Truth Telling in Adoption

In a recent O The Oprah Magazine, there was an article by Martha Beck on truth telling. You need to understand that I am a big advocate for telling the truth. I’ve hammered away at it with my kids for years. Yes, I understand that there is a time and place for some variation from the truth when a person you care about asks: “how do I look?” or you receive a gift you already have or don’t particularly like. But most of the time, I’ve stated: “the truth will set you free.”

Martha Beck advises something different, and I’d like to discuss her ideas in the context of adoption. Her basic premise is that not all situations demand the same level of openness. The amount of truth you give depends, she says, on how much healthy intimacy you want with that person. 

I love her Rule 1: Always tell yourself the truth. We often engage in denial, telling ourselves, for example: if I act happy, I will be happy. But Beck recommends we “follow the flames of suffering” because believing lies makes us miserable. Notice when you are feeling terrible and ask yourself: What am I afraid to know? What am I hiding? What do I almost know? What knowledge am I avoiding?

In the context of adoption, it may be that an adoptee is hiding the truth that the loss of his/her first parents hurts. S/he may be afraid to know the true circumstances surrounding the decision to make an adoption plan. S/he may be avoiding the suspicion that s/he was unlovable and, therefore, rejected by the first family. S/he may be avoiding the truth that the adoptive parents cannot be everything the adoptee needs to feel grounded in him/herself. Getting to the truth might seem to be a recipe for hurting adoptive parents or the birth parents (and it might, indeed, hurt them in some way), but the bottom line is that the adoptee needs to align him/herself with the truth, and relinquish the idea that s/he can control the other’s behavior or response. 

Beck’s Rule 2: Tell your loved ones as much truth as you can. We feel empty and disconnected when we aren’t truthful with the people we love. Also, people grow apart when they don’t share what’s happening to them as they grow. 

When adoptees and birth parents reunite after years apart, there is often joy followed by a period of awkwardness or strain (as I have heard from adult adoptees and birth parents). Those years of living in the dark – of growing without sharing the truth – can leave their mark. But truth telling on both sides can bring them closer. However, if one side continues to lie, the distance between them will grow. As hard as it may be to let another set of parents or a whole universe of biological relatives into our lives, adoptive parents need to get onboard with our children’s pursuit of those relationships or we will be left behind. Speaking from personal experience, our misery as adoptive parents may result from unresolved feelings regarding infertility. We wish to be the sole parent, the only parent, the one we could have been had we given birth to our children. But the truth is that we are not in this alone. If we deny our children’s other parents, we lie to ourselves and to our children. We grow apart.

Rule 3: Tell acquaintances enough truth to maintain optimal connection. This is an interesting “rule” for someone like me because it suggests caution about revealing too much, too soon. (My mother has been telling me this for years!) Beck says: “Tell a bit of the truth, evaluate the reaction, then tell a bit more-or not.” Evaluate as you go along to avoid drama or hurt feelings.

As I think about it now, I realize that I’ve been doing this all along with my children’s birth relatives. In the beginning, when the “matches” were made to pursue an open adoption together, John and I made some conscious and some unconscious decisions about how much to reveal – as I’m sure our children’s mothers also did. Of course, there were certain things that had to be shared, certain critical information. But there was also a lot of gray area – information about each of us we gingerly put forward, testing the waters. I think, for example, of the time we were working with a young woman who had been raped. I was quick to share that I, too, had been raped in my 20s. With other pregnant women, I was not so quick to share this information. 

This reality has implications for adoptions that are intended to be open from the beginning. Can there be “informed consent” if we withhold information? What is the critical information that cannot be withheld if there is to be “informed consent” by birth parents? Adoptive parents, as well as birth parents feeling desperate about placing, are psychologically motivated to say only those things that will result in a “match” and eventual adoption, aren’t they? Yet, in the early stages of getting to know someone, we are cautious and gentle. It seems to me that counseling by an unbiased, adoption-trained therapist is critical at this juncture. Someone needs to have his/her eye on the stuff that matters to the overall health of all parties involved: first parents, adoptive parents, and child. Someone needs to be taking the long-view. Can this relationship – these sets of relationships – be sustained given the particularities of the individuals, as we know them at this time? It’s imperfect. No one can predict the future. But the alternative of NOT having a trained third party to help seems like a recipe for potential disaster to me.

In the realm of reunions between adoptees and birth parents after years of separation, I can see the value of taking tentative steps forward as well. Although the ultimate goal is to have a fully intimate and loving relationship, the years apart have produced “acquaintances” who must learn about each other and avoid hurt as much as possible. I suspect some move quickly to intimacy, but for others the steps are much slower.

Rule 4: If you’re desperate to kill a relationship, lie.   Beck uses the extreme example of being held in captivity by a tyrannical dictator. Lie and get away, she says. Perhaps some of our family relationships also feel this way, but we lie to “protect” them. The important thing is to refer back to rule 1. We need to be aware of what we are doing. We are either being truthful and growing closer or poisoning the connection with falsehoods.

I’ve heard adult adoptees talk about finding birth relatives but keeping them secret from their adoptive parents. This always makes me sad. I hear their rationalizations: “It would break my mother’s heart.” “They would not understand.” I also hear these same adoptees talk about being estranged from their adoptive parents. I wonder if they understand there is a connection between lying to their adoptive parents and the disconnection they feel. 

I hope never to be an adoptive parent who, by word or deed, gives my son or daughter the impression that I would stand in the way of his/her connection to birth family. I hope to be there for as much of their growing up and getting connected as they will allow. To do that, I must both face my own truth and get out of their way as they face their own.

Report on the AAC Conference 2014

Once again Becton’s spring break coincided with the week of the American Adoption Congress conference. Last year, I took Becton with me to cold and rainy Cleveland, Ohio. This year, I took him and sister Skye to sunny California.

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My kids were no more interested in sightseeing in San Francisco than in Cleveland – a phenomenon that blows my mind. I did, however, get them out to ride a cable car over to Fisherman’s Wharf and to Ghirardelli for ice cream sundaes.

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But Skye was mostly interested in clothes shopping and communicating with friends via technology, and Becton was mostly interested in watching shows on his Kindle or computer. As a result, I was able to attend more of the conference sessions than I had anticipated. And that was a good thing.

 I want to share some of the things I learned at the AAC conference. First, I should explain a little about AAC. AAC was founded in the late 1970s as a non-profit organization to educate, coordinate regional group efforts, and advocate for adoption reform. This is a statement pulled from the “beliefs” section on their website:

The AAC believes that all children have the same core of basic needs, and that these needs can be met most easily when children can grow up in the family into which they were born. Every effort should be made to preserve the integrity of this family. When birth families are unable to meet the ongoing needs of children born to them, however, we believe that adoption provides the best alternative—provided the adoptions are humane, honest, and rooted in the understanding that adoption does not erase a child’s connections to the family into which they were born. We believe that those who have lived the adoption experience are in the best position to articulate the importance of these conditions and to bring about an adoption system that is based on them.

I don’t see it stated anywhere, but my perception is that most of AAC’s members are adult adoptees and birth parents from the “baby scoop era,” as the end of WWII-1970s is referred to. In other words, most of the members came from closed adoptions and their anger can be palpable. I give you this background because, as an adoptive parent, it can sometimes feel like “we” are the enemy. But, personally, I would rather understand the triad community than put my head in the sand. It has become very clear to me over the years that simply following the lead of biological parents is not enough. Yes, it may be important to read What To Expect the First Year, and other books on development and the special needs a particular child may have, but it is also important to understand the overlay of adoption and its effects on the child. I hope this will become clearer as I recount some of the things I learned or were reinforced this past week.

 On the first day of the conference, a workshop entitled “Conference 101” was scheduled. We sat in pairs and groups with other conference attendees discussing our position in the triad, our story, and our position on various statements made about adoption. The idea behind the workshop was to prepare us to encounter strong feelings and ideas that might threaten, anger or hurt us. For example, another attendee might believe that adoption should be banned altogether. S/he might believe adoptive parents are incapable of raising a healthy child who is not born to them. (If you doubt your capabilities as a parent to an adopted child, this workshop would have done nothing to bolster your confidence. Still, I found these conversations very useful preparation for what was to come later.)

Each day’s events included Keynote speakers, a choice of workshops, support groups, films, meals, and so forth. DISCLAIMER: My notes on the events I attended may not reflect the presenter’s intent and are a partial and, perhaps, inaccurate summary.

The first Keynote address I attended was presented by a transracial adoptee who uses writing and drama to tell her story. She spoke of white people commodifying and cannibalizing adoptees of color to enrich their lives. She talked about assimilation and the destruction of racial identifiers.

I then attended a workshop on relationships made more complicated when birth and adoptive family members turn to alcohol and drugs to self-medicate. As you might imagine, this is not uncommon. As I thought about my family and the ways in which alcohol and drugs have touched so many members of our extended family, I became convinced that John and I should begin attending Alanon meetings.

My next workshop was on writing as a means of doing some of the healing work of forgiveness. We did a number of free writing exercises, based on prompts, and then shared our writing with another attendee. We also made lists of the harms we had experienced or committed in relationship to adoption, picked one, and wrote a letter asking for forgiveness.

Another Keynote by an experienced therapist talked about truth and reconciliation, the need for more pre-adoption services: unbiased and mandatory counseling, informed consent, etc., and problems with money in adoption, e.g. women without resources surrendering their babies to those who do have have the power of money.

Another workshop dealt with how adoption affects the nervous system. There is trauma involved in separating a child from his/her mother because the nervous system can’t understand it. For nine months, the child is connected to and bonding with his/her mother through sights, smells, and sounds. The child’s DNA carries this memory. The presenter suggested that the amygdala (fight or flight impulse) is the only fully developed part of the brain of an infant. The prefrontal cortex, which would analyze an experience, is not yet developed. Everything the infant or young child experiences goes through the amygdala first, grabs it, and reacts. That initial loss of mother is stored and if anyone else later leaves the child, the response is to feel that his/her safety is threatened. The presenter stated that adoptees tend to feel more panic and anxiety in relationships. They tend to study faces more carefully, looking for the possibility of being abandoned again.

Another workshop focused on research and best practices in adoption. There are approximately 125,000 adoptions in the U.S. each year, the vast majority of which are non-infant children from foster care who have experienced abuse, neglect and/or institutionalization. Yet, our adoption practices are modeled on the idea that married white couples are adopting white babies. Practices need to change to reflect the new reality: openness, reunification of families when possible, single and LGBT parents, Internet oversight, etc…

One workshop focused on the impact of birth fathers. They are often overlooked because they are unknown or the circumstances are less than ideal. Yet, the reality is that adoptees will fantasize a father, so it is incumbent on adoptive parents to pay attention. Fathers affect our choice of romantic partner, relationships with other men, careers, sense of self, etc.

A final Keynote speaker discussed the history and politics of motherhood. “Who gets to be a legitimate mother?” is a question we need to ask because fertility or reproduction is used to pursue national goals. She looked specifically at the intersection between racism and legitimate motherhood over time. For example, the English Common Law, brought by settlers to this country, established that status of the child follows the status of the father. In the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries, enslaved women were coerced to have many children to create more enslaved laborers. Owing to circumstances, however, many mixed race children were born. The laws were changed so that maternity determined whether a child was free or slave, keeping children of mixed heritage in servitude and serving the needs of the economy. During the 1800s, white women were also encouraged to have more children to maintain white supremacy and to fulfill the need for a strong military against foreign powers.

Another example: Chinese male immigrants were recruited for labor on the West coast. Laws were then passed that one could only have sex with someone of the same race to prevent Chinese babies being born.

Example: Indian training schools. The belief was that Native American mothers could not civilize their own children. The children were removed to boarding schools where they could be “assimilated” into white culture.

In the 1930s, with the Great Depression, the U.S. adopted the idea that Americans should provide for poor children, and the Social Security Act of 1935 was passed. Initially, aid was given only to children, demonizing the women who gave birth to them. Originally, aid was given only to whites because the act excluded domestic workers and agricultural workers – the only jobs African-American women were allowed to have. White women could go home and raise their children, but African-American women had to work and find someone else to raise their children. During the debates over the Civil Rights Act of 1964, some of the resistance was from voices protesting aid to people of color because there would be no one left to clean their houses or pick cotton. As people of color began to grow in numbers, during the Reagan Era, women of color began to be “punished” for having too many children. These “welfare queens” were deemed to be producing valueless children who were a drain on white taxpayers. We have been conditioned to believe that welfare is a program for women of color who cheat the system. The truth is that welfare recipients have always been disproportionately white. The speaker suggested: “In pursuit of white male supremacy, non-conforming reproduction provides an opportunity to punish women.”

Before the middle of the 20th century, an unmarried mother was considered genetically inferior. Accordingly, her babies were also inferior. However, with the advent Freudian theory, the locus of “inferiority” was shifted from the body to the mind of the mother. Babies were now free of the taint. Without a man, a woman was deemed not to be a legitimate mother, and adoption as an institution was invented to care for the babies produced by these illegitimate mothers. (Interestingly, white families were not accepting of single mothers while African-American families were.)

The invention of the birth control pill and legalized abortion gave choices to women. No longer were white women a vulnerable group. As the market for white babies evaporated, the void was filled by international adoption…

According to the speaker/historian, the existence of adoption in any country is a reflection of women without resources. At present, it is women of means who can afford the high cost of donor eggs or other infertility treatments on the backs of women without resources…

I also attended a workshop on interracial adoption and white privilege led by a white lesbian couple who had adopted two African-American boys. Many interesting issues were raised in discussion, particularly the way adoptive parents must learn to see through the lens of race and assume racism in any situation. Racism appears in the areas of education, law enforcement, social relationships, employment, and more.

The final workshop I attended also concerned genetics and energy in the human body. That is, the contention is that what happens in the womb imprints on the fetus at a cellular level. For example, stress hormones affect inflammation at the time of formation of the coronary arteries. Other organs may be formed differently. And what unplanned pregnancy is NOT stressful to the mother? The presenter suggested that if the womb experience is chaotic, the child later would gravitate toward chaos…

I will also share a reflection on a documentary I saw. “Father Unknown” tells the story of a father-son trip to Switzerland in pursuit of discovering the father’s origins. Most of the story is captured on a phone camera. Son, David, has never been close to his father, Urban. But after the discovery of a box of documents with Urban’s birth certificate stating “father unknown,” David convinces Urban to return to the orphanage in Switzerland out of which he was adopted and brought to America. Urban knows that he lived with his mother until the age of three. She died and he was placed in an orphanage with others until the age of seven. As the days of the trip unfold, we see a very emotional Urban as he revisits the sights, sounds, and places of his youth. Eventually, a cousin is able to translate a document that names a particular man as his father, a father who paid the bill for Urban’s care in the orphanage. His father, we discover, is deceased. But Urban also learns that his father was married to another woman and that he has a living half-brother. The two men (now in their 70s) meet, and it is a joyful, beautiful reunion. We learn that this trip to reclaim Urban’s missing past also “fixes” his relationship with his own son. Indeed, David and Urban were present at the showing of the film, confirming the amazing bond between them.

To give you an idea of the expansiveness of the topics covered during the conference, here’s a list of some of the workshops or presentations I was NOT able to attend: what to learn from recent tragic cases in the news, donor conception issues, long-term reunions, bad search outcomes, opening up adoption records, LGBT adoptees, need for adoption-specific clinical training for therapists, interventions for working with foster/adopted youth and their families, impact of infertility on adoptive families, creating opportunities for connection with first families, searching for family on the internet, and so on.

The foregoing gives you a taste of the richness of the conference. It will take me days, weeks, or months to process all I heard. In the midst of it all, it was easy to despair about the brokenness that adoption represents. It was easy to despair about my own inability to right what is wrong. But when I step back, I realize that knowledge is power to help me navigate my way through this journey that is adoptive parenting. Knowing how and when adoption impacts my children or my relationships with them is not easy to discern from all the other factors, but it is certainly a big piece of the puzzle. Going forward, I hope to continue to grow in my understanding so that I can be for my children who and what they need me to be.

 

Taking the Long View

As much as my daily existence seems to consist of the repetitious acts of house-cleaning, clothes cleaning, purchasing needed items, cooking, feeding, transporting to and from… periodically, I am reminded that one of my main jobs as a parent is to take the long view.  Let me share some examples.

Saturday morning, Emily and I went to run/walk a 5k (3.1 mile) race.  (This is part of our larger goal of running 5 – 5ks, and 6 – 6.2 mile or 10k races over the course of six weekends, in honor of my 56th birthday.  I know it sounds nuts.  But I have a history of celebrating my birthdays, since I turned 40, with athletic challenges related to my number of birthdays.)  Sunday, we were scheduled to run a 10k, the 4th of 11 races.

On the way to the race, Emily commented that she was going hiking that afternoon with her friend, Sean.  Hmmm.  I thought to myself: “That might be okay if Emily was not struggling in these races.  But she is.  She needs to rest her legs.”  I diplomatically, of course, suggested she might be taking on too much.  After all, the doctor we saw this past week had diagnosed Emily’s leg ailment as “overuse.”

A few months ago, Emily had asked if I would train for a half marathon (13.1 miles) with her.  We had done this before.  This time, Emily wanted to run a race in another state, and we selected a half marathon in Nashville.  However, as our training runs increased in length, Emily began to complain about her chest hurting.  I got her in to see a doctor who diagnosed her pain as inflammation around the breastbone.  The doctor suggested she take Ibuprofen on a regular basis to reduce the inflammation.  In response to this health condition, I suggested to Emily that we switch to shorter distance races, and the new plan for celebrating my 56th birthday was hatched.

We began our racing adventure last weekend. However, within the first mile of the first 10k, Emily’s legs began to hurt.  She persisted and finished the race with a lot of walking.  The same thing happened the following day in the first mile of our second race, a 5k.  I took her to an urgent care clinic, followed by a visit to the regular doctor.  She was told to stop running for a week and rest her legs.  Yet, Emily didn’t want to abandon our program.  So, here we were on Saturday morning, running again.

Emily did better this Saturday – less leg pain, less walking.  But I worried about Sunday.  She might overuse her legs with too much hiking and set herself up for a struggle in the next race.  It’s my job to worry about about her health and to warn her of dangers.

K.J., as a second semester junior, is beginning the process of identifying colleges he may be interested in.  He groans about it.  He groans about taking the SAT and the ACT.  He is much better about completing his schoolwork now than he was even a year ago.  But it takes constant reminding that his grades this year really do matter.  John and I remind him to put more effort in, to produce work product at a higher level.  It’s not about “passing.”  It’s about getting As and Bs – mostly As.  It’s my job to see the forest when K.J. can only see the damnable tree in front of him.

Skye is in a homeschool group now.  It’s what she wanted – fewer class hours, but more independent work.  She does pretty well when she gets to class.  But getting her to class is still an issue.  She doesn’t fully understand that showing up is part of what is required, that not showing up will affect her grades and her future.  I hate our battles, but I have to be the one who insists on the “big picture.”

Journey is overwhelmed.  She has been involved in five plays with long rehearsals this year, in addition to swim team practices.  She has dyslexia, which makes learning harder and slower.  So, she has fallen behind in her schoolwork.  Her teachers and advisor have been great about helping her come up with a plan to get caught up.  But, Journey is still of the mindset that she will not go to her current school next year.  Instead, she wants to attend our local public high school.  She doesn’t realize that her struggles will not disappear in a new, different setting.  In fact, they may increase.  I’m making the case that, if she persists, she will get more support and a better education in her current school.  John and I do not yet know if we will be successful in convincing Journey, but we continue the conversation.

Becton is a natural when it comes to dancing; and others have praised his skills.  He thinks that he can be successful without training because of his imagination and talents.  To some extent, his natural abilities give him a leg up.  But I am aware that he needs training too.  He needs to take classes, learn the language of dance, and put in the long hours of practice to reach his long-term goal of being a dancer.  I have to be the one to insist that he obtain this discipline.

Kids are wired to live in the here and now.  Parents set goals and provide the structure for kids to reach those goals.  But sometimes we are at odds with each other.  Sometimes what THEY want is not what WE want.  I don’t like conflict.  I’m more of a live-and-let-live kind of person.  But I’ve made many mistakes letting my children chart their own courses.  Some parents take the other extreme and insist on THEIR goals at the expense of their children’s different goals.  It’s a balancing act, for sure.  But I’ve come to realize that the pain I endure because of the conflict is just part of good parenting.

I must tell Emily to rest her legs or she will not be pain-free in the next race.  I must oversee K.J.’s efforts and insist that he do more.  I must get Skye to class whether she wants to go or not.  I must present the likely outcome of going to a different school to Journey (but be her advocate and biggest supporter whichever school she attends).  I must keep taking Becton to classes he doesn’t think he needs.  In the end, they will make their own decisions and reap the benefits or suffer the consequences.  But it’s my job to take the long view until they can do it for themselves.

Choosing in Open Adoption

The other night, we were in the midst of yet another crisis related to learning differences, mental health, and personality – not that we were able to sort out which factor was the main trigger for the crisis!  John and I were lying in bed, trying to sleep, but wide-awake with doubts about our ability to bring the crisis to an end.

The next day, as I was driving to pick-up Journey from play rehearsal, I was still working on how to resolve the crisis when I was distracted by the thought: The set-up for this dilemma, and so many others we have faced, began with the way adoptive parents and birth parents choose each other in open adoption.

In the “old days” before open adoption, professionals – attorneys and social workers, primarily – “matched” babies with their new adoptive parents.  As I understand it, these professionals tried to match physical features as well as other characteristics with the goal of creating a family where the fact of a child’s adoption might never be discussed.  I won’t go into the fallacy of this reasoning here.  Lies almost always have disastrous consequences…

We improved adoption by giving biological parents the choice of who would adopt their child and by insisting that the reality of the adoption not be hidden.  But let’s think about how this choosing is done.

In the case of the first adoption agency that John and I engaged – and for whom I later worked, parents who were planning an adoption for their child chose from all the available prospective adoptive parents.  Indeed, our oldest daughter’s first mother chose from 160 profiles of adoptive parents!  (At other agencies or with attorneys, biological parents might receive a more limited selection.)  The idea was to empower the pregnant woman and the baby’s father, if he was involved, with some control over who would raise her/his child.

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Now, one might assume that biological parents who have a choice will select adoptive parents who have similar personalities or histories or child-rearing philosophies.  One might suspect that a biological parent is in a better position than anyone else to know what is in the best interests of her/his child.

I am here to tell you that the reality is more complicated than it might appear.  As an adoption professional in an open adoption agency, I witnessed many of these selections.  Here is a sample of some of the reasons pregnant women chose adoptive parents: (1) region of the country the couple lived in; (2) breed of dog owned by the adoptive parents; (3) religion of the adoptive parents; (4) appearance (e.g. husband was bald like her father); (5) wealth of the couple; (6) areas to which the couple vacationed; (7) promise of a college education for a child; (8) statement that the couple wanted only one child; (9) ease of conversation with the couple when they met, etc.  I could go on and on.  Each woman had a different reason for choosing the individual or couple she chose.

In short, many of these decisions were based on WISHES – wishes that her child would receive something in the adoptive family that the pregnant woman could not provide OR that she would have wanted for herself growing up.  That makes sense, right?  But is it the best way to make a choice with lifelong consequences?

Let’s suppose you want your child to have a great education because you didn’t have one, and you find a couple with multiple advanced degrees.  But, what if the reason you don’t have advanced degrees yourself is not purely financial but because learning was hard for you, and it turns out your child also has learning difficulties?  Your child who struggles with learning is in the hands of people who have no experience with learning differences.  They push and push your child.  They are frustrated with him or her because s/he doesn’t learn easily.  The child’s self-esteem plummets because s/he cannot meet expectations.

Or, suppose you choose a couple that spends a lot of time outdoors or involved in athletic pursuits.  You were never good at sports, always picked last, but the adoptive couple is bound to provide opportunities you didn’t receive.  What if it turns out that your child is clumsy and awkward like you were?  What if s/he is exposed to every sport that the adoptive parents enjoy and fails to be successful?

I am NOT saying that the way current adoption practices give power to biological parents to choose adoptive parents is wrong.  What I AM saying is that it may lead to unforeseen difficulties.

A woman or couple makes an adoption plan in a time of crisis.  The adoptive parent(s) may also be experiencing a crisis: the desperate desire for a child that they were not able to produce on their own.  Adoption agencies and adoption attorneys are motivated to pair birth and adoptive parents for financial and other reasons.  How “rational” is the decision to match likely to be under these circumstances?

Are we doing a good enough job in providing counseling to biological and adoptive parents through this selection process?  Counseling by a third party – one who has no skin in the game – might reveal some underlying factors that would suggest a particular match is not a good one.  A third party counselor might ferret out other information that the interested parties have no motivation to find without this assistance.

In the Falco family, our four older children’s birth parents chose John and me for a variety of reasons, but primarily because we liked each other and could envision future contact and lifelong relationships.  However, we never discussed how John and I might handle learning differences or mental health issues during the matchmaking process.

I would like to think that John and I – individuals who did not struggle in school – are still good parents for our children who have learning differences and/or mental health concerns, not to mention personalities that are very different than our own.  But we are “good,” not because we have experienced these particular differences, but rather because we won’t quit until we find solutions.  We won’t stop loving.  We won’t stop working.  We won’t stop making adjustments.  In that respect, I hope we are like ALL parents – biological or adoptive.

When it comes to adoptive parenting, there ought to be a screening for: “Will you go the distance even if…?  Do you have the emotional, financial, and physical stamina to be a parent to a child who may be very different from you [in these specific ways]?”

We ask these sorts of questions in the home study process at a time when the reality of the adopted child is still a dream.  Adoptive parents often HATE the screening: medical, criminal, and personality background checks, financial reports, references, etc.  It seems so unfair when biological parenting requires none of that.  But, let’s face it, adoptive parenting may require more than biological parenting.  When a prospective child comes along, we need to revisit our commitment to provide all that the child may need to be secure, happy, and productive.  Let’s do a better job on the front end of the adoption process for the sake of our children.

Is Education Wasted on the Young?

“I’m going to drop my philosophy class. It’s over my head,” said Emily. I want her to do well in her other classes. But just because something is hard, should she quit? She becomes defensive if I try this line of reasoning.

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K.J.’s report card from last semester came on Monday. Many of the comments from teachers were similar. For example: “With a little more time spent on the homework, K.J. can make a solid A…” Or: “I would have liked to see a little more thought and effort from him during this block…” and “With more attention to detail and less socializing, K.J. will be more successful.” K.J. smiles but gives no reassurance that he will apply more effort.

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Skye had an American Literature assignment to read “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. She wanted me to answer her questions for her, but when I refused, she said, “I can’t do it,” and shut her door in my face. The stakes were high. She wanted to visit her boyfriend in South Carolina this weekend, and she knew it wouldn’t happen if she didn’t keep up with her work. Why isn’t she trying harder?

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Around 7:30 p.m., Journey received a call from a friend inviting her to a Friday night sleepover. I heard Journey tell her friend that she had a swim meet and a lot of schoolwork to do “because I’m a procrastinator.” That is an understatement if I’ve ever heard one! There were six pages of math problems to do before bedtime. She asked me to help her. But before I’d finished one sentence of explanation, Journey started yelling, “You don’t explain it right!”

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Even Becton, not yet a teenager, is sabotaging his education. Thursday morning, Emily found his ADHD medicine floating in the toilet. When I confronted Becton in the afternoon, he explained that he didn’t like the way the medicine made him feel and he couldn’t eat. I told him that there was a right way and a wrong way to deliver his message. Sneaky behavior was the wrong way. Instead, he should tell me how he is feeling directly and we will deal with it.

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Sometimes I find myself counting the months until each child will graduate from high school and, in theory, become responsible for his/her own education. But, let’s face it, that’s not the reality. They come back. Emily is living at home again. Who knows how the others will fair with college, or if they will even go to college? And I don’t really want to lose them or sever relationships when they turn 18. Once you sign on to parent, it’s for life.

Before Skye shut the door on me, I sat down to read her Emerson essay. I printed it and got out a highlighter to underscore important points. I took notes in the margins. It was difficult language and I found myself rereading to make sure I understood. The discernment was exciting and I began to form counter arguments in my head. In the background, I heard Skye, behind her closed door, laughing out loud in Skype conversation that had nothing whatsoever to do with Emerson.

If Skye had read and thought about the essay, she might have discovered some useful information: Time spent wanting what others have is stupid. Anything worth having comes by your own effort. You can’t know who you are and what you are capable of without trying. You won’t find peace until you do our best. Each of is meant to be a nonconformist. Don’t trust what society or others tell you is good or sacred. Explore and find out for yourself. Be courageous and speak your truth even if the truth you speak today is different from the truth you spoke yesterday…

I recently ordered the book MAT for Dummies. A part of me would love to go back to school and study for a Master of Social Work degree. Recent standardized test scores are a required part of any admissions packet. For me, education is a treasure, a delight. But am I really capable to going back to school after 23 years away from the university? I won’t know until I try. At this point, I’m setting aside the voices in my head that tell me my goal is impractical. “When would you have the time to go to classes or to study?”

Wednesday night, while my younger son was in choir, I met with a group of women in the church parlor for our weekly “therapy session.” It isn’t technically a therapy session, but I think we would all acknowledge the therapeutic benefit of talking with other women who share many of the same struggles. This particular night, one of the women shared that she had recently taken on new responsibilities at work, and that this additional work made it harder for her to carve out time with her children and husband. She reflected that she must be someone who gravitated toward “chaos.”

I had a different thought about her situation. I think that educated women want “control,” and that being married to someone and taking care of children is, basically, a series of out-of-control experiences. Family members don’t behave the way we want them to behave. New crises erupt almost daily. On the other hand, professional work is one place where a person might have some modicum of control – not always, but sometimes. Family life is the “chaos.”

Our group has decided to read Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. I have read the book, but began rereading it on Wednesday in anticipation of a discussion. In the first few pages, I was struck by several statements. Barbara writes, “[T]he call to serve God is first and last the call to be fully human…” She reflects that Jesus called believers to find life, lose life, and find it again. My first reaction was to assume these stages referred to Jesus’s life on earth, his death, and his resurrection. (To be honest, resurrection has always seemed like a bizarre and zombie-like concept to me.) But Barbara writes that, in Greek, the word for life is psyche. It includes “the conscious self, the personality, the soul.” Accordingly, losing life can mean losing track of who we are or thought we were supposed to be. “Loss” is how we come to surrender our lives. When you are “lying flat on the dirt floor basement of your heart,” then there is the possibility of life anew.

I think Emerson was writing about something similar. He says we can’t rely on others to create our path. It’s about our individual effort. But, sometimes, a tree falls or a flood washes out the path we think we are on, and we must strike out in a new direction. As we continue to change direction and discern our way, we are becoming more “fully human” (as Barbara writes) or more attuned to the divinity in us (as Emerson writes).

Don’t rely on my interpretation. Emerson would not approve. But I do take comfort in knowing that others seem to suggest that life is a series of loses and new beginnings, a journey that includes the opportunity to change directions and to learn new things each day, if we can only muster the courage to get up off the dirt floor and forge ahead.

Perhaps, education is not wasted on the young. After all, their brains are more pliable and receptive to new ideas. Perhaps, my frustration is that young minds (who live in privileged circumstances) tend not to appreciate the opportunity to learn. The good news, ironically, is that loss is inevitable. And loss, painful as it may be, can propel us toward “life” that was not previously within our view.

Maybe one of these days, the kids will look up from their smartphones, iPads, and computers to read and really take in the words of one of the posters we have hanging on our walls:

“30 years from now, it won’t matter what shoes you wore, how your hair looked, or the jeans you bought. What will matter is what you learned and how you used it.”

The Gift of Letting Go

Being the parent of teenagers is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they are more independent. They can take care of their own hygiene, wash their own clothes, cleanup their messes (in an ideal world), manage their schoolwork, etc. On the other hand, they are more independent in their opinions and willingness to go along with the “family plan.” It is sometimes hard to find the right balance between letting them have their way and insisting they go along.

Being the parent of teenagers who are adopted makes this independence even more challenging. “Why?” you may ask.

Just the other day, Emily, our 19-year-old, said to me, “I want to spend more time with my sisters in Nebraska when it’s warmer and we can do other things outside…” Emily has recently spent five days, on her own, visiting her biological half-sisters and a multitude of other relatives in Nebraska. Her request made sense to me. They are her family too. She has a connection to them that is in her blood.

This point was made even clearer to me just yesterday. After several years of not seeing Skye’s birth mother, we made the trip to Kimberly’s home in Northwest Georgia. My younger kids did not want to go, but I bribed them with the promise of fast food on the way. And I said to them: “This is what we do. This is who we are. We visit each kid’s birth family. You can decide what you want to do when you are 18. But, today, you go.” K.J. also grumbled, but went along. Thank goodness for Emily. She is such a good sport. She drove an extra car because I knew I would need to leave with Journey and Becton to get back for the Christmas Eve service rehearsal at 6 p.m. Emily stayed with K.J. and Skye so they could have a longer visit and see other members of the family who had been at work.

Kimberly was very easy to be with. She and I did most of the talking at first. But, Skye, who had not been sure she would feel comfortable with Kim, warmed up as the visit progressed. Kimberly made several comments about how much Skye looks like her. Clearly, it is important to Kim that Skye look like her. She would say things like “We have the same lips and aren’t they the best lips?” I noticed that they played with their hair the same way. When Billy, Kim’s fiancé, came home, her first words were: “Did you bring me something?” Skye laughed and said to me, “She sounds just like me!” This is so true.

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As I sat in the sanctuary at church last night, waiting for Journey to finish her rehearsal, Skye sent this text message to me: “I wanna stay with Kim and Billy for a weekend sometime. I REALLY like it up there! I saw Angie [her aunt] and met Matt her boyfriend. Saw Cindy [her grandmother] and saw Sissy’s [another aunt] kids Troy and Karry. Karry’s the craziest little girl ever! She makes the evil Skye face. Haha.”

I’ve listened to adult adoptees and birth parents report on their reunions with biological relatives after years apart. Some reunions are difficult or disappointing. But many reports include statements that reflect a discovering of oneself in the other person. I’ve come to appreciate this as more than a statement about similarities of appearance or mannerisms. It’s more than “filling in the blanks” of a life story as well. The connection is chemical or magnetic, I think. There is something about being with the people who are related to you by blood that defies logical explanation. And whether the relationship is good or bad, it is compelling.

This is what I am experiencing with my teenage children. Each one is drawn to “their people.” I could be sad or defensive about this. I could push back or hold tighter. (If they were in danger, I would muster my “protective mama” to safeguard them, you can be sure.) Instead, I am choosing to let them go.

In February, K.J. will spend his winter break from school with his birth mother and brothers in Nebraska. Skye will probably spend more time with Kim and her relatives in north Georgia without me. Emily will travel to Kentucky where her brother and birth mom live or back to Nebraska for a warmer visit with relatives there. Journey will, in-the-not-too-distant-future, spend more time in Oklahoma with her birth relatives. And, someday, Becton will reconnect with his biological family.

Will they come back? I think so. I hope so. But, you see, the thing about love is that you can’t force it. If you love someone, you have to give him/her the freedom to choose for him/herself.

We may not have entered the adoption world with eyes completely open to the complexities. But because we entered the adoption world as parents through open adoption, we knew we were not alone on this parenting journey. I have long said to the kids, “We have six mothers in this family.” I tell this to them, but I also tell it to remind myself.

There will be a Christmas present from me under the tree this year that no one will see with their eyes or open with their hands. But it will be there in the room with us. It is the gift of “letting go” to find out who you are and where you belong. It’s a gift we all need and deserve. On this Christmas Eve, I am grateful to be an adoptive parent because my children have enabled me to see this so clearly.

Becton and Lady Gaga

I was driving home after delivering Journey and her two carpool mates to school when “Applause” by Lady Gaga came on the radio. (One of the sixth graders who rides to school with us is obsessed with a particular pop music radio station, and I had not yet tuned the dial back to my usual NPR news.) I started to cry. What was that about?

I thought about Becton. He had come home yesterday and stated, “I’m never riding the bus again.” “Why?” I asked. “Because those people are so mean.”

I tried to get more specifics from him, but Becton refused to answer. Instead, he made us all miserable with his bad mood and demands. I persisted in questioning him, telling him that talking about his feelings might make him feel better. Eventually, after I removed his access to the iPad, his frustration grew to the point that he was willing to share. He said that two of his peers made fun of him for liking Lady Gaga. He said they laughed when he told them his first best friend was a particular girl in their 4th grade class.

I responded in the usual way a mother responds to such things. We discussed whether or not I should speak to the parents of the children who had laughed at him. We discussed his right to love who he loves. I affirmed Becton for being who he is…

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Becton and I both love Lady Gaga – probably for different reasons. I love the way she challenges the status quo. I love her activism. I love that she is not classically beautiful, but beautiful in spirit. I love that she works so hard. Becton, I imagine, mostly loves the costumes, music, and dancing. He’s amazing with the dances. He studies the videos and learns all Gaga’s moves. If you could only see him dance, you’d notice how he goes into the dance and becomes the dance. He is in another world. He loses whatever inhibitions a typical nine-year-old might have in the moment.

My other children have danced, some formally in dance classes and recitals, some informally at home. But the other four always looked like they are concentrating on the movements or aware of the audience. Becton is different.

In reading about Lady Gaga, I found a statement she made when answering a question about her high school experience. She said, “I used to get made fun of for being either too provocative or too eccentric, so I started to tone it down. I didn’t fit in, and I felt like a freak.”

Becton already feels some of this. I wonder if he will decide to “tone it down.” I wonder if he will embrace his differences with the result being that he feels like an outsider. It’s hard to know exactly what to say or do as a parent of a kid who isn’t like the others. Do we teach him to conform so he will fit in? Do we teach him to do his own thing, regardless of the consequences? Do we try to help him choose his “battles”? That is, do we help him distinguish when he should act like the others because it does not harm him versus when he should be himself because doing otherwise would damage his self-esteem?

Do we move Becton to a different school where there are more children “like him”? Or, does moving him to a protective environment set him up for more disappointment when he leaves school? Is there a particular age when we should be more protective versus less protective?

And then there are Becton’s other differences – being adopted and being a different race from the other people in his family. How do these differences impact how he fits in or doesn’t? It’s all just too complicated.

Then again, this is the life and the family John and I chose. So we have a responsibility to deal with whatever comes our way, including the differences that mark our children.

Lady Gaga recently did a show with the Muppets. And I am reminded of Kermit the Frog’s song, “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” “Green” is different from the rest. But, as Kermit sings, there are so many things to love about green –

“… green’s the color of Spring

And green can be cool and friendly-like

And green can be big like an ocean,

or important Like a mountain, or tall like a tree

When green is all there is to be

It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why

I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful

And I think it’s what I want to be”

We have a lot of “green” in our family: learning differences, mental health issues, and personalities that sometimes do not fit in with the crowd. But isn’t one of the goals of parenting to help our children get comfortable with being “green”? If my grown children come back to me and say, “I am green and it’ll do fine. It’s beautiful and I think it’s what I want to be,” I will be happy.

No Appreciation

My children have no appreciation for the work of the “family CEO” (a term I first heard used by one of the adoptive mothers I worked with years ago to adopt the first of her four children). Creating the schedule, alone, ought to qualify me for some paid position, or so I tell myself when I need a little inspiration.

Yesterday, driving home from the Atlanta Girls’ School (“AGS”) with Journey, when I glanced at the passenger seat, I could almost see the bubble of isolated independence she inhabits. It is a bubble that shields her from concern about or awareness of how her needs, desires, and activities affect the rest of the family. I had gone to school to buy her AGS swimsuit and snorkel for the upcoming swim team season. When I entered the building, Journey ran up to me and said, “I forgot to do some homework, so I have to do it now or the teacher won’t give me any credit. Then I need to try out for the Fall play before I can try on swimsuits. Okay. I gotta go.” As she was rushing away, I called after her, “I’ll meet you in the gym where they are selling the swimsuits!” What more could I say?

As I paced around the gym waiting, I kept looking at my watch and calculating how many minutes were left before I had to declare: “No possible way to get Becton to his appointment on time.” It was a 25-minute drive to get Journey home, and then another 20+ minutes to get Becton to where he needed to be. I had done the math and knew it was possible to accomplish both things if the children cooperated. Didn’t Journey understand that this delay wasn’t fair to Becton (or to me)? This is why we have family meetings once a week – the meetings everyone complains about. John and I maintain the delusion that if all members of the family unit understand how busy and complex the upcoming week of events is going to be, they will miraculously start being ready on time and more forgiving when their own activities are impacted.

My phone started ringing. Becton wanted the remainder of the chicken wings that Skye had ordered the day before. “Okay,” I said, “but you need to get her permission.” Then Skye called, enraged. Becton had eaten her wings without asking. She said, “He’s a crazy person. You need to do something about that!” Emily called. She said, “Becton is crying because you said he couldn’t have a snack.” I replied, “That’s not what I said…” I hung up wondering what Skye had done or said to Becton… and where is Journey?!

Eventually, Journey appeared and said her homework was done and turned in. She tried on the swimsuits for size. While I stood in the long line to pay, Journey rushed off to do a play audition. We had talked about the impossibility of doing both the play and the swim team. Journey was tasked with choosing which activity was more important to her. Yet, here I was standing in line, about to commit to one while she still pursued the other. I turned to the swim coach and presented the dilemma. Fortunately, someone else had preceded me in asking the question and the coach was ready with an answer. Swim team practices would not start for two weeks. For the next two weeks, Journey could go to play rehearsals. For the following two weeks, she could attend two swim practices and two play rehearsals. After that, Journey would need to attend all swim practices.

I remembered the late summer gathering of seven mothers at my house to discuss morning and afternoon carpools for the girls in our neighborhood who would be attending AGS on the other side of town. Who would ride with whom on what days and at what times was debated and decided over glasses of wine. We also acknowledged that the schedule would need to be revisited with the changing of sports seasons. The time had come. Cross country and volleyball were being replaced by basketball and swimming. Some girls would still need early pick-up to get to dance classes away from school or because they did not participate in sports or other school-related activities after school. Basketball ended earlier than swimming. Swimming was done at a location south and west of the school. My mind was spinning… But the girls wouldn’t worry about the transportation schedule. They could barely remember to take the required forms and money to school.

We have been fortunate this year to have an extra car that K.J. uses to drive his siblings to the two schools on the east side of town. I can check those schools off my list in the A.M. three days a week. It could have been five, but I was suckered into driving Becton to school, the two mornings I don’t drive the AGS carpool, by his sad story that his teenage siblings, K.J. and Skye, torment him on the car ride. I managed to fool myself into believing that I would ride my bike those days as Becton’s school is situated right by the bike path. But morning doctor, dentist, orthodontist, and dermatologist appointments, along with workers in the house to repair the latest falling apart item, have mostly occupied my “exercise time.” And, now, there is Skye home with mono.

Yes, last week was significant. Journey came to me on Wednesday complaining that half of her face didn’t work right. After doctor calls and a six-hour visit to the ER (until 3:30 a.m.), we came away with a diagnosis of Bell’s palsy, a temporary facial paralysis. The next day, Skye wouldn’t get out of bed because her throat hurt. She had been complaining about tiredness, but we chalked this excuse up to her resistance to go to school and do the work. I would show her. She could stay home, but I’d take her to the Minute Clinic for a strep test. Skye didn’t have strep. She had mononucleosis! What this means about when and how her work will get done remains to be seen.

I miss Sherry and I miss what she offered to our family: a constant adult presence at home during the wicked hours when I am driving from place to place. When Sherry was here, the kids ate a home-cooked meal, mostly at the same time. When Sherry was here, someone was checking to make sure that homework was done and not too many unhealthy snacks were eaten before dinner. When Sherry was here, the kids picked up their messes after they made them. When Sherry was here, the kitchen didn’t look like a disaster all the time. But Sherry is not here, so the kids are learning a little more independence – like it or not.

Meanwhile, there is K.J.’s soccer practice or a game, Skye’s tutoring, and Skye’s horseback on Monday. There is K.J.’s soccer practice or a game and Becton’s hip hop class on Tuesday. There is K.J.’s soccer practice or a game, Becton’s therapy, Skye’s tutoring, Journey’s piano lesson, and Becton’s choir on Wednesday. There is K.J.’s SAT tutoring, Becton’s therapy group, and Skye’s therapy on Thursday. On Friday, there is K.J.’s soccer and Becton’s tap class. Fortunately, I have John to help with family cleaning and Journey’s play practice on Saturday and all the church-related activities on Sunday. It’s a lot, and the activities are scattered north, south, and east of home base – until swimming starts and we can claim “west” as well. Emily helps. My mom helps. John helps when he can. We can do this, but I swear there is no appreciation from the younger generation for how complicated this really is.

This is Open Adoption

What does open adoption look like? You have, no doubt, seen it in many forms including: letters and pictures sent by the adoptive family to the birth family, phone calls between the families, emails, videos exchanged, Facebook messaging, visits on birthdays, holidays, special occasions, or just because, etc.

This past weekend, the Falcos experienced another form of the ongoing openness with Emily’s birth family. Four of the seven of us went to Rachelle’s wedding in Kentucky. As a reminder: Emily is the fourth daughter of Rachelle. Emily’s older sisters live in Nebraska and were unable to be at the wedding of their mother to Kenneth. So, it was particularly poignant for Emily to attend the wedding.

Emily helped her first mother dress…

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She arranged table decorations and took pictures (along with the official photographer and me)…

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… while Becton danced…

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Rachelle was escorted down the aisle by her mother and her son, Christopher…

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After the couple exchanged vows, there was a special sand ceremony to symbolize the blending of families. Christopher, Ken, and Rachelle poured different colored sand into one container…

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At the reception, there was feasting and the cake…

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The couple, individually and together, posed for pictures with their friends and loved ones, including the Falco kids…

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Emily and I stood with Rachelle…

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After the festivities and cleanup, Emily and I drove to the family’s house to unload and witness the opening of gifts…

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Emily stayed the night while I returned to the motel to be with Skye and Becton.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Open adoption is a blessing for Rachelle and for me, but it is especially great for Emily. I continue to be amazed at how easily she flows from one family to the other. It is her normal. It is all she has ever known. And she is at ease with members of both families. We are all her extended family like other extended families created by blood.

There were a couple of times at the wedding reception when I overheard Rachelle explaining our relationship to friends of hers who did not know us. I could see the listener processing this unheard-of-before-today set of relationships as s/he cocked his/her head to the side. A part of me feared I would hear some apology about a regrettable decision, but that wasn’t the case at all. I suspect Rachelle does have regrets – wishing circumstances had been different, wishing she had been able to keep Emily – just as I have regrets that I was unable to get pregnant and give birth. But we have each, in our own ways, made peace with those circumstances long ago.

For my own part, its not just: “But for infertility, I would not have Emily.” It is also: “But for Emily, I would not have Rachelle.” I can’t imagine my life without her and all the ways that being in relationship over the years has changed me and made me grow.

Then came the “icing on the cake.” I don’t know what made me ask the question to Rachelle: “So what are you going to do with the dress?” (Who asks the bride that question? But I did.) Her response both surprised me and warmed my heart. She said, “I would like to give it to Emily.” She had consulted with her other daughters and they agreed that Emily should have it, if she wanted it. She did.

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It’s perfect, you know? Rachelle’s body type is more like Emily’s than mine. And it’s another way to connect her to this child we share. I am in no rush for my 19-year-old to get married. But I still have the fantasy that when that day arrives, and if Emily permits us, Emily will be escorted down the aisle by her father and both her mothers.

“I am only…”

Jeremiah 1: 4-8

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

I admit to being distracted in church. I, like the teenagers, am apt to look at my iPhone or my calendar and plan what else needs to be done that day rather than pay close attention to the sermon. Still, I get myself to church because I’m hoping to be inspired in some way that will help me get through whatever the present challenge is and/or the next week.

This Sunday was not much different. The scripture (written above) was read, but then I stopped paying close attention. I perked up when I heard our preacher say we shouldn’t be limited by “I am only…” – that God has bigger plans for us if we let ourselves listen for the “call.”

I thought about my two teens at home who profess not to believe in God. How was this helpful to them? Insert the word “God” into the conversation and they tune out. This tuning out is not unfamiliar to me. I have tuned out A LOT in my lifetime. And John was tuned out when I met him. But his resistance to God-talk had more to do with bad experiences in religious contexts before he knew me. My church – the church of my family of origin and the people who attended it – appealed to him once he let down his guard and paid attention.

I thought: “There must be some way to communicate the message that putting limits on ourselves only hurts us without using the language that causes my kids to tune out.” I recalled that Oprah had talked about listening to a “little voice” inside us, a kind of moral compass that lets us know when there is danger or what the right thing to do is. Frankly, everyone has a “god” of some sort that motivates him/her. For some, it is the making of money. For others, it is fame or security or family, etc. K.J. currently believes Evolution is the ultimate creator of all things. I’ve tried to spin that out for him – suggesting conclusions from that assumption that he might not like. But he will have to come to his own conclusions. I don’t mind that he has taken a position contrary to mine. My old theology school professor used to say that you couldn’t have conversation or be moved and changed unless you first declare where you currently stand.

Still, I was wondering how to relate what for me is a message about God holding us up and pushing us forward toward a greater purpose without using the alienating God-talk. Just then, I was pulled out of my reverie by the preacher’s story:

Two railroad workers were slinging sledgehammers in the railroad yard when another man comes along and calls out to one of the workers. The worker who had been called goes off with the man who called him for a few minutes and then returns to work. His coworker asks: “Who was that?” The returning worker replies: “We both started working in this very same railroad yard 25 years ago. He is now the President of the Railroad.” The coworker asks: “If you both started working here 25 years ago, why is HE the president and YOU are not?” The worker replies: “25 years ago, I came here to work for $1.25/hour. He came to work for the Railroad.”

Now that was a story I could tell to my teens. The Railroad wasn’t God, but it intimated that having bigger dreams and goals might change the way you conducted your everyday life. If K.J. could get past “I am only… lazy and have ADD,” would he work harder in school? If Skye could get past “I am only… interested in a vibrant social life,” would she recognize her other amazing talents and skills? If Emily could get past “I am only… a student with learning disabilities,” would she tackle her college work with the confidence that she is capable? If Journey could get past “I am only… a poor reader who can’t keep up with the assignments,” would she be willing to use alternative means of learning written material? If Becton could get past “I am only… a dancer who is ostracized by my peers,” would he be more willing to stand up to bullying in positive ways?

I think about my journey into adoption. I went into adoption with the goal: “I am only… trying to become a parent.” But, thanks to open adoption, I was immediately exposed to the first parents who made the achievement of my goal possible. I suppose I could have taken my child and turned away. But God held me up and pushed me forward. I had more to learn about families and about each member of the adoption triad. And I couldn’t sit on my knowledge. I had to teach others and to keep learning. I had to try to help fix the problems in adoption-related relationships and in the system of adoption itself. It was and is exhausting at times, but it’s my “calling.” “I am only one, limited person” is not an excuse that God – as I understand Her – will allow me to use.