Social Acceptance

I was a bed wetter.  I wet the bed until I was in high school.  Of all the experiences I have talked about in my life, this is one of the most embarrassing ones for me to admit.  Even at the age of Fifty-four years old, it is still uncomfortable to confess publicly.

There are many reasons for my embarrassment.  First, of the five kids in our household, I was the only bed wetter.  Even my two younger brothers, who were nine and twelve years younger than me, stopped wetting the bed before I did.  Yeah, I never heard the last of that.  My parents and older siblings reminded me often.

This made me very different in my family and socially unacceptable.

My bed wetting disorder automatically put me in a lower, child-like status within my family and directly impacted my self-confidence.

The bladder skill is the one thing that moves a child from the toddler to a big boy or girl status.  It’s a big accomplishment.  My lack thereof made me subject to punitive words, punishment, jokes, and ridicule.  For about 15 years, I dealt with this on a weekly, almost daily basis.  Not to mention my own embarrassment of waking up another morning in a wet bed.

My bed wetting really set off my step-father and siblings at times.

My sister and I shared a room.  She was probably my worst tormentor.  We were very close.  But she also knew how to hurt me.  She laughed at me, called me names, told me she wanted her own room because I made the room stink from my pee-filled bed.  Her words would seep into my mind and remind me often that I was faulty.

My step-father, who gave me the nick-name, Squirt, also hated this uncontrollable trait about me.  I think at first he thought it was a passing phase.  I was five years old when he and my mother began to date.

I remember him telling me that he would call me, Squirt, until I stopped wetting the bed.  Of course, he never did stop calling me this.  And after he realized my bed wetting days were here to stay, he began to hate it.  So much so that my mother would try and hide my wet sheets from him so another bed wetting night would not set him off.

My step dad wouldn’t beat me.  But it was his eyes, his facial expression of disappointment, and at times disgust that seemed to prevent him from even looking at my face.  And then, there were his words that cut me deeper than any whooping.  This feeling would haunt me daily and for years to come.  Sometimes he blamed my mother for babying me too much as the reason for my bed wetting.  Other times, he blamed me.  In his mind, someone had to be the blame!  And it certainly wasn’t him.  It surely could not have been a medical condition.  In his mind (and others as well), it was psychological.

I was just acting out.  Too spoiled.  Too lazy to wake up.  Too scared to go to the bathroom.  Too immature.  None of which were true, by the way.

The truth is I was a very sound sleeper.  Mostly because of being mildly deaf in one ear and moderately deaf in my other ear.  I never felt the peeing sensation or my wet clothes or bed sheets until I woke up in the morning.  I woke up cold and wet.

My family believed that I could willfully choose to wet or not wet my bed.  They held onto this mistaken belief, making me feel as if I was doing this on purpose, like an attention getter.  Oh, ‘feel sorry for Karen,’ something they felt and cynically said without hesitation.  Trust me, the last thing a child wants to get is attention or ridicule for wetting their bed.  That’s common sense, 101!

While my bed wetting kept me from going over to a friend’s house once in awhile, when I was allowed, it was not without anxiety.  It was a gamble.  And most bets would have been against me.  We didn’t have pull-ups or adult diapers back then.  And while using those can be embarrassing too, waking up over a friend’s house in wet sheets or sleeping bag is far greater of an embarrassment.  Trust me.  I know!

When I did go for an overnight, whether it was at a friend’s or a relatives, I got the same talk, “Don’t wet the bed!”  Sometimes it was a pleading, “PLEASE, don’t wet the bed!”  Sometimes it was a threat, “You BETTER not wet the bed or you will NOT be allowed to go again!”  Or I was reminded that I may not be invited back because of my bed wetting.  The first question when I got in the car or got home was, “Did you wet the bed?”  All of which caused additional stress and anxiety.

I had wished many times it was that easy.  My childhood would have been much simpler without that one burden.  Think about it, what child in their right mind would want to wake up at a friend’s house or a slumber party among elementary, middle, or high school peers in wet sheets?  Anybody?  I didn’t think so.  But that was a reality for me.  I had “accidents” at all those places.

This is something that my parents or my family just did not get.  They thought by belittling me, embarrassing me, or making fun of me, that I would get tired of their daily antics and stop wetting the bed.  They just wanted me to stop wetting the bed!  What they didn’t realize is that I too wanted to stop wetting the bed but just didn’t know how.

Can you imagine waking up at slumber party with all your girlfriends and you realize your pajamas are wet.  The sheer fear sets in.  You start to scheme on how you can hide your wet bed from your friends.  You hope that you can go home without anyone noticing.  You quickly gather your bedding and take it to their parents in hopes they will keep your secret.  Then your mind quickly tries to create a reasonable story or excuse you can tell.  You explain why this happened as if this was an unusual circumstance.  It must have been all the sodas and snacks and lack of sleep that caused this accident and HOPE that they buy it.  Otherwise, Monday morning at school is going to be hell.  You will now be labeled as the girl who wets the bed.  And then your secret is out so not only your family can make fun of you but now you may become a joke at school too.  Then, paranoia sets in.  Isn’t that every pre-teenage girls dream?

I remember one time waking up from an overnight stay.  My friend’s mother realized I wet the bed.  She was calm while speaking with me.  She ask me if I wet the bed.  I told her I did.  She said that she had wished I would have told her about my bed wetting condition the previous night so she could have prepared.  What she didn’t understand is that bed wetting is a deep dark secret that families try to keep hidden from the general public.  There is shame associated with bed wetters and not just for the bed wetter themselves.  Parents and siblings don’t want relatives and friends to know they have a bed wetter in the family.

This mother was trying to be as compassionate as possible.  I could tell she was treading her words gingerly so as not to offend or hurt me deliberately.  I told her that I was hoping I wouldn’t wet the bed and that sometimes I don’t.  Then she said, “You’re mother should have told me.”  I think my mother was as embarrassed about it as I was.  Maybe even ashamed.

I have to say I have had some wonderful friends who knew about my bed wetting condition and still sincerely loved me.  And some of their parents were equally supportive.  I sometimes wished I could have switch parents back then.

My bed wetting would create arguments among my parents.  So literally, I was the reason my parents fought.  Not just my bed wetting but so many other things that were unique to me, unlike my siblings, caused my parents to erupt.  I will say my mother was the least to make fun of me.  Though, she did join in the laughter from time to time when my siblings made fun of my bed wetting.  I would look at her with hurtful eyes.  She would scoff it off.

My mother also took a lot of heat from my step dad, which my siblings and I felt bad about.  We were loyal to our mother.  Back then, I am sure my siblings may have even blamed me on some level, unconsciously or consciously, for the discord in our household.  But I no longer feel sorry for my mother.  She was an adult.  I was a child.  She had a choice and the power to be in a relationship.  I had no choice or power to stay or leave.  She was my parent.  I was her daughter.  She had a responsibility to protect me.  She could have stopped the torment but she chose not to do so.

Yes, of course!  I wet my bed for all this wonderful attention from my family and my friends.  Who wouldn’t?

The truth is, I wanted to be normal.  Or at the very least, treated like I was normal with support and understanding.  I couldn’t help that I was a bed wetter.

Maybe I had a week bladder.

Maybe I had primary nocturnal enuresis.

Maybe I experienced some trauma as an infant or as a child.  Soldiers have been known to come home from war and start wetting their bed, due to PTSD, who had no previous history of bed wetting.

There was a medical reason for my bed wetting but I may never know what it was.

Maybe that’s why I get it when others make fun of people or ridicule them or belittle or punish or judge or exclude them or kill them for standing up for something that has happened, beyond their control.

Maybe they are considered socially unacceptable.

Maybe their beliefs are considered different.

Maybe their clothes or skin color or disability make them different.

Maybe their neighborhood or economic status or both are tattered.

Maybe their story, their historical lineage comes with tainted fabric.

Maybe they were abandoned by their family, their people, or their country, or maybe all three.

Maybe they’re reminded daily of the troubled past and injustices and hate.

Maybe they’re blamed for something that was out of their control.

Maybe no one protected them.

Maybe no one helped them.

Maybe no one understood.

Maybe they never received credit for all they accomplished.

Maybe others believed in the lies instead of the truth.

Maybe all they ever wanted was a chance.

Maybe…just maybe…there is more to the story…

Karen 1977

 

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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 grapple 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.

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

5 Effects of Untreated Hearing Loss in Children, Strickland Ear Clinic

“Children with untreated hearing loss are inherently disadvantaged when it comes to paying attention, understanding and following directions, and the ability to express oneself. This can sometimes manifest as externalizing behavior, which can be a display of frustration that is difficult to manage.

On the other hand, the disadvantage when it comes to learning and communicating can lead to low self-esteem that can result in depressed, withdrawn behavior.”

5 Effects of Untreated Hearing Loss in Children

Mild Hearing Loss, article by VeryWell

“Children with mild hearing loss have more difficulties than adults because they don’t have a large vocabulary and experience to draw on.

Children need a louder speech sound if there is background noise than an adult does. In a classroom situation, hearing well can be particularly difficult. Depending on the noise level of the classroom and the distance of the teacher, a student with mild hearing loss can miss 25-40% of speech and 50% of class discussions.”

 

Mild Hearing Loss

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.

What is a Mom?

Sissy and Karen

 

Now that is a loaded question, right?  We can answer that a thousand ways and then we could add another thousand more.

I recently lost a very dear friend of mine.  She was a second mother to me.  I called her Sissy, a nickname that her brother gave her when she was a baby.  I can still remember very clearly meeting Sissy for the very first time.  Her son, Sonny, my boyfriend at the time, brought me to Texas back in 1989 for the Thanksgiving holiday.  I think I fell in love with her the first time we met.  We connected and bonded very easily.

Sissy had four older brothers and no sisters.  She married her first husband and they had three sons together.  She got remarried to her second husband, who had two daughters from his first marriage, both of which lived out of state with their mom.  They were a blended family.

Sissy treasured her female relationships.  She would often say, “My son’s bring me my daughters.”

I loved listening to Sissy talk about her “momma”.  She loved her mom dearly.  She enjoyed retelling the many wonderful stories about her mom and she treasured each one of them.  I remember her telling me, “Once your mom dies, there is no one in the world who will ever love you as much as your momma.”  And that is how her mom made her feel.

I wasn’t that fortunate.  I knew my mom loved me growing up.  She cooked and cleaned and did those kinds of things a mom does for her child.  But I didn’t get the nurturing, protective kind of mom that comes with motherhood.  I didn’t realize this until I got much older.  I didn’t realize how much I was searching for something that I needed.  Looking back, it is clearer.

I found an old autograph book from 1974.  I was in the 7th grade.  This is one of the entries from a friend of mine.

Dear Karen,

                I know this is a little sloppy but, I’m trying to keep Mr. Smith from seeing it.  Dear Karen, I hope you and Greg fall in love and get married.  No matter what some people think, you’re gonna; ya hear?  Listen, this sounds a little corny but I have to say it: I don’t want to lose you as a friend and you’re also one of my best friends.  Anyway I just don’t want you to forget your “mom”.  So I’ll be seeing you later.  Bring those grades up girl so you can be back on the cheer-leading squad.

                Love ya,

                Kim

                (Mom)

                P.S.  I don’t mind you calling me mom.  I like it.

Funny thing is that Kim, who was actually in the same grade as me, was one of the first of many to get the mom title from me.  I had other friends from school that I called mom.  I find that odd, especially because they were girls themselves, the same age as me.  They were usually the nurturing type, the ones who would protect me from bullies and also listened to my problems and gave me encouragement, compliments, and advice.

So in a way, they were a mom to me.

In high school, my best friend, Levia, took me over to her house.  I fell in love with her mom, too.  She loved me like another daughter.  Lots of my friends’ moms or parents felt that way.  I often heard them say, “My mom really likes you.  You are the only friend she will allow to spend the night.”  And so often times, I would ask if I could call them “mom”.

Of my mother’s five children, I was the only child to run away from home.  One time, I stayed with my best friend’s older sister.  Another time, I stayed with my boyfriend’s family.  I called his mother, mom.

Then, in my late twenties, I went to Texas and met Sissy.  I remember asking her what I should call her;  by her first name, Carolyn, or her nickname, Sissy.  She told me I could call her whatever I liked and I could even call her mom.  I chose to call her Sissy.  I’ve wondered why I didn’t choose to call her mom when I could have.  She ended up filling that role so easily and the void that I needed so desperately.  But I considered her a mother.  I got her Mother’s Day cards each year and one year I got her a balloon on a stick.  That balloon stayed inflated for more than twenty years.  I would tell her that she could get rid of it or deflate it but she never would.  I finally said, “Are you afraid if you deflate it, it will deflate our relationship?”  She confessed she did.  I smiled and told her that could never happen.

For the last six months, I was able to help care for Sissy.  On Easter Sunday, I had the honor of experiencing her last day here on earth.  For all she has done for me over the many years, it felt good to be able to give her something back.

Tonight, I was invited to a women’s gathering to talk about our mothers, grandmothers and surrogate mothers who passed away.  It was truly a spiritual experience.  To see the deep connections that these women have had or have to their mothers, some describing both their positive and negative emotional attachments to their mother, is extraordinary.  I saw that no matter how old we get, that little girl-the daughter, still lives within each of us.  Some wanting more from our mothers, but most just wanting more time with our mothers, to try and reconcile what went wrong or to recapture what was lost.

We went around the room and we each shared our “mom” story.  When it was my turn to talk about Sissy, I quoted Sissy, regarding her mother’s unconditional love.  I confessed, I never really felt that way.  I told them about how my mom had two children with her first husband and two children with her second husband and how I came in the middle of those two marriages and how that story seemed to follow me growing up and how that story became my story.  That was the legacy I carried.  But then I said, with Sissy, I was not that story.  I had a clean slate.  I was just Karen.

Sissy learned of my whole story and it never mattered to her.  She loved me despite my flaws and rich and troubled past.  She loved all those parts of me.  I truly cannot imagine how my life would have turned out had she not been in it.  She transformed me with her acceptance and unconditional love.  She is the true meaning of motherhood.

So today, I honor Sissy and all those surrogate mothers who nurture the souls that need nurturing.  Happy Mother’s Day!

second mother poem 2.jpeg

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.

Dinner for Two

My son Jaren has been gone this week on a youth trip with our church.  He has gone on this week-long spiritual vacation for the last two years.  As much as I enjoy having some “me time” I do miss my son being here at home.  I get bored and frankly, get lazy.  He keeps me on toes, running here and there, cooking, cleaning and whatever else moms do with their children.  I’ve only made one partially home cooked meal this week which is unusual for me.  Yes, I’m kind of old fashioned that way.

This is one tradition I’m glad got passed down.  My mother was a good cook and always seemed to enjoy cooking for her family.  She took pleasure in it, whether it was a simple and easy meal or a grand holiday feast.  Having dinner around the table with my parents and siblings is one of the fondest memories I have from childhood.  And with everything else that I experienced, this may have been the saving grace that helped me persevere.  The Family Dinner Project

Cooking didn’t come naturally for me at first.  I was the younger sister so I didn’t get the hands on experience that my older sister Colleen got.  I have evolved over the years.  I am an eclectic cook.  I like to make my ethnic foods, mostly Italian and German and classic American cooking.  But I also like to try new things.  My Texas friends have taught me many delectable Southern, Soul and Tex-Mex recipes, which are all my son’s favorites.  I’ve gotten pretty resourceful on a tight budget and have learned to make good use of my leftovers.

Pork Heart

A couple years ago, Jaren came home from school and told me his teacher posed a question to the class.  His teacher asked, “How many of you have dinner at the table with your family every day?”  Jaren said he was the only one to raise his hand.  He said he looked around …surprised.  He said his teacher was equally surprised.  Then the teacher asked how many of them have dinner with their family once a week…once a month.  Jaren again was the only student to raise his hand both times.  And lastly the teacher asked “once a year” and added and/or if they have dinner in the living room.  Finally a few students raised their hand.   This started a conversation among the class.

I admit, I had felt guilty and even angry at times about what was missing in my son’s life.  I had internally focused on what he didn’t have; like having only one parent (or family member) of Jaren’s (with a few exceptions) sitting in the stands at the soccer games, the basketball games, the football games, the school recitals, the choir concerts, the special performances at church, as I saw dual parents, siblings, and on occasion, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins showing up for the other kids.  I’d wonder, as my son tried to find me in the crowd and wave at me, did it matter to him or if he even noticed.  In addition, not having extended family around throughout the year or for years, some due to distance, some due to racism, and some I really don’t know why because they have had or have access to Jaren and many, many opportunities to participate throughout the year, has left me feeling concerned for my child and the impact this could have on his emotional intelligence.

So when Jaren came home and told me about the class conversation, it changed my perspective.  I could see how this conversation impacted him as he realized how different our traditions were as compared to his classmates.  This was a turning point for me and I think for both of us about how we viewed our family.  I began to see my role in Jaren’s life differently.  My focus changed.  I realized that it doesn’t matter if there are ten familiar faces in the audience or if I am the only family face in the crowd my son sees.  What really matters is that when Jaren looks out into the audience, that he sees me, his mother’s smiling face, looking up at him and seeing how proud I am to be his mom.

I began to see what Jaren has and the traditions that I have created for our family.  While we may not have spent birthdays and calendar holidays throughout the year together with our biological family, we spent it with loved ones who loved us unconditionally, who made every effort to include us in their spur of the moment cookouts or planned out traditional holiday dinners.

More importantly, I realized that it doesn’t matter if Jaren and I are eating at home or dining out at a table for two, whether our meals are three course home made meals or frozen entrees put together with can and box goods, or Friday night pizza in the living room in front of the TV, as long as we are making time to be together.  And it’s more than just about cooking my son a meal.  It’s about him knowing that he is my priority and me doing my best to make him feel protected, safe and loved.

To some, this table may look old and worn.  To me, I see little hands learning to eat, warm meals and birthday cakes, conversations and funny stories, disagreement and even tears.

Kitchen Table

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Well, if this is true, then a table must be worth a million or more.