Thursday, May 28, 2015

i wish i'd never met you...

dear kaday,

the other day I woke up from a dream that you had called me from the center on your birthday.  we discussed that you turned 9, and then you said, "mom, sometimes I wish i'd never met you.  this reattachment is hard.  it hurts my feelings that i'm not there with my brothers."

in the dream i was blown away by your maturity and ability to communicate your feelings.  we don't communicate anything but love on Skype lately.  i don't know if that's good or bad, but it's certainly easier on my heart.  i'm sure that's selfish of me.

i woke up sad.  obviously.  you turn 9 in 6 weeks, and even sooner you will have your three year anniversary of being in the orphanage.  let's be clear - The Covering is leaps and bounds better than the situation you came from.  you now have loads of people who genuinely love you and care for you.  you have food, clothing, medical care, school and church.  you have friends who look out for you.  you have aunties who take care of you when you're sick.

it's just not the same as a family.

auntie katie called me this morning so I could FaceTime with you while you were looking at your pictures.  you said all the right things, thank you, etc., but you looked heartbroken.  katie said at first you were happy, but then you got sad looking at the photos of your family without you.  you left the apartment, and she thought you'd gone downstairs, but she saw that you went out on the porch by yourself to spend some time with the pictures.  she said she thought it was good for you to work through some emotions without other kids around.  i guess you probably can't get very sad or cry when everyone is around.

we're moving into a new house next week.  it has enough bedrooms for you to have your own someday.  honestly, i thought you'd be in the process of coming home by the time we bought a bigger house to fit all the kids and dogs that make up our crazy family!  but you're still there, and we're here.  and i have no idea what happens next.  i have no idea what i can do to get you home, so i'm leaving it up to God to move that mountain.

we love you, we miss you, and we pray for you every day.  i hope you really know that and believe it deep down.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

a new year...

dear handsome boys,

it's january 1, 2015.  a brand new year!  new year, new goals, new things, new experiences, new everything.  i can't help but wish a tiny bit for nothing all that new this coming year, haha.

2014 was a LOT of new - new challenges, new emotions, new kids, new dog, new job, new friends, new victories, new failures, new school, new routine, new grass, new (to us) car, new, new, new.  and you know what?  i am so grateful for it.  really, i could not have asked for more new awesomeness in my life.  but i kind of discovered there's a point where new gets a little exhausting.  i'm not complaining, no, because i definitely asked for all of this.  i couldn't imagine it any other way, and i wouldn't want it any other way, but i'm okay admitting our struggles.

i know 2014 was the most challenging and character-building year all of us have had in our lives.  i can say that without a doubt for myself, and probably for you guys, too.  (dad's had some character-building years in the past, so i can't quite speak for him...but 2014 is probably in his top 5!)  i am constantly in awe of how you three have had your lives absolutely turned upside down, and you've thrived.  thrived at daily life, thrived at school, thrived at friendships, thrived at sports, and thrived as family members.  i think i do a pretty good job of checking my expectations when it comes to these things that i anticipated would be challenging for all of us.  i'm learning to be more patient with school work, but i did expect that to be hard.  i'm learning to be more patient with behavior and other things i expected to be hard.  i've come a long way, and i still get surprised when i discover i do have great expectations of you boys, because when those expectations aren't met, i find myself so disappointed.  it's not fair, it's not really right, but it's reality nevertheless.

we had a tough visit to texas for Christmas.  dad actually said to me the night we arrived after our 12 hour drive, "i don't give you enough credit.  a whole day with them is TOUGH."  and he didn't mean it like he doesn't enjoy spending time with you or he doesn't love you, but he meant it like it's tough to maintain that joyful and grateful attitude when you guys are fighting over beef jerky and the iPad.  ten feet away.  for 12 hours.  and that was just the first day.  we are blessed to have family in texas that are like, whatever!  bring on the chaos!  bring on the loud, wrestling, screaming, door-slamming adolescent boys!  bring on those handsome kids who eat like adults and poop like adults so it stinks up the whole house!  but it's nothing like transplanting our family life into someone else's home for four days to make you realize just how insane things can be.  throw a 6-month old puppy in there who has an affinity for barking at cattle and pooping on new, clean carpet, and it's a dang circus.

we're still not to the point where we don't feel the ramifications of physical and emotional relocation, no matter how temporary.  interrupt the routine, interrupt the environment, and you get interrupted emotions.  my silly expectations assumed Christmas would make it all better!  gifts, late bedtimes, eating out, playtime with cousins, loooots of tv - all that should balance out the potential negatives of interrupted lifestyle, right?  wrong.  christmas eve was the ultimate showdown between my expectations and your imbalanced emotions, and it culminated in a maternal breakdown that hasn't happened in months.

the short story is we opened gifts with extended family on Christmas eve.  their main Christmas celebration, our first of about three or four spread out over the next few days with various sects of family.  i warned you that this was their only Christmas, but it was your first Christmas out of several, and so the amount of gifts wouldn't be equal.  thankfully, Tomma, JoJo, Uncle Rick, Grammy and dear ol' Mom and Dad had thrown together some goodies from your Christmas list for you to open.  it didn't matter.  Bennett managed to get really happy and excited about his gifts, but Edwin and Nathan, you guys mustered up your best, all-american adolescent indifference about your gifts, and i surprised even myself by crumbling.  i expected those attitudes last year, kinda, but this year?  i thought we'd be past that.  and you did it in front of family and friends, to boot.  and all my girly emotions came bubbling up, and i started crying!  you had sulked out to the trampoline by then, but i cried to Dad and to my dad while picking up the tossed aside sports jerseys and new basketballs.  nothing like tears from Mom to inspire a good old-fashioned fatherly lecture.  Dad called us all out to the car, and by the time i got there he said you both had something to say.  you begrudgingly apologized, and in response i started crying again.  hard.  it surprised even me how upset i was.  i sobbed about how blessed we are, how you were getting pencils and socks for Christmas at the orphanage a year ago, how your grandfather and great-grandmother spent good money on those gifts, and i couldn't believe you didn't even tell them thank you, etc. etc.  it sufficiently got the point across, though.  i think that was the first time you guys have seen me cry over something directly related to you.  (i typically hide in the bathroom or in my bed, remember?)

it sucked.  it just absolutely sucked.  there i was, Christmas eve, the most joyful and happy of all holidays, wanting to have the perfect night with MY extended family, MY kids opening gifts that were MY idea given by MY dad and MY grandmother, and MY hopes were crushed.  looking back, it's kinda silly, right?  first of all, no one noticed.  everyone else was too busy making sure their kids gave the obligatory thank yous and smiles during present opening.  even Dad didn't notice until i said something and started bawling.

the thing is, i thought i was over all those expectations!  i thought, hey, i'm an old pro at this adoptive parenting thing.  (and by the way, your reactions are not unique to adopted kids.  pretty standard kid attitudes, for a lot of families, but i'm pegging yours on the traumatic history because surely my kids aren't just NATURALLY ungrateful?!?!)  i guess it was just a good reminder that we're not in the free and clear.  no sir, not by a long shot.  we've kinda been on cruise control lately, and i'm proud of us for that.  but i think i got a little comfy and needed a reminder that we still have work to do!

luckily, it's the work i love and the work God empowered us to do.  we still need to work on being grateful - all of us, not just you guys.  we still need to work on building up your confidence and emotional well-being.  we still need to work on attitudes and expectations.  oh, and there's that whole patience thing that i have such a hard time with!

ultimately, you guys got the message, and we all enjoyed a happy, joyful remainder of the visit.  you were grateful that Santa brought you some nice stuff Christmas morning.  and i am grateful that we get to try all over again in 2015 to curb expectations and stress gratefulness, because isn't that what this is all about?  grace.

rules for the new year:  love god and love each other.  and don't make your mother cry on Christmas eve.  :)

love, mom

(Santa hat + neck pillow = Merry Christmas)
(A dapper gentleman must always travel in style)
(A rare moment that Tenki was not pooping on the carpet)
(Cousin playtime)

Monday, November 17, 2014

looking back...and the hardest part

dearest fellas,

i sit here on a chilly monday, looking out at the falling snow flurries, dinner simmering on the stove, awaiting your return from school, reflecting on the last year we've had together.


i mean, i am thinking about the last year, but there is no dinner on the stove and i'm not exactly awaiting your arrival home from school.  i'm rather relishing the quiet for a few hours.  i'll probably throw a couple of steamables veggie bags in the microwave.  maybe cook up some sausage or chicken.  i might even get crazy and push the button on the rice cooker.  i'm surrounded by piles of clean clothes (at least they're clean), and there might be more leaves on the floor of our house than in the yard.  dirty Kleenexes litter the floor around the trash cans.  stinky shoes, dull pencils, dirty dishes, crumbs, old homework, and did i mention clothes are overtaking our living space.  it is a losing battle to keep this place clean and picked up, and i think i've just accepted that to a degree.  i have to say, you three are very helpful at doing chores and cleaning things up when we all put our minds to it, but keeping things neat and tidy on a daily basis?  forget it!  but it's okay.  i kind of like our house with this whole "lived-in" feel.  part of me wants to include pictures of our house on a random monday, but i am not completely without shame.

we will be celebrating one year that you've been home on November 25.  ONE YEAR!  i can't believe it.  i really can't.  on the one hand, it feels like it's been a couple of months.  on the other hand, it feels like we've had you for many years.  dare i say we are functioning with comfort and efficiency these days?  we are more than surviving.  we are more than surviving with functionality.  we are living life with efficiency!

it has been hard, but just like life in general we've had it easier than some and harder than some.  i think we are blessed in that we probably have had it a bit easier than most.  something i've come to realize is that much of that easier part has come from not having had biological children first, and so we did not have to blend families.  i see friends around us who go through those unique challenges, and i'm in awe of the difficulties they navigate and how they do it with such grace and love for ALL their kids.  but of course it was tough going from zero to three.  like, we woke up one day and had three sons.  boom!  three sons who needed love, understanding, sympathy, discipline, food - lots of food, clean clothes, activities, homework help, and more than anything, a structured home environment.

a lot of people ask me what the hardest part has been.  for me, i've learned the ultimate act of sacrificing self is having kids.  i would've thought getting married was the pinnacle of selflessness, but wow, having kids is waaaaaay more giving of self.  i don't mean that in a bad or regretful way.  i think when one gives birth, you sort of ease into the whole "i am a mother now and my life no longer belongs to me" thing.  when you adopt older kids, multiple older kids, it's like BAM.  immediately, my life was not my own.  i was pulled in a million directions in a million ways.  i still hear "MOM, look at..." or "MOM, tell him to stop..." or "MOM, what is..." approximately 100 times a day.  that is not an exaggeration.  that's probably an underestimation.  probably 75% of those come from Bennett, but God love him.  i think it's gotten easier to give myself up so frequently, but i still notice i guess it's not so easy when i'm still feeling pulled a million ways and often drained by nighttime.

i think i thought it would be physically draining to have three sons, but it's really been mostly emotionally draining.  we get plenty of sleep.  you guys get up on your own, shower on your own, dress on your own, make your own breakfast.  you'd probably drive yourselves to school if we let you.  you can navigate Netflix like champs, i can leave you in the car when i run into kroger for a few minutes (hours?  kidding), and you can wipe your own bottoms.  it's not as much the physical duties as much as it is the emotional.

wow.  probably up until about 8 months of being home, it was constant.  constant behavior correction, attitude correction, bad moods, pouting moods, disrespectful mouths, fighting and arguing with each other.  attitudes of entitlement, ungratefulness, and taking things for granted.  general exhaustive behavior that required CONSTANT monitoring and correction.  then even if it wasn't bad behavior, it was massive highs that are almost as taxing.  and homework.  we probably have had more meltdowns than correct answers.  homework continues to be the hardest part of my day, personally, and so i would imagine your day, as well.  for a girl who was very blessed to never have problems with school work, my brain cannot understand how your brains work...or don't work.  it's exhausting, but it is so important to me that you all succeed academically.  so we press on.  and on.  and on.

i still see the clock at 2:45 pm and have equal parts of me go, "ugggghhhhhh, it's time to go pick the boys up" and "sweet, let's go get the boys, Lois!"  i still look at the clock at 5:30 and think, "i have to make dinner.  AGAIN.  and when is jeremy coming home?!?!?!?"  but i think that's general mom mentality, and not adoptive mom mentality.  and that's something else we have achieved.  we deal with kid and parent issues.  we don't deal with adoptive kid and adoptive parent issues.  in fact, i think we probably deal with fewer kid and parent issues than a lot of biological families do.

so let's talk about the amazing things we've done in one year.

we all love each other, and we talk about it a lot.  we have three kids who are pretty comfortable saying "i love you" now.  we have three kids who can use their words to talk about anger, sadness, guilt, and excitement.  we have three kids who have huge hearts and talk about how they can help people.

in March, when we were in Deming visiting Grammy, nathan asked me if Grammy lived alone.  i said, yes, she does live alone but she has friends and family that look after her.  and he said, "mom, i am said for Grammy.  i wish she could come live with us in Nashville so she wouldn't be alone."  i had to leave the room and go cry alone for a few minutes.  it makes me sad that my Grammy lives alone, and it killed me that my 9 year old felt the same.  nathan, you are so incredibly sensitive and in touch with emotions that it scares us.  you are an incredibly complex dude.  you navigate your friendships with ease.  you talk about your old friends at the center with such compassion and fondness.  you understand sadness and misfortune and unfairness, and you talk about it for days after seeing a homeless person or sad story on the news.  you still get furious at me when i go out of town or go out for an evening with friends or for work, but you've finally gotten to the point where you'll tell me it's because you miss me.  major breakthrough, dude.  you struggle with being perfect.  making the perfect decisions.  behaving perfectly.  getting perfect grades.  dressing perfectly.  it throws you off the rails for hours if you get in trouble or don't perform well, but in the beginning it was days.  now you recover in just a few hours.  big progress!

edwin, you're more subtle about your feelings, of course.  i've said before that you are our typical middle child.  you just cruise, but every now and again you'll acknowledge someone or something and show what a big heart you have.  i see this a lot with lois.  you're the only one lois will ever play with or be calm around.  she's usually on guard with your brothers, but she'll actually flip over and let you scratch her tummy for a while.  there's a calmness and a peace about you that she recognizes, and dad and i love that about you.  you are a true foodie.  you love every kind of sauce available, and the more the merrier.  you love preparing coffee for me, food for your brothers, and helping me in the kitchen.  you even rock some dishes every now and again.  you're always up for anything, but you're also quick to keep score and make sure everyone else is doing as much work as you.  we find that we stress working hard and giving it your best a lot with you.  school comes easier to you.  sports come easier to you.  you are comfortable relying on natural ability, but we hope you'll learn to work to be even better.

bennett.  dad just posted on facebook that you've been walking around singing the Little Big Town song "Tornado," and how ironic it is because you are one.  truth.  you are a tornado of emotion, activity, love, smiles, chatter, and everything in between.  you also have a good heart, and you are usually the first to share something with your brothers.  typical youngest child.  you eat constantly.  you change outfits about 5 times a day.  you love clothes, shoes, friends, girls, and dad.  you and dad are best buddies, and it's a beautiful thing.  you have never met a stranger, and sometimes we actually have to go peel you off of some other adult's lap because you've chosen to go be part of another family for a while.  it's hilarious, and we think you'll be in entertainment or sales when you grow up.  i've had the hardest time with you, buddy.  no one can make me as frustrated as you can.  i am daily working on my patience with you, but i do think we've gotten better with each other.  you find it terribly natural and easy to be very disrespectful and rude to me.  you disobey me more than your brothers combined do, and we've finally realized i'm your target when you get really tired.  naps have helped, but i also think you and i have made a truce.  i try hard not to lose my temper as badly anymore, and you try to snap out of the fog and ire that leads you to send me into a tailspin.  it also helps when your brothers are looking at you with their mouths agape, saying "BENNETT!!!  Why are you doing this?!"  You tend to leave the room and settle down when even your brothers are noticing how bad it is.  but, lordy, you are miss congeniality and it is impossible not to love you like crazy.  recently you got in big trouble with a teacher at school for having attitude with her.  come to find out, the kids around you had been making fun of you and saying that you kiss this teacher, that you love each other.  so you tried to throw them off by being rude to her.  really, we'd known that this teacher loves you, and your brothers had reported before that she liked to hug you a lot and kiss you on your head.  i cannot express how much people love you.

all of your teachers at Harpeth Valley rave about you all.  it makes this mom super proud.  you may not get perfect grades, but you are polite, kind, joyful contributors to your classrooms, and we are proud of you for it.

you all finally, actually kinda like vegetables.  peas, corn, green beans, kale, and raw carrots.  you still won't do raw tomatoes.  shepherd's pie has quickly eclipsed your love of all things chicken.  bennett, you've suddenly learned how to be picky (possibly your friends taught you this curious food behavior?), and you claim you don't like beef or turkey.  but you still eat it if you have to.  you eat everything if you have to.

we recently finished flag football, and you guys were beasts!  you literally could not throw or catch a ball.  you had no idea what a first down was.  no idea even what a touchdown was.  by the end of those two months, you were all some of the best players on your teams.  you excel at all sports - football, basketball, soccer and running.  we now watch football together on TV!  it's so much fun!  you know most of the nfl teams, some of the players, several ncaa teams, and you "vote" for different teams all the time.  still working on remembering that we "root" for teams, not "vote."

language.  you guys still can't quite get the hang of he vs. she, him vs. her.  understandable because Sierra Leone English doesn't have a feminine pronoun, but we still have to politely let women know the reason why you're calling her a him.  nathan, you've become very aware of your accent, and you get embarrassed by it.  kills me, because i could listen to those accents all day long.  they're gorgeous!  h's and r's are still absent, but it gives you such a distinguished sound!  possibly my favorite word you say right now is "buffalo."  buffalo bills or buffalo wild wings.  you say it like boo-FALL-o wings.  it is hilarious, and i never correct you because i love it.

i've read a lot of blogs and articles about tacky things people ask adoptive parents or kids.  i always speak very openly about our situation and how we became a family.  i proudly talk about your birth family still in Sierra Leone, and how we stay in touch and continue to be involved with them.  i don't share dark and personal details, but i do share the loss of your birth father and how that has shaped you.  i share the love i have for Konima, your birth mother, and how i think of her so often because she gave birth and partly raised three incredible boys that i get to call my sons.  i daydream about going back to Sierra Leone to visit your birth family and visit your old caregivers and friends.  we talk about your memories, good and bad, almost daily.  i am so grateful that none of us are afraid to talk about those things.

some adoptive mothers are offended when people ask if we can have biological kids, and i know it's a natural curiosity as to why we would adopt first if we can have biological kids.  it's not the way it's typically done, but we certainly aren't a typical family!  i tell them that i assume i could give birth, but we've never tried to get pregnant.  i tell them when dad and i were married for a couple of years, we talked about how we should probably start thinking about having kids because that's what good married folk do.  and something just didn't feel right about it.  we didn't feel ready.  and it was never a clear reason like financial, physical, familial, or marital that it didn't feel right.  i just wasn't really interested in having a child at that time.  we knew we wanted kids, but something was holding me back from taking the big step of getting pregnant and giving birth.  and just a few months into us casually wondering out loud if we should start trying to have a baby and me not feeling compelled to do so, we were asked to be your Forever Family.  and then we started Skyping.  and then Sierra Leone started processing adoptions.  and then we met you.  and then we knew for certain why we hadn't been so excited about starting a biological family.  god knew we had a family already, but He needed a little time to bring us together.  and he did it in an incredibly beautiful way.

so people ask now if we'll have a biological child.  i don't get offended.  i wonder about that myself.  will we?  i don't know.  part of me wishes for a chubby, red-headed little girl that can look up to her big brothers and drive her dad crazy.  part of me wishes for a little adopted baby who needs a loving family and who will complete ours.  and of course, the biggest part of me is still holding onto faith that Kaday will someday be home.

all i know is that our family is not yet complete, but it's certainly full!  full of stinky, huge, growing, happy, handsome, amazing boys that rocked my life in huge ways.  i still love the surprise on people's faces when i tell them we adopted three brothers from africa.  the notion is totally normal to me, but obviously not to everyone else.  and i always just say, "yeah, we Spillmans go hard or go home.  it ain't about easy or safe in our family!"  and i thank Jesus every day that he gave us this mission and purpose in life.  because yes, i AM that blessed person who knows every day what my purpose is in life, what me and dad's purpose is.  what my meaning is in life.  it's nathan, edwin and bennett, it's kaday, and it's hopefully so much more to come...


Saturday, July 26, 2014

the good life...

dear boys,

today uncle kolby took you to chattanooga to visit the aquarium.  it just occurred to me two days ago that both of your main babysitters will no longer be around after next week!  uncle kolby has to go back to iowa, and miss butler is being transferred to a new school.  easy to take these people for granted until they're suddenly unavailable, and then i realize how blessed we were to have them!

i am constantly reminded of how much people around us who know us well or know us very little love and support our family.  we got free passes to the aquarium from our friend miss tinti.  uncle kolby's dad sent you a huge box of snacks and treats!  auntie jodi sent us a big bag of athletic shorts and shirts, and we all felt like we won the lottery.  i am just amazed by relatively small things that add up to huge blessings.  and it seems they never end.

this month you spent four days in kentucky with our spillman family, and you literally had the time of your life.  parks, baseball, basketball camp, swimming, movies, brownies at bedtime, kool-aid at breakfast - it sounds like heaven even to me!  god bless your auntie leslie, uncle brent, mimi and poppy.  they survived and then some!

we are not without our challenges.  we still deal with emotional ups and downs, arguing and bickering, and general exhaustion with life and love.  it hasn't been a completely smooth road, but it certainly has not been as hard as it could be.  perhaps it will be one day.  there's always the possibility of regression or discovery of serious issues, but for now we are all existing rather happily and contentedly.

probably as a mother and wife, my biggest love language is "acts of service."  this morning i woke up to clattering dishes and footsteps stomping down the hall.  i got a big smile on my face and laid there a little while longer before getting up.  i finally walked out of our bedroom to three cheerful boys cleaning up the house.  bedrooms were being straightened up, the kitchen dishes were being put away and dirty ones loaded, and edwin made me coffee.  EDWIN MADE ME COFFEE!!!  it was awesome.

it is not lost on me that this is not typical behavior for 6, 8 and 9 year olds...especially emotionally traumatized boys who are still trying to adjust to a very different life.  what it tells me, though, is that you all are exceptional human beings.  god has done something exceptional in your hearts and minds, and i see that in more than just household chores.

yesterday marked EIGHT MONTHS that you guys have been home.  i'm simply blown away.  i think back on afternoons that you all were home from school for 45 minutes, and i was already wanting to crawl in bed and lock my door.  i think back on days when i called dad at 11 am and said, "when are you coming home?!?!?!?!?!  save me!!!!!!"  i remember hiding in my bathroom, door locked, with a ziploc bag of leftover garlic bread so i could eat in peace.  i'm proud to say i can make it DAYS without calling dad to come save me!

i remember being so angry at you nathan, after a long day of a bad attitude and grumbling, that when you yelled "i want to go back to africa!" i responded in exactly the wrong way.  instead of responding with sympathy and understanding, i fired back with examples of how great you have it in america and how hard it was in africa.  big-time mom fail!  but i remember being ready to punch our next door neighbor when he called you a bully and a problem.  i remember wanting to scream at him, "this 9 year old has fathered his younger brothers for the last 5 1/2 years of his life!  he made sure they got fed, bathed, and their diapers were changed!!  he fought on their behalf, with his fists and then his words.  he lost a father, a mother, brothers, and friends when he left his home country.  he is NO bully.  he is a lover and protector and SURVIVOR, and he still has a kind, kind heart.  what's YOUR kid done in the last 9 years?!?!?!"

just this morning, bennett, you said to me, "mom, i was very angry at kaday when she stole our forever family. she was very mean.  i was very angry."  i said, "but she didn't steal us, you know that right?  we chose to add her to our family."  "yes, but she was very mean.  but now i love her.  i really do love her.  a lot."  i said, "bennett, do you know why kaday was mean?  she never had a mom and dad to teach her how to be kind to others.  they were not kind to her and so she did not know how to be kind to other people."  "yes, i know.  i wish i could punch them!  they should not be mean to her.  we will keep praying for god to let us adopt her."  "that's a great idea, buddy.  thank you for loving kaday."

yesterday, i picked you guys up from camp.  edwin you said, "MOM!  i am hungry.  my belly is like a frog.  a baby frog.  a baby frog who really wants to eat."  and that's you in a nutshell.  just humor and metaphors.  i still find relief in your laid-back attitude (mostly), your love of laundry and dishes, and your subtle chuckle at my sarcasm.  usually it goes over your brothers' heads but you totally get it, and i LOVE that about you.

i so want to remember all these things.  i know i will forget them, and so i hope i can write down a lot of them.  i know one day i will think, "it wasn't really that hard, was it?"  i will forget the challenges we all went through, and when i can remember them, i will love you that much more.  i will be that much prouder of you.

thank you for being my sons.  i can say that with total ownership.  you are my SONS.  it feels so good.  i am so proud to have you.


Nathan | Age 9 | Sierra Leone, Africa | 1st summer
Why is Barefoot fun?“Soccer, the water slide, skateboarding, and the basketball.”
What has been your favorite part of the week?“Soccer and basketball—they are my favorite sports. I learned how to dribble the ball.”
What have you learned about the Bible this week?“About Elijah, Paul, and Saul. Elijah built an altar and God made fire.”
Why is it a cool thing that everybody here is different?“Because God made us like that. You should like the way God made you.”

Thursday, July 10, 2014

difficult decisions...

Dear Birthday Girl,

Today you turned 8!  Kills me how old you're getting.  I remember you as that teeny, tiny, undernourished, Krio-speaking, ball of fire who could out-eat all of your brothers and hit back just as hard.  I remember the first time I saw you.  You were the little girl from The Raining Season blog.  Almost a celebrity after an entire community of people read about your plight.  That little tiny girl plucked from an ugly situation.  And there you were beaming, clean, wearing a little green khaki skirt and just wanting to hold our hands (and hearts.)

Today is your birthday but also another day I've let you down.  Sometimes I feel like that's the only thing the adults in your lives have ever done for you, and I am just another.  I've been planning a trip to see you next week for over six months, and I made the heart-wrenching decision to postpone that trip because of the Ebola outbreak.  Some of our team has made the same decision, but some are still traveling.  I know I've made the safest decision overall for me and my loved ones, but it's not the best decision because it breaks your heart and it breaks mine.  And you are one of my loved ones.  We had the surprise pleasure of Skyping with you this morning for a few minutes to wish you a Happy Birthday.  You giggled my favorite giggle and soon began asking if I was coming on Sunday.  I asked a caregiver to explain to you that I couldn't come.  I gave her all the gentle reasons that I'd planned out as an explanation, but your little heart only heard that I wasn't coming.  I've disappointed you again.  I've abandoned you again.  I've hurt your heart again.

I was telling Dad this morning while I was sobbing in our bedroom (it's a bit uncomfortable to sob in front of your brothers!), that our entire relationship with you has been tumultuous.  Every single step of it has been hard, disruptive, uncomfortable, painful.  The most uncomfortable thing I've ever experienced in my life.  I don't know that I've ever cried so much over a single human being or situation as I have over you and yours.  From the day we asked you into our Forever Family, to the times we've been denied permission by your birth family for adoption, to the day I left you in Sierra Leone and brought your brothers home, to this day when I told you I wouldn't be coming to visit.  There has not been a single crossroad we've come upon that has gone the easy way.  Every single path we've taken has been full of overgrowth, thorns, and sharp rocks that hurt like crazy.  And yet, as I told Dad, I feel with all my heart and soul that we are fighting the good fight.  Instead of feeling like these are signs that our love for you is not meant to be, I feel fully and wholly that we are pursuing what we are supposed to.  We are meant to be in your life.  We are meant to fight for you.  We are destined to interfere with the dark future that you were once headed for and turn you toward the hopeful one that we dream you'll have.

I don't know if we can ever adopt you legally.  I don't know if you can ever come be with us in America.  I'm learning, though, that it won't affect my commitment to you if you can't.  I will always love you.  I will always fight for you.  I will always come visit you.  I will make it my life's work to make sure you have a hopeful, happy, healthy, joyful, and meaningful life.  I will not leave you.  I will not forget you.

I believe with all my heart and soul that God has something spectacular planned for you, and I am just blessed to be a spectator, cheerleader, and vehicle for that plan.

The words cannot express how much, but I love you.  I love you, I love you, I love you.


Friday, May 9, 2014

today was a tough skype...

dear kaday,

i get distracted by the everyday busyness that rules our lives now that your brothers are home.  i get distracted by my job, dad's job, your brothers' homework, cleaning house, doing laundry, cooking dinner, and grocery shopping.  i get distracted by these everyday things, and then on one friday morning i get sucked into the vacuum of your genuine sadness and those things all fall away.

we skyped this morning, and it was just fine until nathan popped in and showed you his class picture.  you crumbled.  tears.  indistinguishable words.  sobbing.  mollynette scooped you up and began consoling you.  i don't know what set you off, but it was a bomb.

mollynette told us that you were saying you missed your brothers and that you didn't think they were praying hard enough for you to come home.  crushing.  crushing that your heart feels abandoned.  again.  crushing that your heart feels like those people you love and who love you have let you down.  again.  crushing that you feel that lazy prayers are the reason why you have not come home to us.

i am sad, but i am rejuvenated.  this morning was a reminder that, no, all is not well in the world of our daughter.  we are all here in nashville as a family, loving and living every day together, and you are there.  not alone but lonely.  not forgetting but forgotten.  20 minutes a week on skype is not enough to convince you that we are with you.  20 minutes a week on skype is not enough to convince ME that we are with you.

your brother edwin tells everyone when they ask, "do you have brothers or sisters?" that he has two brothers and one sister.  without fail, he tells everyone he has a sister.  he does not forget.  friends ask from time to time how the process is going, and i explain that it's not.  the birth family is simply unwilling at this time.

grandma pat's husband (grumpy, we call him...but he's never grumpy!) asked me the other day, "what's the latest on kaday?"  i explained to him your family's unwillingness to allow you to be adopted and then i told him i was going to try to pursue an abandonment case to support adoption.  i told him it had never been done before - not with a child who had living relatives that were "claiming" her but not caring for her.  and then i said, "but i'm not afraid to be the first."  it sounds so cliche, but i realize i meant it.  like i told you today on skype, i will fight to bring you home.  i will not give up until you are here with us.  you may be 10 years old or 20 years old, but some day you will be with us.  you nodded and said that you understood.  i stressed to you that, in fact, your brothers pray for you every. single. night.  they pray that your africa family will agree to adoption.  they talk about the day when you'll be here with us and that you will probably love to watch Barbie cartoons.  i have two big plastic bins full of clothes for you (getting too small every day.)  we have dolls, toys, bedding, and other things just waiting for your arrival.

sometimes i get distracted, but sometimes maybe it's a way to cope and survive this waiting period, this time apart.  don't ever think we've forgotten you.  we will never stop fighting to bring you home.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

where does the time go...

dear boys,

it has been over four months that you've been home now.  we've run the gamut of emotions, activities, behaviors, disciplines, and celebrations.  i've needed to write about life for a while now, but somehow it's been tough for me to sit down and write anything coherent!  your dad said to me the other day, "i don't think your brain is working right."  which sounds mean, but he was kinda right.  my brain went from being totally in charge and on top of life to being slammed with a million new concerns, feelings, and worries.  it's to be expected, but it's still a somewhat uncomfortable place for me to be in.

see, i thrive when i'm in control!  it's always been my thing.  the irony of course is that as a big believer in God, i'm never truly in control.  and to compound that matter, parents are never truly in control of their children's lives.  we've managed to strike a balance of controlled chaos.  and that's on the good days.

the first couple of months were about survival.  wake up, eat, love, go to sleep.  just surviving.  we got really good at that around the middle of January.  the last couple of months and the next couple of years will be about functioning with efficiency.  it's now not enough to just survive.  we have to get caught up in school, we have to learn to respect adults, we have to learn to be kind to our brothers, we have to practice our shooting technique for basketball, we have to learn to pee IN the toilet and not around it (will you ever learn how to aim?!?!?!)

let's start with the easiest thing about all this!  you three are incredibly helpful.  you do dishes, you wipe counters, you make beds, you do laundry, you sweep and mop floors, and you clean bathrooms.  you even clean dad's bathroom, which is something I try not to do!  you never whine when we ask you to do a chore.  for three adolescent boys, that's miraculous.  i'm a new parent, and even i realize that!

your three separate personalities are becoming very distinct, and dad and i love getting to know each of you and what makes you tick.  nathan, you are by far and wide our most sensitive guy.  you are able to pick up on emotions of those around you and you are incredibly emotional yourself.  (dare i say dramatic, at times?)  you made me cry when you asked if Grammy could come live with us in Tennessee because you felt sad for her that she has to live alone.  you felt really sorry for the dog next door to JoJo who spends her days alone in the backyard with no one to play with her.  you talked about Mr. Steve, the man in the wheelchair on the street corner by Cross Point for weeks after we spoke to him and gave him money.  (where did he go?  did he have enough food?)  you were terribly upset when you thought we might be forgetting our Shenge family and were trying to replace them with all the new Texas and New Mexico family we were visiting.  it was a monumental moment for our family when dad finally helped you understand that we will never replace your birth mother or father or relatives.  we only add to that family and become a bigger family.  i think you might really understand that now.

in the last two weeks we've spoken to your birth family four times.  i can only thank God above for that opportunity because it's clear how important it is to you, nathan.  edwin and bennett, i'm not sure you realize how huge that is to pick up the phone and call your birth mother in the rural countryside of Sierra Leone, but someday you will.  the laughter and the giggles she let loose when hearing your voices is a sound i won't forget.  i'm pretty sure she did a happy dance when we said we'd saved up money to buy her three bags of rice and fix her roof.  such small things to us and such blessings to her.

edwin, you are a relief.  that is the best way i can describe you.  incredibly intelligent but content to kind of cruise through life.  you're always somewhere in the middle.  rarely in a bad mood, rarely crying, rarely angry (though when you do get mad, you get MAD), and always with a joyful sense of humor.  you are a pleasure to be around.  i love being around your brothers, too, i do!  but sometimes your laid back attitude is so lovely.  and when you let loose and giggle?  i mean, it's in my top 5 favorite sounds in the whole entire world.  your speaking voice is so low, and your laugh is this hilarious giggle that totally lights up anyone within earshot.

bennett, bennett, bennett.  one minute you are squeezing me tight and kissing me full on the mouth and the next you're screaming "you're DISGUSTING!" from the other side of the soccer field when i tell you it's time to go.  i would laugh if i didn't want to smack you!  you are the life of the party.  you are known by all the teachers at school for all the RIGHT reasons, thank goodness.  you are sweet, you are funny, you are a great dancer, and you are maddeningly picky about your clothes.  you have about five different accents you can access at any time of speaking.  you have your valley girl, your all-american, your french, your russian/polish (my personal favorite), and you're native sierra leonean.  i don't know where you learned all that, but it's kind of amazing.  you are learning so many new things, and it's astonishing to see how much you pick up.  words, mannerisms, attitudes.  when we got back from Texas for Spring Break you'd somehow picked up this insane whining thing.  every word out of your mouth was said with drawn out whiny syllables in a high voice.  really?  i have no where you got that, but we nipped that pretty quick.

our new big challenge is learning respect, especially respect for me.  nathan and edwin, you guys pretty much get it.  every now and again you slip and give me a look that could make the devil go cold, but you've understood pretty quickly that behaviors like that are no way to treat your mother.  bennett, you on the other hand have some work to do.  dad does an amazing job of praising me in front of you guys all the time.  in nightly prayers, at the dinner table, etc.  he is loving on me!  we hope that you can see in the flesh what it means to respect your wife, the woman you love, and the mother of your children.  unfortunately, that is not anything you learned in your native country, so it's a matter of us helping you unlearn that.  i think the moment i really realized the submissiveness of a woman was when we sat in a circle with your uncles and grandfather discussing the fate of your adoption, and your mother solemnly stood in the back of the crowd of onlookers around us.  she was not an active part of that discussion.  ultimately, she had to agree or not agree, but her opinion was not valuable enough to be in that inner circle.  AND SHE GAVE BIRTH TO YOU.  SHE HAD TO SURRENDER YOU TO THE ORPHANAGE.  and she was not invited into the conversation until the very end when her yes was requested and her signature was required.

we've had repeated conversations about how it's not acceptable to hit a woman.  ever.  it is not acceptable to say mean and hurtful things to a woman, especially if you love her.  a woman is not an object.  a woman is not a servant.  a woman can be as good as a man at almost anything (this statement is astonishing to you, and we will, i suspect, spend the next 15 years attempting to make you realize that.)  bennett, you have a major issue with this notion of respecting a woman...especially your mother.  you are frighteningly close to learning what life will be like without privileges like soccer, outside playtime, friends, TV, sweets, and anything else rewarding about this life with mom and dad.  for some reason you feel like you can treat me badly, say hurtful things, and just skate through life.  it ain't gonna happen that way, buddy.  i hope we don't have to teach you that hard lesson, but it is just around the corner if we don't see some significant changes in you.  you are jekyll and hyde, my youngest boy.  one minute you are clinging to my lap and the next you are breaking my heart a little bit with the things that come out of your mouth.

but this is parenting.  we are learning what we always knew - it. is.  HARD.  the other day, grandma pat was here, and as she was walking out the door, she hugged me and said, "hang in there, darlin'!"  i laughed and said i would.  after she was out the door, dad turned to me and said, "are you, like, telling your family that it's really hard or that you're unhappy or something?"  and i said, "IT IS HARD!!!  of course i'm telling them it's hard!!!"  hahaha.  it is hard, and i am all about transparency.  i will not be that person who only talks about rainbows and puppies (although, i do love puppies), or only posts perfect pictures and life moments on Facebook.  i'm nowhere near unhappy, and i have never for a moment regretted saying yes to the invitation to be your mom, but it's hard!  i miss my clean, unscuffed, unviolated house.  i miss my quiet evenings.  i miss a lot of things, but that doesn't mean i want them back at the expense of not having you guys!  i'm starting to get to the point where when i do have my quiet, i miss the madness.  i miss the chaos.  i am in that weird middle state where i want it all but i don't want to lose any of what i have now.  and that's totally okay because i am loved, and blessed, and blessed, and blessed beyond belief.  blessed to have these three handsome boys in my life.  blessed that, of all the crazy turns or boring straights my life could've taken, jesus gave me THIS, and i wouldn't change it for anything.  i mean that with all my heart and soul.

i love you,