Halves and Whole

 “And you know I ain’t never wanted no half nothing in my family.” ~Fences quote

Best line and scene in this movie and one that brought tears for me.

I am also a family of halves with no full biological sibling while my other siblings (three sets) that I grew up with each had one of theirs.  And yes, we said your dad and my dad and your mom and my mom.  Even our halves had halves.  Our family is convoluted.  And I didn’t want that for my kids or my family.

Growing up, my siblings often reassured me that they didn’t think of me as a half sibling but the facts were there.  We didn’t always do things together as whole.

The family pics were split.  Some with just the whole siblings and some by ourself/myself and some together with the halves.  As a little girl, I didn’t always understand.  I didn’t know why I had to get out of the picture.  Our mom would tell us, this was for their dad or their grandparents, but at the time, I was 4 or 5 and I was the only one being excluded.  I didn’t always understand why “they” (whoever they were), didn’t want me in their picture.  I remember once, our mother letting me and my half sister take a picture together.  It was clear it was to appease me and my insecurities.

Some of the moms, dads, or grandparents were actively involved and some were not.  That’s hard to explain to children and a hard pill for them to swallow.

When my brother died and made his will, I was the only one left out, while his full blooded sister and our shared father were both included.  It did hurt.  I didn’t care about the money.  He could have left me $20.00 or a family heirloom.  But it was the fact that there was no mention of me at all.

Sadly, it didn’t turn out as good as I had hoped for my boys.  I still crapple with the intent of my family to sever my ties with my youngest son.  But at least my sons have a full-blooded sibling.  They have the same biological mother and father.  And they have each other.  And I know if anything happened to me, that Noah’s parents would adopt Jaren into their family as well.

Mother’s Day 2017

In honor of Mother’s Day, I asked some of my friends to share their thoughts and insights of what they learned from parenting.

Encourage your children to be themselves.  Allow them to express themselves in their own unique way.  Remember it takes a village.  It’s okay to ask for help.  Take time for yourself.  Do things to fill your bucket so you have more to give.  ~Allyson

Be patient. You only have them as “little ones” for a very short time.  Pick your battles; half of them aren’t worth the energy.  ~Arlene

Pick your battles!  It’s easy to get caught up in each and every battle with your child, but remember…it’s the joy of quality time that is cherished and remembered, not the ability to clean their room perfectly.  Each child is completely different.  So, whether you are showing love or reprimanding a child, keep in mind what works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for the other.  When you’ve overreacted to your child’s behavior or made a choice that concerned them that you now realize was the wrong choice, be honest with them and apologize. Teach your child that not only is it okay to make mistakes, but “owning” that mistake makes you a person with integrity.  ~Kelly

Let go of nagging and let consequences rule, even if you have to bite your tongue. Enjoy them for who they are.  It doesn’t take much to create an estrangement – don’t let it be because of something stupid.  ~Katie

Cherish every moment, even the frustrating ones. Because before you know it, they’re not little anymore and think they don’t need you.  Know that eventually, they will need you again. ~Kim

Two words: Pay Attention. Pay attention to your child.  Watch and listen instead of just reacting.  Little ones don’t know how to process all of their emotions and they DO feel them: fear, anger, frustration, loneliness, joy, grief, jealousy, glee…. all of them.  But they don’t always know what to do with those feelings so sometimes they come out as tantrums, inconsolable crying, apathy or just plain jumping up and down and carrying on. Pay attention so you have an inkling of what’s behind the behavior… pay attention so you don’t automatically react negatively….pay attention so you don’t assume your kid is being a pain in the butt on purpose. And pay attention so you don’t miss anything.  It’s so hard to put your adult worries aside and focus, but you will be glad you did (and sorry one day, if you don’t).  Listening to your child is the only way you will ever really know who he/she is.  ~Grace

Make time.  When we look back over our childhood, we rarely remember all the gifts we received from our parents.  We remember the moments; the vacations, the dinners, the picnics and the days at the beach or the lake or the pool.  We have so many things that can easily distract us.  Remember to make time for memories. ~Karen Whitaker

Motherhood has completely changed me.  It’s just about like the most completely humbling experience that I’ve ever had.  I think that it puts you in your place because it really forces you to address the issues that you claim to believe in and if you can’t stand up to those principles when you’re raising a child, forget it.  ~Diane Keaton

Volunteer and Service

Jaren and I have done a lot of service over the years.

I would say my passion for volunteering began when my employer asked me to help organize the United Way Campaign for the employees.  It was a week long event where we shared video’s, personal stories, and the many ways to give and serve.  I had benefited personally from United Way charities like the Good Will store that our mother shopped at from time to time for us kids, as a single mother of three.

I began to get more involved in service when I worked with WaMu. They were a very service oriented company and gave their employees 12 hours per quarter to volunteer during work hours.  It was a wonderful gift. It allowed me to do more, as a single mother. Its harder when you’re a single parent.  Time is so precious. Leave in the morning, drop off your child at school, head to work, put in at least an eight hour work day, plus lunch and then pick up your child and head home to cook dinner, homework, sports, spend time together, get them their bath and ready for bed and do it all over again the next day.

I loved volunteering and serving.  I always walked away feeling good.  So I began to look for service that I could do with my son.  I didn’t want for him to be home with a sitter while I was out volunteering.

We served in many different ways, from awareness/charity walks, to serving Thanksgiving dinners at a homeless shelter, to working with special needs kids and many other various events.  It really was so much fun serving side by side with my son.

However, I did do a few things without my son, like in 2006, Jaren’s school invited me to join their Campus Involvement Committee.  It was a one school year commitment.  I enjoyed that and learned a lot about how the schools work.  I also got to provide input.  It was a great group of professionals to work with.

From 2005-2007 I was invited to join the Community Involvement Team at WaMu and was the Secretary for one of those years.

And lastly, one of the employees of UnityDallas asked me to join their committee to help organize their family event, called Where’s the Beach, which I did in 2008 and in 2010.  I was the volunteer coordinator.  It was about a six month commitment for the planning of the event.

When I resigned from the bank in 2012, I volunteered at UnityDallas, my church, for about nine months, working one to two days in the office, answering phones and handling minor office duties.  It was a lot of fun.

Then, when Jaren got to high school, he began to go even further serving with our YOU youth program at church.  He already had the experience.  And he enjoyed serving.  Even when the folks at the church needed a hand, they knew they could ask him.  When they had Open Mic night for the YOUers, who took turns performing along with adults on a small stage, it was Jaren who worked the sound booth, taking a short break here and there to eat or perform his song.  And when he graduated, he was able to get his service recognition, thanks to his sponsors and UnityDallas.  I will tell you, that meant more to me than any academic or athletic award.

Giving service, whether we are thanked or not, whether we get an award or not, whether someone parades us on stage or not is really irrelevant.  In the end, when I walk before God and he ask me and my son, what we did for his people, we will be able to reply, “We did this and we did it humbly with a grateful heart.”

(Guest Post) Noah’s Mom Shares Her Adoption Story

It’s that time of year again.  As each week gets closer to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I find myself feeling a little bit mistier and mistier.  It’s been 17 years since we grew our family through adoption.  Our younger son came into our lives toward the end of December of 1999.  How does a family living in Central Wisconsin connect with an adoption agency and family from Texas?  The story itself is a long one, but the short version is, it’s a “God thing.”

We were a family of three.  My husband, Paul, and I had been married close to seven years before we had our oldest son, Alex, in 1991.  He was our first little miracle.  I had wanted to adopt children since I had been in high school.  After a few more years of trying to have a second child, we continued to have no luck.  It was then, that my husband and I decided to look into adoption instead of continuing down the road of having another biological child.  We prayed about the decision.  Paul and I were getting older and we did not know if adding to our family was God’s plan, but we felt drawn to go through with the application and the home study.  We felt if we didn’t take this step, God couldn’t answer one way or the other.

Shortly after deciding to go forward, our family met with a local agency that specialized in foster care and adoption.  The actual process was quite complex.  Each of us needed to complete large amounts of paperwork as well as be interviewed.  A long series of events took place and time went by, but finally, in June of 1999 we completed our home study.  We were so excited and filled with anticipation.

One day during that summer, I was taking a walk with a very good neighbor friend of mine.  We walked and talked and chatted about everything under the sun.  Somewhere in the conversation, the topic of completing the adoption paperwork and the home study came up.  My neighbor was surprised since she didn’t know our family was looking into adoption.  She mentioned that she had several sisters living in Texas and one of her sisters had a close friend who had adopted several special needs children through an agency in the Dallas, Texas area.  My friend wondered if she could give my name to her sister and have her give me a call sometime.  We hadn’t heard much from the local agency that we were working with, so I said sure.  I didn’t expect that it would necessarily lead to the adoption of a child from Texas, but I was always on the look out for more insights and information about adoption in general.  I thought it would be great to talk with someone who had been through this process.

My friend’s sister called a couple of weeks later.  She asked if it would be ok to have the family friend who had adopted these children give me a call.  A few days after that, I spoke with this “friend of a friend” who had adopted special needs children.  This entire string of events eventually led to contact with the adoption agency in the Dallas area.  One of the first things that went through my mind, and that of my husband, was to make sure this agency was valid.  We contacted our local agency and filled them in.  They made some contacts and assured us that all was good.  Our next steps included making a book about our family and completing more paperwork.

It wasn’t long, after all of these events occurred, that the adoption agency in Texas contacted us with a potential expectant mother and wondered if we would be interested.  We said that yes, we were interested.  Our anticipation began to grow.

A series of conversations and events took place over the next several months.  At times, things were “on again, off again” with the expectant mother, Karen and her baby.  As December grew closer, Paul and I spoke with our respective places of work “just in case” we would need to be gone.  Since this would be an inter-state adoption, it required staying in the baby’s home state for a specific number of days.  The caseworker also let us know that since this could be taking place during the holiday time, there might be some extra delays.

One December day, while at work, I received a phone call from the adoption agency in Texas that this baby boy had been born.  My husband, Paul, and I were elated!  We shared a little bit with our son, Alex, but didn’t want to say too much since we knew how quickly things could change. The caseworker said it was ok to go ahead and make plans to come to Texas.  Much excitement and planning took place very quickly as the three of us (Paul, Alex, and I) worked to make flight arrangements and ensure everything was still in place with our paperwork and home study.  Two days later, my husband and I received another phone call from our caseworker.  She called to say that Karen decided to take her baby home and to cancel our plans to come to Texas.  Our hearts broke; my heart shattered into a million pieces.  For all of us, our emotions were all over the place.

On Christmas Eve morning, the caseworker called again. I called my husband in from the garage where he was unloading 2 x 4’s to build storage shelving in the basement.  I handed him the phone because my heart just couldn’t take more news right then.  The caseworker spoke with my husband and said that Karen was going to come in to sign the paper work that day.  She asked us if we were still interested and if so, would we be willing to speak with both of them, the caseworker and the birth mother, on the phone later that afternoon after all of the paperwork was completed?  We said, “Yes, we would,” and made only a couple of phone calls related to the new possibility of traveling to Texas.

It was the longest few hours of my life.

Finally the phone rang; Paul and I each got on different extensions so we could all be included in the conversation.  We spoke with Karen, along with the caseworker for a couple of hours.  When we finally hung up, we were so very excited!  As was our family tradition, we ate our Christmas Eve meal and then went on to church for the Christmas Eve service.  One of the hymns that was sung near the beginning of the service was “For Unto Us a Child is Born, Unto Us a Son is Given.”  My husband and I nudged each other with tears in our eyes as the congregation sang this song. At this point, we were the only ones who knew we would be on our way to Texas in another day to grow our family through adoption.

A couple of days later, we were in Dallas.  We met the caseworker and Karen, along with her mom.  We were also introduced to our new baby boy’s 20-month-old biological brother, Jaren.  After all of the waiting and excitement, my eyes met with the face of this tiny baby. My heart jumped and skipped as I held our new little boy, Noah, in my arms.  We all stood around the room, feeling a bit unsure of things, visiting and getting to know each other.  Karen and I made our way over to the couch and took turns holding this precious little one.   Karen shared with all three of us a photo book that she put together with pictures of our little ones first days, some poems, and a letter to her son.  My husband and I were beyond excited that we were adding to our family, yet it was hard.  When we left, I felt both joy and sadness. My husband and I wanted to be happy; we were happy.  It was a joyful time for our little family of three that was now growing to four.  But there was also an underlying sadness that took place.   We knew that our joy was Karen’s heartache and sorrow.

We stayed in Dallas for several days before returning to Wisconsin.  Since it was an inter-state adoption, we had been told earlier that it would take awhile for the proper paper work to be completed by each state.  A few days later, before we left, the caseworker made arrangements for us to meet with Karen and her son, Jaren, again.  We met at a restaurant and had a good visit, all six of us together.

Shortly after that, we returned home, back to Wisconsin.

We kept in touch with Karen, Jaren, and their family through cards, pictures, email, and phone calls.  We try to get together once a year.  Over the years, the relationship has grown into more than a great friendship.  It is now more like one big family.

God brought our two families together even though we lived half a country apart.  Through every step, God’s hand has been in this relationship.  God knew more than anything we could ever see ourselves.  He not only grew our family through adoption, He brought two families together to offer support and friendship to each other and to raise this child.  My love and gratitude is never-ending for this relationship, friendship, and family.

 

(footnote)

My story, One Woman’s Choice, is a true story.

While the agency led Paul and Rebecca to believe that I was “on again/off again” about my intention or choice, I was never sure and never made any empty promises.  

This is what I wrote, 

“Even though I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go through with the adoption, I had to at least try. I contacted the agency and made arrangements to meet with one of their caseworkers named Kristen.”

Going Back in Time (Adoption Awareness)

This is always a hard time of the year for me.  It is coming up on the anniversary of the relinquishment to parent my second son.  I am not alone in feeling this PTSD.  It is a known fact that birth mothers suffer during the anniversary of their child’s birth or relinquishment date.

The Damage to Relinquishing Mothers

Without fail, this time every year which is a joyous time of the year for many, I get emotional without warning.  Tears fill my eyes unexpectedly and without immediate cause.  I get irritated easily and anger quickly.  I become withdrawn and sometimes unapproachable.

In about one month, my office is moving to another building in the same city as our current office location.  Late last year, our management began talking about moving to another building.  They wanted it to be somewhat close to our current location, within 10 miles or so.  They looked in nearby cities and also in our current city for a new place to call home for our Service Center.  Employees waited impatiently at times curious as to where this new office would be.  Many worried if their drive would be longer while others hoped their drive would be shorter in this very populated metropolitan city with hefty rush hour traffic patterns.

So we waited and waited while our management team looked for a new office building in the Dallas/Ft Worth area, assuring us every few months that they were getting closer and closer to a final decision.  Needless to say, the possibilities were endless.

The city is the main cultural and economic center of the 12-county Dallas–Fort Worth metropolitan area—at 6 million people, it is the eighth-largest metropolitan area in the United States. – wikipedia.org

Earlier this year, the management narrowed it down to office space they had found in three different cities.

In April, during an all-employee meeting, they finally announced our new location.  An exterior frontal building picture flashed on the projector and I couldn’t help but notice how familiar this building looked.  As I continued to listen to our VP speak, I kept staring at the picture.  I was pretty sure I recognized this new office space but waited patiently to be certain.  Then the new address of our new location popped up on the screen.  I was stunned.

I quietly told the person next to me that I had worked at that building before.

The VP gave the projected date, which was initially scheduled for November.

At first, I think I was surprised and somewhat shocked by the synchronicity of it all.

As reality began to sink in, I began to process the impact of this move for me.  Moves are always somewhat stressful.  While many employees in the office were talking about this new place, both positive and negative comments, with their highest concern being about the commute, I was internalizing what this move meant for me.  I was pretty certain it was different.  It wasn’t just about packing and unpacking, or a new driving route, or a greater or lesser distance from home, or longer rush hour traffic delays.  For me, it was much deeper.  It was about a traumatic moment in time that I would much rather leave in my past.

The first time my office moved out to this building, it was back in the late 1990’s.  I was living and working in downtown Dallas.  I was a single mom to Jaren and pregnant with Noah.  And, I was on the road to making one of the most life changing decisions I have ever made.  Life was filled with uncertainty.  I was alone to care for my son and future son yet to be born.  I was castaway by many of my family and even some friends and my children’s father had abandoned us.  Life was challenging at best.

My employer at the time had scheduled our move to the new building at the end of that year.  I was also due to deliver Noah at the end of that same year.  And like my current employer, the move was set for November but then pushed back to December.  My delivery date was also set for December.

As the end of the year approached, I was released for short-term medical leave to prepare for my delivery and my choice.  I packed up my desk and went on maternity leave before the move occurred.

The next couple months would challenge my emotional resolve.  I did not have the luxury to worry or think about our new office space, my new cube or my office belongings.  My day-to-day was filled with taking care of my first born son Jaren and the future that I was considering for his younger brother.

After Noah was born, I signed relinquishment papers on December 24th of that year.  Within a week, I handed over my newborn baby to a couple that I had never previously met.  I trusted that the adoption agency had did their research and homework.

When my maternity leave was up and I was about to return to the office, I called my manager.  I informed her of my decision.  I asked her if she could send out an email to the office and inform them of my choice.  I didn’t want to have to answer those questions over and over again.  I also didn’t want to lie and say I lost the child.  But sadly, she refused.  She said it had something to do with policies.  Ironically, within a year, another co-worker returned from maternity leave.  Her child died.  This time, my manager did send out an email to the team to let them know what happened.

So after giving birth, saying hello to my newborn son, relinquishing my parental rights, kissing my baby and placing him in the arms of his new parents, I prepared for my first day back to work.

I walked into our new office space no longer pregnant and with one less child than what my coworkers were expecting.  I sat down at my new cube.  I began unpacking my material belongings while trying to box up my clouded brain, broken heart and my muddy emotions.

This is the place where I walked out to the parking lot during my lunch hour, sat in my car, and cried tears of sadness and hopeless despair.  Where I wrote letters to God asking Him to find a way to return my baby and heal my broken heart.  A place and time where I contemplated suicide just so I could stop the pain, had it not been for my son Jaren, who gave me every reason to live.

I was stripped down to my core and there was little left of me.

And now, after several move dates have changed, with one of the scheduled move dates being on Noah’s birthday and I was thinking, “Are you freaking kidding me,” we are finally moving to our new office building in less than one month.  I am bewildered.  How do I move through this?  What does this mean?  Is there healing in all this?

I’ll admit, in the early months, I was amused by the fluke of it all.  I joked about how God was playing a trick on me, all the while, reserving my anxiety.  But now that the move is less than a month away, it has become very real.

I talked to my current supervisor privately and told her my story.  I wanted her to be aware.  I explained how this is a traumatic time of the year for me and that I am not sure how this move will impact me because of all the similar details; the history of the building, the same time of the year.  I tried to make light of it and withheld my tears that were readily available to me.  We both chuckled at the synchronicity of it all.  I promised her that I am and will continue to do my best to move through this.  She did seem to understand.  She even said, “Well, this time you will be involved in the moving process rather than someone moving everything for you.”

I thought about her statement.  It resonated with me.

 

Her name was Kathy

When we think of domestic violence, we often think of a romantic relationship between two people which has become toxic in some form.  The level of abuse can vary from verbal or emotional to physical.  The impact leaves one person feeling powerless and the other feeling powerful.

Statistics show that 1 in 4 women in the United States have been the victim of physical violence.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

That’s alarming.

But, we often do not think of the extension of domestic violence and its abuse on those around; the children and the extended families.

I posted on Facebook recently:

If you have been impacted by domestic violence, please message me.

Melissa shared, “I grew up in with sexual abuse and violence in my home. The sexual abuse caused rage in my sister who was three years older. My mother also ragged at us but she did not hit us, she screamed, and threw things like all the dishes in the house, or every piece of clothes out of our closets and then would not speak to us for days. My mom and sister would have physical altercations started by my sister and my sister got physically and verbally abusive with me regularly. When I hear domestic violence I think father beating up mother but I came to realize I grew up in a violent home that was not safe and it shaped much of my beliefs about life. Therapy and Unity have helped immensely.”

A new friend I met this summer said, “My first husband was abusive. I was married for five long years. It’s still hard to admit that to people but feels safer here on personal message.”

An old friend of mine, who was in an extremely toxic abusive marriage and is now divorced admitted that her current boyfriend has become abusive.

So for me, I can easily see how these alarming statistics are very substantial.

I remember my own mother getting threatened and hit by her boyfriend George, whom my mother dated for three years, was a live-in boyfriend and an acting father figure to her three young kids, me being the youngest.  That relationship ended when I was five.  Her next live-in boyfriend, who eventually became our step father bullied and threatened my mother and even shoved her up against the wall on a few occasions while her children watched.  As a small child, to witness the rage and anger that was shown on the faces of these men (that sometimes was directed towards us children) while our mother’s face tried to elude her fears and tears unsuccessfully left us with a feeling of helplessness.  We were powerless to make any changes.  We had been placed in a situation beyond our control or our choosing.  We had to learn at an early age how to mentally and emotionally survive on a daily basis to manage and cope in our sometimes unstable surroundings.

I don’t know when my mother started dating abusive men, but I know it didn’t start with George.  While I was too young to remember, her relationship with my own father was also a toxic one.  My father was good at loving his children; he was not good at caring and providing for them; or being a daily constant, reliable father in his children’s lives.  But despite his toxic behaviors towards his lovers, girlfriends or wives, I never feared my father.  Even after I learned of his crime, where his jury spared him the death penalty but sentenced him to hard labor at Florida State Prison for the rest of his natural life.

I found out about my father’s imprisonment and crime when I was a young teen.  But I did not know the particulars, who, what, why or how it happened until years later.  I grew up hearing about my abusive father from my mother, saying he left her so bruised and battered one time that when her mother came over to visit, she had to put on a long sleeve turtle neck shirt to hide her injuries.

My parents parted ways when I was a toddler so I have no memories of that time.  But my oldest brother (from my mother’s first marriage) says he remembers.  He remembers seeing my father abusing our mother.  Once when we were talking about George and our step-father and their tumultuous and sometimes toxic relationship, he reminded me that my father “wasn’t all that great either.”  I find it ironic because it is sometimes said as if I had control for my father’s behavior.  Just because I am his daughter (I am my mother’s daughter, too), should I feel guilty for what he did to our mother?  Even so, does that mean because my father was abusive that I don’t have the right to speak about the other abusive men that I encountered during my childhood?  It’s invaliding the real issue.

Somehow, as I began to date over the years, I seemed to avoid these abusive men.  Did I have an inner knowing subconsciously of what to look for without conscionously trying to decipher those characteristics?  Heeding any early warning signs?  Lord knows, my life has not always been in a good place which could have easily led me into these types of relationships.  Or was it just plain luck?

I did have one relationship that was on the verge though.  His name was Kevin.  Kevin was a tall and handsome young man.  He was a couple years older than me.  His family was well known in our small town and their kids were very active in school and athletics.  I was working at a local bar as a bartender.  I was nineteen years old.  While Kevin and I knew each other in high school, we never hung out.  Kevin was a regular at the bar.  He was popular and very charismatic.  Shortly after we began dating each other, I heard rumors that he was sometimes abusive towards his previous girlfriend.  I assumed they were telling me this to scare me so I would break up with Kevin and then his old girlfriend could get him back.  Our relationship seemed strong and we truly did have deep love for each other.  Within a few months though, I noticed Kevin would become jealous of friends and accused me a few times of wanting to sleep with his friends.  He would become antagonistic, trying to create turmoil and doubt.  I would assure him that I didn’t.  And I truly didn’t.  I had no interest in any of his friends.  I thought Kevin was way better looking, had a better personality, was very talented in sports, was smart, was from a good family, and was a tender lover.  He had everything I needed and wanted in a man.

Then one day, we got in an argument at his parents house.  We were alone in the house and in his bedroom.  All of a sudden, he threw me on his bed, straddled on top of me, pulled his arm back with his hand in a fist and was ready to cold cock me in the face when I said, “Go ahead.  Hit me if it makes you feel like a man.”  Don’t ask me what possessed me to say that.  That could have very easily been an invitation or an instigation for him to follow through with his intention.  But he didn’t.  He stopped.  It wasn’t too long after that our relationship ended.  And in many ways I am thankful.

A couple years later, Kevin began dating a good friend of mine.  Although I had moved away, I heard about their sometimes toxic relationship.  This was not surprising news to me.  I came to realize the warnings I had heard about his previous girlfriend were probably true.  Part of the issue with Kevin was his drinking.  He could not control it.  Once he had one drink, he usually drank until he was drunk.  I recall my grandfather, who was a recovering alcoholic, asked me to ask Kevin if he wanted to go to AA with him sometime.  I asked Kevin but he never took up the offer.  And to be honest, I don’t think I took it that seriously either.  But my grandfather knew the signs.  He could tell that Kevin was an alcoholic before anyone else could.  I remember my grandfather telling me that an alcoholic is not someone who drinks every day.  Some alcoholics can go weeks without having a drink.  But when they do drink, they cannot control their drinking and will usually drink until they are drunk.

So one night, Kevin and his girlfriend had been out drinking.  On the way home, they got in an argument.  My friend was driving and Kevin was in the passenger seat.   Suddenly, Kevin grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it.  The car crashed.  They both were seriously injured but my friend, a single mother, was left as a paraplegic, and her life was changed forever in an instant.  It was devastating news for the whole town.

I could not help but think, “Wow.  That could have been me.”

My dear-longtime friend Lee was in an abusive relationship during our senior year in high school.  Lee remembers, “That was a dark time in my life.”  Most times, the incidents of her abuse didn’t happen when others were around.  That’s the thing about domestic violence.  And why it goes unnoticed and unreported all too often.  Or the victim is ashamed to come forward believing that he or she has caused the abusive behavior or that it is warranted somehow.

Lee’s boyfriend, Pat, had jealous tendencies among other issues.  One night, Lee, Pat, and I were walking down the city street of our small town.  Something happened and Pat pulled Lee aside into a dark alley way.  I think it was something that Lee and I were talking about that made him suspicious.  I stayed on the street sidewalk and gave them their privacy for a few moments.  But then I saw Pat starting to get upset and domineering.  He began pointing at Lee with his finger close to her face and then shoving her.  I began to get worried about what may be coming next.  So I shouted at them and told Pat to leave her alone and let’s go.  And he did.

Sometimes we only have a split second to decide or choose something.  We quickly follow our gut instincts or heart.  So many things can happen in an instant.  Pat could have taken his anger out on me.  That’s the scary part about dealing with toxic people; you just don’t know what they are capable of doing.

Which brings me to Kathy, my father’s girlfriend back in 1967.

At fifty-three years of age , after reading my father’s book about all his lovers, girlfriends and wives, and the string of children he left behind, I have finally come to know Kathy.  All these years, I never knew anything about the woman my father murdered.  Later, I would find out that Kathy was an eighteen year old high school teenager who fell in love with my then thirty eight year old father.  She was a waitress at the local Howard Johnson.  She got pregnant by my father.  She considered having an abortion.  She wanted and needed out of their toxic relationship.  And… her life was taken away with five shots fired to her head because… if my father could not have her, no one would.  That’s toxic, the domestic violence abuse.

Kathy’s story has deeply touched me.  Her short-lived life and tragic death has been hard for me to overcome this past week.  She was a young impressionable teen in love with an older man who she thought would love her and protect her.  When I think of Kathy, I sometimes get emotional and cry.  And while I was reading her story through my father’s eyes, I still have come to know a piece of her.  And oddly, knowing more about her and the circumstance that lead to her death has helped me to heal.  I was four years old when Kathy’s life ended.  I had no idea at the time.  That moment not only changed Kathy’s life, her families, and my father’s, it also impacted and changed everything for his children too.

The truth is, anyone can be impacted by domestic violence, a man, a woman or a child.  And it impacts more than just two people in a relationship.  It’s a ripple effect that can have lasting consequences.

I think for many reasons, that is why I chose to remain single and not go from relationship to relationship and drag my son, Jaren (who’s now eighteen years old, the same age as Kathy was) along with all those “possibly the one” relationships that had a 50/50 chance of succeeding or failing.  The risk of him being abused verbally, emotionally, sexually or physically greatly increased anytime I dated or brought another man into our home.  That wasn’t a chance I was willing to gamble on.  I had a responsibility to protect me and my son.

Children at higher risk in nontraditional homes

This post is in honor of Kathy, and dedicated to her family, my siblings and to all the victims of domestic violence.

If you think you are in an abusive, toxic relationship please call this hotline for help.

1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

HEARING LOSS & TINNITUS STATISTICS

 

Sharing this information…

HEARING LOSS & TINNITUS STATISTICS

~ 50 million people in the America and ~360 million worldwide
1 in 5 teens
1 in 5 adults
3 in 5 veterans returning from war

~ Hearing loss is the 2nd most prevalent health issue globally
The number of people with hearing loss is more than those living with Parkinson’s, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and diabetes combined.

Those with even mild hearing loss are twice as likely to develop dementia.

Can I Call Her Mom?

The first time my eldest son, Jaren and I went to visit my youngest son, Noah, six years after his birth, there were unanswered questions.  One was about my role and title.

Noah always knew he was adopted.  He knew that I gave birth to him and that I am his biological mother.  But he was wrestling about how all that tied into our relationship and the titles we should give to each other.  Who was I to him?  And who was he to me?

Prior to our visit, I was “Karen” to Noah when we talked on the phone and his parents referred to me as, “your birthmom, Karen”.

At five years old, Noah walked over, stood in front of me and said, “What should I call you?”

That’s a powerful question that deserved a thoughtful response; especially to an impressionable five year old.

Noah had already talked to his parents about his quandary.

I told Noah he could call me whatever he liked.  I didn’t want to seem presumptuous.  I also didn’t want to dictate or control his choice.  And I surely didn’t want to disrespect his mother.  I wanted Noah to find the right title for me.  So after a short pause, he decided to call me Birthmom.  Over the next few days, he was so cute in his greetings.  He would walk up to me, flash a big smile and say, “Hi Birthmom!”

The “mom thing” is one of the hardest parts in open adoption.  I wanted to be sure that I acknowledged my role the way that Noah needed.  But it is a balance.  I didn’t want to hurt Noah, or his mom, or his dad by my title.  I would wonder how to appropriately write my closing salutation on greeting cards; Karen, your birthmom, your other mom, your Texas mom?  This is something that could impact Noah’s emotional growth positively or negatively.

Then a couple years later, Noah’s family came to Texas for Thanksgiving.  We were still getting to know each other.  Although we talked on the phone throughout the year and exchanged emails, we didn’t get to spend time with each other face to face.

This time, Noah wanted to call me Mom.  Many different thoughts and emotions began to flash forward.  I was surprised, not even certain if he was referring to me or his mom.  Then I felt somewhat undeserving of this title.  I think his mother sensed this so she quickly whispered over to me, “He asked me if he could you Mom.”  She wanted to reassure me that she was okay with this.

I was so deeply touched not just by Noah for his willingness to include me in this worthy title but I was astonished by the grace by which his mother was willing to share that title with me.  Not only that, but that Noah was confident enough and comfortable enough to go to his mom and ask her a question like this.  And then his mom, understanding her son’s needs to do this.

The last few years, I have been mostly Karen.  And I am good with that as long as Noah is good with that.

A couple years ago, when Jaren and I visited Noah and his family, I was greatly honored by his mother once again.  As we were walking out of the church service to greet the minister, Noah’s mom introduced me as “Noah’s mom”.  I was deeply touched.  I am sure the minister was a little confused.  As we made our way to the café area, she introduced me a couple more times as “Noah’s mom”.  Uneasy about my title, I smiled and said, “Noah’s other mom.”  I don’t know why I felt the need to say that.  It was out of sheer humbleness.  I knew deep within that all these people knew who Noah’s everyday Mom was.  I just wanted them to know that I knew that also.

I’ve read many stories about adoption.  I’ve read derogatory comments about what a birthmom is or isn’t.  The general American society can be very harsh in their uneducated perception.  I had no idea what my journey would be when I said good-bye to Noah and his new family, or if I would ever see my son again in our lifetime.

I’ve learned that adoption is not about replacing someone.  Noah loves his mother.  A biological parent can never be erased.  My mother lives on in me, I live on in my two sons (parent to one, birth mother to the other). In the end, love has no boundaries.

So today, I honor Noah’s mom for her love and generosity.

Happy Mother’s Day, Noah’s Mom!  I love you dearly.

1 Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Happy Birth Day

I recently celebrated a birthday.

I hadn’t been that excited about my birthday for the past couple years now.  It just seemed like another day on the calendar.  It’s not that I frown about my growing age number.  I’m in the 50 plus age group now.  I don’t mind my 50 plus status.  Really, I don’t.

I think it had more to do with my view of myself and the value or worth I felt.

What is a birthday?

Is it really about the gifts, the Hallmark Card (not knocking Hallmark, love their cards), the cake, the candles, or the Happy Birthday song?  Is it the Facebook post, the text or the other social media recognition we get?

Realistically, we know what a birthday is.  It is the day someone was born.  It is the day that someone, their mother, gave birth to them.  It is the day they became human and independent of their mother’s womb, nutrients.  It is a day in which we hope was a time of rejoice for our mother, father and extended loved ones as they welcomed our birth.

But I think there is more.

We know that not everyone celebrates birthdays in the same way or for that matter, celebrates them at all.  Here in America, we seem to say the words so easily as if it is an automatic response, like “God Bless You” when someone sneezes.  But do we really value the sincerity of the message we are sharing?

I shared my birthday with my great grandmother up until I was 19 years of age.  We had nearly 60 years between us.   I enjoyed sharing my birthday with my great grandmother and she seemed to enjoy sharing hers with me.

More often, it made me feel special; but every once in a while, I took a back seat to my great grandmother.  As a child, I didn’t always understand and sometimes had trouble processing it.  It felt like someone was placing value on us as one being more important than the other.

For the last three birthdays, I began to share my birthday with a coworker.  I was excited to be able to share my birthday again.  But I think my coworker, at first, felt cheated that she, a senior employee, had to now share her birthday with me.  And again I had that feeling, like we were being pitted against each other.  Who is more important.  Who is more likable.  I don’t like nor do well with these scenarios.  I usually retreat within.

When we care about someone, whether it is our child, our spouse, a sibling, a parent, a dear friend or loved one, telling them Happy Birthday is telling them that they matter, they are special to us, and we are happy they were born on this day.

Last year, I was able to celebrate the birthday of my youngest son with him for the first time since he was born.  I’ve talked to him on his birthday.  I’ve sent him birthday gifts over the years.  Our families have even visited within a week or so of his birthday while also celebrating Christmas.  But, I have not seen my son Noah, face to face, on his actual birth day since the day I gave birth to him.

It was truly something special.

To be able to light the candles on his cake, sing Happy Birthday and show him how happy I am that he was birthed on this day.  It all meant a great deal to me.

I love my sons.  I love being able to tell them and show them how happy I am that I gave birth to them.  How happy I am that they are here.  How proud I am when I look at them and see what an amazing job my body did in creating and birthing these beautiful human beings.  I think that is what a birth day signifies.

 

Adoption Awareness 2015

November is Adoption Awareness Month and I sometimes wonder if mainstream America really wants to know the truth, the whole truth or the facts surrounding adoption.  Or can we even handle the truth?  It is truly hard to believe that the ones who have been speaking out for the Adoption Awareness Campaign over the last few decades have been adoptive parents and non-adoptive colleagues (counselors, educators or adoption officials), leaving out two very important voices; adoptees and birth parents.  Without the latter two, there would be no such thing as adoption.

We should ask ourselves, how can we truly bring awareness to the topic and authentic nature surrounding adoption when we leave out two of the three voices in adoption?

What does adoption awareness mean to us? 

First, we must understand the word awareness.

AWARENESS; knowledge or perception of a situation or fact

If we look at most other awareness campaigns (example: Suicide Awareness, Cancer Awareness, and Disability Awareness) we are provided with an array of scenarios.  We are given real life accounts of those experiencing such afflictions.  We are provided with the positive and negative effects, the miraculous recovery cases and the ones whose life ended because of the disease.  We learn about treatments and survival rates, determination and discrimination.  We learn about prevention and even about failures and misdiagnoses.  We hear from doctors, nurses, parents, siblings and extended family members each sharing their experiences.  But most often, most often…we hear from the person who experienced the condition first hand.  That is awareness.

Adoption is multi-dimensional.  Many people not directly impacted by adoption view adoption from one side.

Example:  While at work recently, my supervisor was standing in between my cube and my co-worker’s cube.  I heard him talking about someone who was hoping to adopt.  He said that she (I don’t remember how he referred to “her”- the woman/mother giving birth) was at the hospital about to give birth.  Then he made some off handed comment about her signing papers.  He spoke about this event as if he was talking about his kids’ sport games or school activities.  He had no concern or care for the mother who conceived and was about to give birth to her baby.  It didn’t matter to him.  His focus was on the couple who wanted that baby.

My supervisor does not know my personal experience with adoption.  And I have no intention of telling him.  But I was surprised at how this conversation immobilized me.  I was unable to focus on my work.  I was emotionally transported back to that very moment in my life when I was faced with the most demoralizing time in my life.  I felt deep compassion for the woman in the hospital and wondered if she had any idea what her future will be like if she chose to relinquish her parental rights.  I wondered if anyone had explained to her the possible side effects associated with relinquishment?

For me, since that time, I have become more distrustful of people.  I have a much harder time making friends and maintaining healthy relationships.  I have become claustrophobic and I have panic attacks.  I am not the same person I was before I chose relinquishment.  A part of me died on that day.  I not only mourn the ability to parent my child, but also for that part of me that was lost.  I lost a piece of my innocence that day.  A piece that was pure and good.

My social status changed in that one instance.  I lost credibility and a level of respect as a woman and a mother.  And in return, I lost faith in humanity.  It’s a catch 22.

This is why we need adoption awareness and why we need to look at all sides of adoption to get a clear picture of the true nature surrounding adoption.  It’s like surgery or drugs.  By law, doctors, surgeons and pharmacist have to give all the different scenarios, the negative or worse case outcomes or side effects (it could cause this or that) even if the percentage is less than one percent.

It seems somewhere in our past, some believed Adoption Awareness was about highlighting and promoting adoption.  Adoption Awareness was used to parade orphans in need of a home.  The supporters and promoters believed that once the adoption was complete, the problem was solved.  Child needs home.  Child finds home.  End of story.  All is good.

I am not entirely against using media outlets to find homes for orphans.  If we have children that need homes than we need to use all means possible to find them secure homes; but when we use all our focus on this one facet surrounding adoption that is a problem because we fail to recognize all the other factors (loss, grief and trauma) surrounding adoption, the causes that create this epidemic, and the long term effects.

Without the voices of the adoptee and the birthparent(s) we continue to have assumptions and negative stereotypes.  We continue to enable the pattern of the cycle which causes mothers and children to be separated.  We continue to ignore the impact on our children, our families and to a greater extent, our society.  Without these voices, we ignore the least and vulnerable and enable others to extort and manipulate them in the name of love.