My 14 Best Things About 2014

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There are people who future gaze, who value mornings and fresh starts. I am more of a past reflecter. It is so much safer- I know I have made it to this point, despite all the dangers and things that could have gone wrong. I also like to savor all the hard work that is behind me. I see life more accurately in retrospect. So, in lieu of resolutions I give this instead. Not an all inclusive prioritized list of everything I value, but a way of highlighting the unique goodness of this past year.

1.Tenth anniversary trip to Seattle– A commemoration of our first decade. We watched our wedding video, amazed at how young we looked at 27. Remembered what we felt then and relived the memories since. We visited Pike Place market, Puget sound, the Space Needle, Snoqualmie Falls and the Oregon coast. We savored our uninterrupted thoughts and the simplicity of life without children. We didn’t dig too deep into our issues or work on marital problems. We just enjoyed it, and it was over too soon.

2. Seeing the joy of the ocean in my son’s eyes. Ocean city in July. The beach was crowded, but it could not encroach on the Atlantic’s grandeur. The Jade ran laughing through the waves and rolling in the sand. We spun and danced and splashed without reproof. Every child deserves a summer by the sea. I remember transcendent moments as a child, and they were always outside. A magical forest, a starry sky, that awe and mystery that makes the heart first turn towards God.

3. Meeting my friend’s baby, and finding a way to prioritize friendship during the toddler years. Friends are easy to make but hard to keep. Especially if you move around a lot. A lot of people don’t keep in touch, they keep their circle limited to those in town, those who are convenient. But I can’t let go of those jewels, those rare “kindred spirits” I’ve walked a chapter of life with. I want to reignite those fervent conversations, to feel understood by those who were there, who watched me being formed by life’s circumstances and who even remember what I was like before. We reflect on our adventurous naivete , ideals tempered by reality, and wonder if we have become cynical or wise. Phone conversations are hard with screaming toddlers in the background. A quick update- an hour max- and we both have to go. She had been one of my closest friends, and I hadn’t met her 2 year old yet. Strong friendships can feed off the past for a long time, but they get stale and need new memories to revive.  I flew to Indiana with one kid in tow. By day we enjoyed each other’s babies, and in the evening we talked for hours about the stuff that really matters. Unhealed wounds, uncertain calling, marriage issues- we had the conversations that remind you that humans are made in the image of God. We have eternal souls with transcendent longings that can be communicated to someone else. We can’t keep up with every friend, but we should sacrifice to hold onto some. This year some friendships  deepened, others drifted, and one or two new ones with potential began. It feels like such a coincidence of circumstances. I think many friendships formed in my youth developed because I had so much time to build them. They wouldn’t exist if I met them today, in the frenzied task oriented world of a preschool mom. But other friendships are intended for us, inevitable signs of grace that happen despite their unlikeliness.

4. We became financially healthy-paid off our loans and got serious about our retirement account. School loans are supposed to be the best kind of debt. But because of their amount (2 med schools) they loomed like a specter over our married life. When you apply for adoption you have to calculate your net worth, and ours has been negative for most of our marriage. Until now. We have finally crawled out of the big hole, and are starting to taste the rewards of 15 (combined) years of postgraduate work. It feels good. We will, however, continue to live as residents, partly to keep lifestyle expectations consistent with life overseas, and partly to do the saving we were supposed to do while we were busy amassing loans.

5. We decided to start a third adoption, amidst much controversy. As I wrote in the “China” post, Bob had finally come on board with the idea of going. We were mostly on the same page about moving overseas for the first time…ever. But as I thought about our family there, I realized that I really wanted another baby. The director of the agency we got Nick from said something that haunted me the day we picked him up; “If you come back and work with us again, I’ll find you a girl”. I wasn’t sure I could go overseas right now and face all the blunt questions about my infertility and family with this longing unsatisfied. I asked if we could start another adoption, and Bob agreed. I told myself that it would go quickly, that it wouldn’t delay things that much. But of course it has, and now our whole life is on hold. China is waiting on this, and all Bob’s other ambitions have been pushed even farther back.  I still feel right about both of them. I know that I am threatening my long held dream in pursuit of this little girl. But though I’ve never met her, I can’t walk away.

6.The Jade made progress, with or without therapy. His preschool semester was better than I feared. This summer was our wake-up call that our beloved child might have some unaddressed issues. With the first child, you don’t really know what normal is; he defines it. But his little brother developed to the level that he was able to sit still in a restaurant. He was calmer, less aggressive than his older sibling. The Jade had crossed over from the toddler years, where we could still place his behavior at the extreme end of normal. It was looking more and more like ADHD- and something else. We began the visits to the therapist, child psychologist. The former said sensory seeker, the latter borderline ADHD. Now I am in the middle of 6 months of play therapy, utilizing proprioception and cerebellar input, with a list of “calm down activities” before bed or if he gets too wild. We have done many laps around our house walking as a crab, bunny or bear. I ask him how his engine is running and have tried weighted blankets and sensory retreats. For his hitting behavior we’ve done short term rewards and a star on a chart that is now prominently displayed on our therapy bulletin board. We are supposed to be weaving his “sensory diet” into each aspect of our daily schedule. This is overwhelming, until you realize that almost anything can be a sensory activity. It has even helped me overcome a grumpy attitude about their messes. They’re wallowing in the backyard mud after a rainstorm? Deep pressure activity! Spinning and crashing into me? Cerebellar activation! Blowing through the straw until the milk bubbles onto the table? I read somewhere that pursed lip breathing is calming….Well, somewhere between the therapy and behavioral modifications and some old fashioned parenting advice, the Jade has started to improve. More in control. More on task. Fewer tantrums. He had a great fall semester in preschool, despite the concerns expressed in my previous post. We still pray and work, but we are hopeful that he will overcome.

7. I discovered I may not be in someone’s life for the reason I thought. There’s a girl I’ve been helping for awhile- I’ll call her Elaina. She’s in her 20s but never learned to drive, because she grew up in an abusive family, and fled before she had a chance to learn. We worked with the same ministry for awhile, and I clearly felt God leading me to teach her to drive. It was hard to practice more than 1 hour a week because of my other responsibilities, and she got better but not great. We woke up at 5 in the morning and waited at the DMV time after time, but she always failed her driving tests. “Needs more practice”, they would say. I admit I was frustrated- it seemed like all this work was getting us nowhere. Was I a bad teacher? Was I really meant to do this? Sometimes she was really withdrawn or even irritable, and I didn’t feel like we were connecting on a personal level. But I kept coming back to the feeling that I was supposed to do this, and the task wasn’t done. So we continued to hit the road, and in time the door of her heart swung open. We began to talk about life, hurts, fears, addictions, the temptation to quit and the call of God to keep going. I watched her almost run back to her abusive family, watched her life and future hang by a thread. But she was sustained. I was only one person that God brought into her life, and probably the least important. She has a church family and a few true friends who fill in for the family she lost. Somewhere around the fifth driving test I realized that I was in her life for a lot bigger reason than a driver’s license. She needed one more person who wouldn’t give up on her, who wouldn’t disappear as so many had. In return I gained a friend from hard places. I learned a lot about sexual and emotional trauma and what it does to a person. It turns their whole world into an ugly and dangerous place. It makes them want to escape, or to grasp for control if only within their own body. But I also saw the place of courage, the way that God will come alongside and help someone if they throw themselves on him and refuse to give up. Elaina made a lot of bad decisions as she tried to cope with her trauma, but somewhere in there she found a true faith that God is for her. She’s listening more, relying less on other ways of coping. It appears that God is beginning to remove the roadblocks that caused so much frustration, but she admits now were there for a reason. She just found a job in her field after looking for half a year, and I’m hopeful that our 6th attempt with the DMV will bring success.

8.I read some really good books, partly thanks to my book club. My top 3 were:”The Girl in the Picture” by Denise Chong, “The Insanity of God” by Nik Ripken, and “The Heavenly Man” by Yun/Hattaway. This post is already too long, so I won’t elaborate.

9.I experienced the love of God in a new way, especially around the time of my 38th birthday (see “The Bitter Seed”)

10. We helped our friends begin their adoption of a Chinese boy with a heart condition, and had several heart to heart adoption conversations with other couples who are now in process.

11. We got a reassuring medical report on Nick. Shortly after adopting him, we learned that he was exposed in utero to a chronic life shortening infection. While his early tests were somewhat hopeful, we had to wait 18 months to learn that he was not infected. We knew that he was the baby God had for us, and that He would have carried us down that road if we had to walk it. Still, my stomach turned in knots when I got that phone call, and what relief and joy we had over the gracious news that he had been spared.

12. My job, working for a residency, at a university clinic, nursing home, urgent care and mentoring residents. Medicine is never boring, ever expanding in knowledge, and it can always be done better. I appreciate the times I was able to help physically or emotionally, and I especially enjoyed the residents, and the things we shared about life and medicine.

13. Being a mom of a 2 and 4 year old- such an exhausting and heartwarming stage. This year The Jade went from toddler to little boy. His cute mispronunciations have morphed into intelligent paragraphs. Sometimes he sounds like he’s 4 going on 14. Nick has found his vocabulary as well, and we’re beginning to see the foreshadowing of an affectionate, stubborn and sensitive nature. He also amazes us daily with his raw strength and destructive power. There is nothing more fulfilling and challenging than caring for and shaping an eternal soul in his most vulnerable and formative state.

14. I’m thankful for all the things that didn’t happen. Seriously, I have one friend whose husband faced cancer this year, and a cousin who did the same. Friends had children diagnosed with terminal illnesses or experiment with drugs. Other husbands cheated or became alcoholics. Crippling depression and anxiety took others. People everywhere are hurting and dealing with big stuff. And of course, so have we. Maybe we didn’t add a new family member, take an international trip, or move forward with our China plans. But we also didn’t lose loved ones, suffer a major illness or other big crisis. Thank God for a blessed but pretty boring year.

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We only want perfect kids (at this school)

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It seems that the worlds of medicine and education have little in common. As physicians, we create a space of openness and safety, where you can share your lifestyle failures and embarrassing habits without shame. When we started my son in preschool this fall, I approached his teachers at the open house with the same attitude, but got a very different response.

The Jade was adopted from an orphanage at 7 months. While it wasn’t a bad place as far as orphanages are concerned, we’re pretty sure he suffered early neglect. Neglect that, as we’ve learned later, can hinder normal sensory development and emotional regulation. He is a smart, exuberant, and sweet little boy. But he is also hyperactive. He can’t regulate his excitement over a new environment or guests at the house. He bounces off us, the walls and the furniture. And he hits, kicks and headbutts when he’s angry. He has a hard time hearing no, and some days he’s very aggressive, others not. Normally Bob and I get the brunt of it, sometimes Nick as well. But thankfully we haven’t had a problem with him attacking other kids.

So, in my medical mode where more information is better, I shared all this with his preschool teachers. I didn’t know how he would react since this was his first time in school, I thought they might want to know how to restrain him just in case. Their response was so casual, so non-threatening, I had no idea what was coming.
The first day of preschool arrived. We took our cute little pictures in the hall- grinning boy with his backpack and lunchbox. I dropped him off at classroom and the teacher said, “Oh, the supervisor wants to talk to you for a minute. Thinking it was related to The Jade’s peanut allergy, I marched cheerfully up to Ms. P, only to be met with a stern look.  We met in her office, where she rehashed the information I had given the teachers a few days ago. “This is full of red flags, she snipped. I don’t think your son is a good match for our preschool”  I sucked in my breath and my stomach turned over.  What!?  My sweet little boy, who I had cherished and tended for the past 4 years, the one my friends and family adored? Not good enough for them? She went on, talking about how this was an academic environment, and they couldn’t have aggressive children here. There was no attempt to clarify our situation or ask about our child’s background and story. “We’ll give him 2 weeks and see”, she said warily, and that was it. My child had been placed on probation his first day of preschool.

And apparently we had done this to him. We had mistakenly assumed the educators valued each child as an individual, that their years of experience had prepared them to speak competently and compassionately to the issue of hitting tantrums. Our vulnerability and honesty was reciprocated with hasty judgement and hurtful labeling. I have shared our experience with other friends who adopted kids with extra needs, and they experienced the same thing. Lesson learned. We will not be sharing our children’s struggles with their educators, no matter how enlightening it may be.  They can figure it out on their own, and we’ll talk about it when they think there’s a problem.

Which brings me to the larger issue. The right of schools to select for perfect, easy, problem- free kids. Kids without anger, anxiety, learning disabilities or special needs. Kids that come from “hard places”.  Let the public schools take them.  We are creating an elite learning environment here. We don’t have time for that. I overheard a lady at the gym the other day bragging about her 3 year old’s superior intelligence to the other kids, and complaining that he was bored in preschool, and they didn’t challenge him enough because the other kids couldn’t keep up. And I had an epiphany. I could have been that person if life circumstances had been different. Competing for the best preschool with my 2 perfect genius potential kids, not caring a whit for anyone else’s. Struggling all the time to show up my child as the best. I guess this is one way that the journey of adoption and infertility is a gift. It wrings out your specialness, your cherished expectations, and replaces them with a sigh of gratitude for the grace you did receive. The Jade is smart, and both our boys have God given gifts. But so does every child. And part of this journey is learning to join my experience to others, to really care when their kid as struggles and not be smug. To pray and long with them in their child’s struggles. To embrace the imperfect child we honestly all were.

Well, I kind of wish I could say I told Ms. P off, stormed out of her office and brought my children to a place that would appreciate them. But we stayed. The Jade has done great there, the teachers really like him despite their early concern, and he hasn’t hit anyone. Everyone acts like that conversation never happened, which makes it super awkward. I’m telling myself they’re embarrassed, and that they learned something from our situation and will go easier on the next set of parents who risk honesty about real issues.