full of various ways of connection but can sometimes feel so very isolating.

I don’t know, I’ve never wanted a life for my kids that was easy, I just wish it wasn’t this hard sometimes. I just wish one time I could look up during a moment of stress for my kids and see a look of determination and not fear or shame.

Probably all I’m wanting now is to know I’m not alone because my kids are everything to me. I won’t stop helping them until there are t shirts and walks to help kids like them, if that would actually help.

And I’ll keep relying on all of you to support me and guide me along this often blind path of raising these truly remarkable children.

Today

Today he argued with me about mustard. The conversation went a little something like this:

Tariku: “Mom, you’re putting mustard on that?!? You don’t like mustard!”

Me: “Yes I do, honey, I’ve always liked mustard.”

Tariku: “No you don’t, you didn’t before, I remember that you didn’t like mustard.”

Me: “Tariku, I promise, I have liked mustard since before you were born.”

Tariku: “No, I’m positive, you didn’t like it before.”

and on and on for MINUTES. Minutes, people.

It’s been like this for about 2 weeks, which is to say the length of time in which the kids have been released into the wild on summer break. And most days I can let it roll off my back but some days he argues with me about my never liking mustard and on those days I want to call for a do over.

Because I get it. All of his disrespect, all of his angst, all of his constant arguing is always with me. Moms. They are an integral part in my Tariku’s story. Not just me, of course, but of his first mama who he reportedly looks and acts just like. When I think of her, I always think of him. Smile for days, bright eyes, playful and funny but mostly serious and determined.

And I have to believe there are times when he is interacting with me but thinking about her. I’m sure our upturned eyes when he says something funny or wise and our creased forehead when he’s on our every last nerve is vaguely similar. I can’t imagine the pain it causes him sometimes to see her in me or to look at me and be scared not because of what I’m saying or doing but because I remind him of her-of loss and heartbreak.

So on other days, days when it’s not about mustard-obviously, I’m sympathetic. I get it. Changing schedules means anything can happen. It’s why since the time he learned English he asks me what we are doing for the day and then if the car goes off course asks a million follow up questions to make sure we are doing exactly what I had said we were doing. Because of the day when he was told they were going one place and then instead went to an orphanage. That’s why he gets effed up when his scheduled gets effed up.

And I. Get. It.

But it’s fekkin exhausting some days. Some days I look at him and I can see in him the battered and tattered soul that must be looking back from my eyes too. Like two people hanging on to a tree in the middle of a windstorm. We want the same things: to be loved by each other, by other people and for God’s sake we want to love ourselves. Maybe one of those happens first, maybe they happen together-who the hell knows. But here we are, on the damn tree again. Clutching hands and searching for eye contact. A nod that we’re in it together but come hell or high water we will end up together too. Perhaps a little worse for wear but together just the same.

Some days, not days in which we argue about mustard-obviously, we do end up quite literally together. He’ll let me snuggle up to him on his bed. He’s never super relaxed, my Tariku, when I’m snuggling him but ever so closely I creep until he lets me throw an arm around him, sometimes even a leg. “I love you, you know that?” He smiles, nods his head. “No, I mean I seriously love you. Like sometimes I clench my jaw so tightly because if I don’t then I’ll squeeze you to death with all of the love I have for you. It’s too big for my body. My whole body can’t take it, so my big jaw takes it for me.” Laughs, nods. “Ok, just so you know, no matter what-it’s true.” And then as I get up to leave and my back is turned.

“I love you mommy, so much.”

Redemption.

So bloody, sweat and tear strained we retreat to our corners. Me thinking about how mind numbingly frustrating loving another human can be sometimes and him thinking about how I stayed. I freaking stayed.

It’s Going to Hurt

Having little A has been mostly amazing, obviously a little stress and exhaustion are mixed in there too, but mostly amazing.

Today I was changing A when I felt Tariku staring at me. I smiled at him, “What’s up, babe?”

“I like watching you with A, I feel like that’s how you would have been to me if you had me when I was 2.”

“Oh Tariku, I think I would’ve been even better with you. Because you are my son and I knew it from the moment I met you. With A I don’t know how long she’ll be with us so I can feel myself holding back a little bit. Sometimes it’s scary to fall in love with someone if you know they might leave. You ever felt like that before?”

“Yeah, I know exactly what that feels like.”

One of the more remarkable things that has come with us becoming foster parents is just how it’s affecting our adopted kiddos, specifically Tariku. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see they are reassured of their permanency every time another child comes for a bit then leaves.

I’m so thankful for where we’re at. It was a long road to get here but dammit it was worth it.

Tomorrow

I have a few minutes before the kids get home from school so I wanted to sort through my thoughts a bit. Since Zach isn’t here I guess you guys will do. 😉

I got a call yesterday about fostering a little 1 1/2-year-old. In the past we have fostered a newborn and a 9-year-old. The newborn was fun for all of his cute, squishy goodness but a real wake up call -literally- when it came to nighttime feedings and whatnot. Our lives, as it turns out, are so far removed from babies that it was just too much of an adjustment.

The 9-year-old was much the same story. We are not actually “open” to a child that old (we signed on for 0-5) but it turns out they’ll call you on anything. Anything. We’ve had calls ranging from 0 to 17-years-old. True. Story. And for a girl like me, it’s really really hard to say no. No matter if they are a 17-year-old boy with significant issues or a newborn baby with no issues. The 9-year-old was kind of thrust at us, for lack of better term, and we felt unprepared to say no. Mostly because they handed us her contract right in front of her. We loved and cared for her for a week and then she found a more permanent place.

So we’ve learned lots of lessons already, which I guess is good. The hard part for me is our learning has come at the expense of actual children. Having adopted kids from hard places I know what even the smallest of things can do to a child, let alone the constant transitioning between caregivers.

After the 9-year-old I told Zach I wanted to take a break. I felt like it was too much. I had forgotten how hard it was on everyone (and selfishly, on me) to attach to new people. I had forgotten how emotionally draining it is to be everything for a child who has nothing. It. is. hard. And I wanted to be done with it.

But something kept pulling at me. If you’re anything like me, you too constantly gravitate towards comfort. I want things to be easy, I desire stress free environments. Fostering is not easy. There, I said it. The reality is, though, I really do believe we are made to live in tension. Particularly those of us who are blessed to have enough food, clean water, shelter and jobs every day. For those of us who have the basics cared for, I am convinced we are meant to live in a place where we are challenged, always moving forward either on our behalf or neighbors’.

It looks differently for everyone (I’m certainly not one to say everyone should adopt or foster or do the things I’m doing) which is kind of what I love about the whole thing. If we actually act on what pulls us, if we actually do the things that might make us uncomfortable at first but has the potential to change us…well then we really could change the world. Each in our own little ways, each in our own little spheres of influence.

Tomorrow a little girl will get off a plane and come live at camp for awhile. I have no idea for how long  and I have no idea what it will look like to have her here. Today I’m going through where she will sleep, where we will put her clothes (where will we get clothes?). But tonight while I try-and fail- to sleep I’ll think about my fears and hopes and dreams and anxieties. Like I do all the time. Whether we have foster children or not.

Because if there’s one thing I know for sure, the tension I’m living in today always results in a breakthrough of sorts. Usually it’s a realization of my own shortcomings but sometimes it’s a revelation that even someone like me-a deeply flawed human-can affect even a little bit of change. I just have to get over myself a bit and allow it to happen naturally on it’s own.

In the meantime I’d take prayers and positive thoughts, not for me but for her-that she might have patience with me. And that she might know regardless, she is a deeply loved human.