I remember when my lawyer called to tell me the date and time for our court appearance to finalize my son’s adoption. I was both elated and disappointed. I was elated because we were finally going to finalize our son’s adoption. If you have ever known a family that was formed by adoption, then you know that the time leading up to that appearance is filled with all sorts of stresses and emotions. The court date was set for Friday, March 2nd. I was disappointed that I would never be able to claim the date March 4th as the day we became a family of four. My dazed and confused mind, so foggy from lack of sleep, never computed that the fourth would’ve been on a Sunday. I wanted to be able to march forth on March 4th. Cliché and silly, I know.
I think back to that time a lot and just how quickly it all came about and how quickly our lives changed forever and how naïve we were about it all. Please know when reading this that I would not change a thing, but when I think back to the first years and what all we went through after March 2nd, I can most definitely tell you that we would have said, “No, thanks. We are not ready right now. We have too much going on to take care of a baby.”
I often joke about my son being my mid-life-crisis. My daughter was already ten when he was born and I would turn the big 4-0 just six weeks after his birth. We knew going in that we would be a little older than most parents with babies. I wasn’t expecting that as I waited at the nursery window to hold my precious newborn baby boy that someone would ask me if I was the proud grandma. “No, I’m the proud mamma”, I replied.
The man looked even more perplexed, for obvious reasons. Not too many mommas are fully dressed and standing to look at their newly born son through the nursery window, but I didn’t feel like explaining myself to him. Noticing the difference in skin color, I suppose, he then asked, “Does he have jaundice or something?”
My simple answer was “No”. Then I looked at my husband and said, “I am going to need him to go away.”
My husband, for the most part, has more patience for people than I do. He erupts more loudly, but has a longer fuse. He explained that we were adopting. “Oh, wow, congratulations!”
That scenario played out again and again over the coming months with strangers approaching our tables in restaurants and chasing us down in parking lots to inquire about my family. My daughter loved explaining to them with great pride all about our family and her brother’s heritage. We loved her telling the story because we were so happy that she truly loved her brother and because it put her back into the conversations. In the few weeks between being matched and his birth, I read as much as I could about multi-racial families and losing a bit of ambiguity, especially in a small town, because you stick out just a little and people remember you. It is true. The year before Z was born, my husband had been elected to city council and I thought we had already lost ambiguity because of that. I had no idea. People we had never met or only met once before showed up with gifts. The whole town seemed to celebrate this baby’s homecoming. Looking back that was such a good thing, because in the coming months, we were going to need all of them.
Naïve. That is the only word that would have described us. We had no clue what was before us. The dream job that my husband had taken just a few months before Z’s birth was proving to be an absolute nightmare. The money that had been promised never came through, he was working more and when he was home, he was stressed and tired. We had just moved to a new house with a larger mortgage and now our income was reduced about thirty percent. Add to that infant daycare, diapers, formula, and all the baby’s medical bills, and you will begin to understand some of the strain. But that was only a part of it.
With the move, my daughter had to change schools and missed her friends from the old neighborhood and now there was a baby taking much of her parent’s time. My mother-in-law was newly retired and rejoicing in the fact that she would actually be able to enjoy this grandbaby. When all the other grandchildren were born, she was taking care of a sick husband and still working. Now, she would come over just to let me get a nap and keep him one to two days a week. She bought a box of diapers every time she went to the store and she accompanied me to Z’s long doctor’s visits. If my daughter was sick, she kept her so that I wouldn’t have to take more time off from work. We used and abused her retirement status and she loved it.
That lasted four months. Then she was hospitalized with a life-threatening illness. That illness landed her in and out of the hospital for the next two plus years. When she was out of the hospital, she required round the clock attention at her home. My husband was now faced with working the same horrible hours for horrible pay and hating every bit of it, a baby who woke multiple times each night, a mother who needed constant care, responsibilities and meetings as council member, and he essentially had two households to take care of. He had a brother that took on the brunt of the load with his mother and me at the house doing all that I possibly could, but it was still a lot for one man.
Guess what fell apart for a bit? If you guessed our marriage, you would be correct. I wanted to be supportive. He was going through hell. We were going through it together. He was mad at the world and was absolutely not a pleasant person to be around in the slightest. Meanwhile, we had these two beautiful, precious children. We spent as much time as possible smiling at them and pressing on because this too shall pass.
Did you know that the phrase, “this too shall pass” is actually nowhere in the Bible? As a matter of fact, literary scholars aren’t even sure where the phrase originated. Some say it came from Persian Sufi poets, others claim Jewish folklore, while still others say that they are the words of King Solomon that never made it into the Bible. Here is what I know: When you are in the thick of it and someone says “this too shall pass”, you want to punch them hard. The phrase is seldom helpful. When we are in the thick of it and stressed and hurting, we want someone to acknowledge our pain. Telling me that it will pass means that you don’t understand that I am I’m stuck. It’s not passing. It is pressing. I’m isolated, it hurts, and it sucks! Don’t just tell me it will pass. Pull me through it.
Not all of it passed in the way that we would have liked. My husband quit that job and was able to go back to his old one. Sure, it was less money, but it was less stress too, and then he was able to focus on us at the house and his mother more. My son eventually started sleeping a little better. Six years later he is still up at least once a night but that is another story too. My mother-in-law succumbed to her disease and passed away. I don’t say that in a way to be callous. We miss her fierce. We mourn for the woman she was before the disease, but we proclaim victory in her death because her last two years on this earth were painful and cruel in numerous ways. We juggled finances and made sacrifices so that I could quit work and be home with the kids. Life today barely resembles the life we had when we decided we wanted to adopt.
Now, my daughter is sixteen, dating, and driving herself. Sleepless nights have returned for new reasons. My son is finishing kindergarten and is a lively little comedian when he isn’t an exploding time bomb of emotion. The parenting tricks that got us through with my daughter have zero effect on my son. They are both these amazing little humans and when the stars align and we are all around the dinner table together, it is magical, not without conflict and chaos, but magical still the same. My marriage survived and is probably stronger than ever. The relationship now is one of understanding and solidarity because we have been through it and we have seen the best and worst of each other – again and again. I could not imagine life any other possible way. Who else would begin to understand our madness? Friendships have come and gone but we are a family of four. Shew, we are a mess and absolutely as we were intended.
Why does any of this matter, and why am I telling it to you? I want people to begin to understand that sometimes we think too much. Sometimes we WAY over think things. Just as I am able to look back on my son’s story and most assuredly tell you that it was absolutely the worst time to try to add a baby to our family, I could almost tell you the exact same story about when my daughter was born. That year, it was me that took the pay cut and more hours, she had more health issues starting out than my son, and my father-in-law was deathly ill.
Crazy thing? We planned for both of these additions to our family! We though out each one carefully then took the plunge because we had no idea what was around the corner. Life happens and there are no guarantees.
I love Project Zero and The CALL. If you aren’t familiar with either of them, they are Christian organizations that assist children in foster care in finding homes, sometimes temporary and sometimes permanent. One of the ways they assist children waiting is by posting videos and stories about the children on a Facebook page. The kids are amazing and beautiful, just like my own, and Project Zero does an excellent job of ensuring their little hearts shine in those videos. The comments on those videos remind me every time of how we think too much. How we want guarantees. We look to see if we can fit those precious faces into the puzzle we already have. Nope. You’ll have to embrace that it will be a completely different picture and even the size of the box hasn’t been revealed yet. There is no way of even knowing if it is a 50-piece puzzle or if it is indeed a 1000-piece three-dimensional project. Is it table topper, or will it take over the floor?
Yall, family is one of God’s most divine creations, but it also guaranteed pain. It is guaranteed sleepless nights, worrying, additional medical bills, taking on more than you think you can ever handle, and days of not liking the people you live with. It is also your chance to do it differently, to do it your way, and to leave a legacy. They become a part of you and a part of your story, but if you stop and think too much about the what-ifs and the perfect timing, forget about it. That piece doesn’t fit in your puzzle because you are looking at a different picture, and you don’t own the box.