Seeking a Purpose

How have I not posted since April? It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. Many times I’ve thought about a potential post, but haven’t made the time to go from “jumbled thoughts on semi-interesting topic” to “coherent blog post.” Why does it even matter? This is for me. A place to collect my memories and feelings. Yet I still feel a responsibility to have it make sense. And that’s what brings me back here today. Right now, things just don’t make sense. I come here to try and make sense of it all.
On Friday, Mike’s cousin, Matt, was tragically killed in a hit and run accident. Typing that out sucks. It hurts to look at it in print. But it’s true. He was 22 years old and apparently head over heels in love with a beautiful girl. Great job, lots of friends, beautiful dog, and he loved his family. He truly lived. Always chasing an adventure. Such a fun-loving, sweet, caring guy. I’m lucky to call him family.
I’m struggling on how to deal with this. How to cope and be a good friend to his mom and sisters. How to be a good wife to my husband. I know this is bigger than me. My grief is important to me, but it’s more important that I support my family. This blog is my place to be a bit selfish, feel my pain, and tuck it away so I can be there for my family. I won’t pretend I don’t care. I care so much. But once I post this, it
is about their grief, not mine. But for a few minutes, I need to just feel my pain.
On Friday night, my biggest problem, and this is no joke, was whether to try the “no-poo” method in my hair. It’s where you abandon shampoo in favor of baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and other natural conditioners. And how would this affect my ombré highlights? I even conditioned with Apple cider vinegar (or acv) as a trial run. My hair was so soft, and smelled faintly like salad. I contemplated this huge decision over a giant margarita and slept like a baby. I woke up Saturday morning to the news that Matt had been killed on Friday night. And nothing’s been the same since.
We visited the family on Saturday, and on Sunday, I stopped by for a minute to drop off toys for Matts dog, Summer. It doesn’t feel like enough. I want to be there. I want to sit with the family and listen to stories. Instead I sit home and cry and constantly check Facebook looking for someone to reveal that this is all a big joke. Waiting for Matt to post that he’s heading home. I’m angry. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Or was it. I don’t even know anymore.
I’m always seeking a reason in times of sadness. When Murf died, I knew that she was here on earth to teach me how to love someone more than myself. She taught me how to put others first. My family had two dogs before Murf and I didn’t treat them like they deserved. Murf also taught me how to respect all of God’s creatures.
When my maw maw lulu died in February, I learned how life and death can pull a family together. I had been so afraid of death, yet the few times I allowed myself to be present in her dying process (helping her change clothes, sitting with her, fetching food and drink) I felt so strong and full of purpose. I learned about acceptance. Rather than a long, drawn-out, and likely losing battle with lung cancer, she chose a graceful death. I had no choice but to accept her will. And respect her for being so brave. I pray I can be as brave as she was.
As Mike and I faced infertility head-on, exploring medical intervention, and choosing adoption as our path, I learned how to be patient. Ten long years of wondering how I would overcome this cross that God had given me. This cross turned out to be my biggest blessing. I don’t say that lightly. It was a heavy cross, and sometimes still can be. It was painful. I grieved for the picture-perfect ideal life I had imagined, but would never have – simple pregnancies resulting in a bunch of mini-me’s. But what an amazing gift we had been given. I grew more patient, and more faithful. I sought the comfort of God during the darkest times. And now I feel peace with my path. I’m grateful for it. The struggles and pain and spiritual growth were all worth it. I had resented God and pushed him away, but only once I began to embrace Him, did things begin to make sense again. And only once did I embrace His plan, did I feel peace, calm, patience, and happiness. And I was blessed beyond measure, with a beautiful son and an amazing husband with whom to share my journey.
And now, here I sit looking for a reason, a purpose, trying to make sense out of tragedy. Have I been wrong? Does everything not have a reason? What could possibly be the reason to lose such a young person in such a tragic way? My earthly brain is looking for logic. My soul is confused. But I’ve always coped through rationale and logic, so here’s what I’ve come up with. I want to be a better friend. A better wife. A better daughter-in-law. I’ve spent a great deal of my marriage pushing my family away. I like to be alone; it’s how I re-energize. I can easily feel smothered by people, especially people that I care about, but disagree with. I don’t want confrontation, so I agree to everything, until I’m gritting my teeth and cursing under my breath. And I limit my time with my family to avoid negative feelings. All to spare someone else’s feelings because I think the door should be painted, not stained. So stupid! Or I distance myself from “gossipy” people because I don’t know how to speak my truth and still get along. Avoidance is my middle name. So immature. Meanwhile, I’m missing out in building valuable relationships and experiencing LOVE. Not just feeling familial love and knowing that it’s unconditional, but truly being in the moment and giving and receiving love though time spent with people and kindness shared. Selfless acts of love. I’ve been so afraid of disagreements and rejection that I’ve missed out on true, selfless, engaging love.
I truly love Matt. I miss him. I watched him grow up from a happy little chubby 8-year-old into a wonderful handsome, caring kind, man. But in the past couple of years, I’ve only seen him a handful of times, usually on holidays. Our lives took different paths and I didn’t make the effort. I wish I had spent more time with him. I can’t. But I can spend time with my family. I can stop shutting people out and appreciate them for who they are. Accept their faults, experience their good qualities and bad, and just LOVE THEM. love the people around me by BEING there and DOING things that matter, even little things.
I’m going to start with having more meals with my parents, my sisters, and my in-laws. And I’m gonna be there for Matt’s family. I’m not sure what I can do. Maybe I’ll bring Britney to play with Summer each weekend. I don’t know. I’ve always feared being in the way and being rejected so I’ve guarded my heart. It’s time to let the guard down a bit and allow myself to feel both positive and negative emotions.
I can’t change the past, and I can’t undo this tragedy, but I can be present for the people in my life who matter. I can pray with them, love, laugh, and cry with them. This isn’t an easy change, but it’s so necessary. Matt, I’ll never understand why you had to go. But I will seek purpose in your life and death, and become a better person for having known you. I love you, man.

Baby Swag

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It’s getting harder and harder to get pics of this quick guy. I love dressing him up for mass each Sunday, even though it’s just for an hour or so, I really enjoy seeing him with his swag turned on. And to be honest, I like when people in mass or grocery store afterwards compliment his style.

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More Adventures in Potty-training

We’re one week into this whole ditch-the-diaper business, and it’s been interesting, to say the least.

Sunday night – he made me get out the bathroom and shut the door while he sat on the toilet. He likes privacy. When I came back to check on him, he had almost fallen into the toilet, legs wide open and was trying to clip his toenails with the clipper I left out on the counter.

I laughed and took the toenail clipper away. He made me leave and shut the door again. When I returned, he was standing on side the toilet, butt-naked, waving a can of air-freshened around. Not actually spraying, just waving the can like a flag.

Monday – first full day without diapers. No accidents. What’s the big deal about potty training. It’s actually pretty easy.

Tuesday – he had an accident before we even left the house at 7:30AM. I’m not exactly a morning person, but I kept my patience. Ok. Not as easy as I thought.

The rest of the week was similar. We’re averaging one accident a day. But come Saturday, in the time it took me to attempt to type this, he had three pee-pee accidents. I’m pretty sure he’s begging me to put the blog down and pay attention to him. My sister’s Jack Russell, Jovie, pees on the floor when she wants attention. I get the hint. Dogs and babies are pretty much the same. So forgive me if the thoughts don’t flow as well as usual.

A few other highlights:
-he likes to kick me out the bathroom, then hop off the toilet and throw things in it. Like his clothes. And toilet paper rolls. Then take those things out the toilet and throw them around the bathroom. All I can do when I find this (it’s happened twice) is shake my head, clean it, and throw him straight into the bath tub. Honestly, I want to holler, but I’m not sure that would help.

– every time he makes #2, he has to turn his body completely around and look at it. Then he’s gets so excited, he claps and cheers for himself. And I totally feed into it. Positive-reinforcement. This can happen 5 times in one 5-minute trip to the potty. It’s like a fricken Olympic awards ceremony. Cue the national anthem.

-when he’s having fun, he cries if we force a potty break. Flip that script though – at bedtime, he’s allllllll about the potty. And brushing his teeth. Anything to not have to go to bed.

– he’s hyper-aware of his farts. He jumps up and says “oh!” Every time. This, my friends, is where boys’ fascination with farts begins. We always make him say “excuse me” after each one. Yesterday, he burped, so I made him say “excuse me.” He looked at me and grabbed his butt in confusion, as if to say, “but I didn’t fart. I don’t get it.”

It’s exhausting. It’s rewarding. And it’s frustrating. It’s a true test of my patience. We laugh, cry, cheer, scream, and take millions of deep breaths. But one week in, and he’s doing remarkably well. We got this. We got this.

Potty Training Adventures

We’re about 15 minutes into potty training without diapers. Malcolm’s got on his first pair of big boy draws. Draws – that’s what we always called them. Not really even sure how to spell that. What else do you call them? His babysitter asked me to bring “panties” next week. I hate that word, and besides, even if I didn’t mind, my son isn’t wearing panties. He’s wearing boxer briefs. And they’re fricken adorable on him.

So after his nap this afternoon, I threw away the pull up and put him in his first little pair of boxer briefs. He seemed ok with it at first. Until he farted. And it made a popping sound, and I guess it felt differently in cotton boxer briefs than in a big thick diaper. So he started grabbing his butt and yanking at his underwear, pulling every which way, trying to find out where that sound and airy feeling came from. He was truly confused. And me and mike laughed our asses off.

Growth

I realized this week that I must have gone through some pretty major emotional growth over the last couple of years. You see, once upon a time, I would be so jealous of pregnant people, and people with newborns or infants. Mostly because I saw other people so easily attaining what was such a complicated struggle for us. My whole life, I’ve strived so hard to appreciate and be grateful for what I have, and be happy for others for what they have, rather than focusing on what I don’t. You never know what someone else is going through, and what looks perfect from where I’m sitting, may be less than perfect in reality. Or hey, maybe it really is as wonderful as it seems, and what’s wrong with that? God, in his infinite wisdom, blesses everyone in the ways He knows is right for each person. So what truly bothered was the fact that I struggled to separate their joy from my feelings. I hated the lack of control we had over growing our family, and even more, I hated feeling jealous of other people’s happiness.

This was definitely a situational feeling – mostly towards acquaintances, coworkers, and peers I grew up with, but were not exactly close friends with. As for my close friends, I won’t lie – I did feel a slight pang of “why can’t that be me?” But more than anything, I was overwhelmingly happy for my friends. I love to share in other people’s joy, and when I love someone, it’s a lot easier to do.

After adopting Malcolm, I noticed that feeling begin to subside. It wasn’t an instant fix and all pain was forgotten, but he did heal my heart in some ways. When I hear or see a pregnancy announcement now, I pretty much just smile and think, “that’s nice.” This week, I learned some news that would have sent me reeling two years ago. A close friend is in the middle of a separation / potential divorce, and it’s a truly complicated situation. They’re trying to work it out, but the odds are against them, honestly. I pray they can resolve their issues and remain in love and married. It seems like that’s what she wants, and I want that for her. And she recently learned she’s pregnant. And she’s not over the moon happy, like she would have been, had this happened before the separation. It’s complicated. She’s scared to tell people, for fear of judgment, she’s unsure of their future, and the timing is terrible. It’s obvious she’s struggling with this. Two years ago, I’m not sure I could have been a good friend to her. I would have been jealous – how can you think this is anything but a blessing – I would have thought. I may have even been angry. But I realized that I felt none of these things. Sometimes pregnancy is truly a complicated event, and doesn’t happen according to plan, and that doesn’t make it less important. Her feelings are important. I didn’t feel jealous – I just want to help my friend so badly, to support her.

I honestly believe this growth and healing is partially due to raising and loving Malcolm, but a large part is due to having gone through the adoption process. And I don’t just mean the 10 month wait and three days at the hospital – I mean the whole shebang. The lifetime commitment to his birth family. Seeing how complicated bringing a life into the world can be and living my dream because of someone else’s sacrifice, has put a lot of things into perspective for me. And I’m so grateful for that. I can share other people’s joy and pain, in an honest way, while realizing it’s not about me. And that feels so good – to be able to be a good friend again.

BRB

After an unplanned break from this space, I feel ready to write again. I got overwhelmed with several heavy ideas and thoughts, and had a hard time writing because everything felt so negative. Even if the topic were positive, I felt that every post carried so much emotional weight. So I backed off of the heavy posts. And I struggled to write the lighter topics because that felt fake. So I just stopped. I’m not sure what I have to say right now that’s any different than before, but I miss this space. I want the freedom to share my thoughts, no matter how heavy or light, without guilt or fear. Maybe I needed the last few months to internally process some things. I have a clearer mind than I’ve had in months. I’m not making any glorious promise of charming, witty, or even meaningful blogging that will change your life, your perspective or hold your interest. I’m just ready to write again.

Boundaries

I haven’t written much about Malcolm’s birth family for several reasons. Primarily, their privacy. The golden rule. I wouldn’t want to discover them keeping a blog detailing my experiences from their perspective, so I don’t do that to them. But another reason is that it’s so complex. On the surface, the relationship is simple. Malcolm is blessed to have an open relationship with his birth family, and that mainly includes his birth mother (H), birth father (B), biological brother (BJ), and birth great-grandmother (R). During the days in the hospital when Malcolm was born, I feel like we developed a special relationship with these four people. I send them photos every few months, we meet up once or twice a year, and I occasionally speak on the phone with Ms R. We exchange gifts, through the agency, around the holidays. On the surface, it seems simple enough.

As with any relationship, there are multiple layers and details that make things feel messy. If we take this back to day one, there’s always this knowledge in the back of my brain that my happiness with Malcolm is only possible because these people made a huge sacrifice because they love him so much. It takes serious courage to do what is right for someone else at the complete expense of your own feelings. That’s love. Never for a moment, think that adopted children are simply discarded by their birth families, and that these people just move on with their lives. These people are brave. They know that the choices they make and the environment they live in aren’t always suitable for a child, and they selflessly choose better for the child. They may hide their pain, but that pain is real.

In Malcolm’s case, he has a biological brother who was diagnosed with cancer four months after Malcolm was born. I don’t want to speculate on the way H and B felt, but I can only imagine. Choosing adoption for Malcolm gave them an opportunity to focus on raising BJ in a way that having two babies just wouldn’t have allowed. It took on a new meaning when they now had to put their energy to saving his life. Just, wow.

To take this a step further, part of the reason H and B chose adoption is that their own family life is chaotic. When Mal was born, their extended family was not all in support of their decision, and they were a little estranged. H seemed very hurt by this. Flash forward six months, and she and her mother, L, have mended their relationship, and L is attending all of our meetings, while Ms R is being purposely excluded. Since we had developed a relationship at the hospital with ms R and not with L, it has been a little jolting to welcome her into Malcolm’s life, knowing her involvement is part of the reason ms R is being shut out. I don’t know her, and I have a hard time trusting her. I don’t often agree with the way she speaks to people. It’s fair to say that our personalities don’t click. I don’t dislike her, but I don’t feel connected to her. However, she is Malcolm’s biological grandmother, and I want to keep that relationship available to him. Two hours twice a year is not too much for us to give.

We are only legally obligated to annual visits with H. She and her grandmother, ms R, are not on great terms now. H has requested that our meetings with her don’t include ms R. Yet the agency director has asked us to please keep a relationship with ms r, even if we aren’t legally required to do so. No problem. We have obliged her requests for separate visits, a separate set photos, and periodic phone calls.

Only problem is that it’s getting to a point where she calls me more than my own grand parents. Every visit we have with his birth family suddenly includes a new family member, or in the case of his first birthday party with them, about 20 unexpected new family members. All communication was supposed to be through the agency, yet Ms R has begun shipping packages directly to my parents business. Now she is asking for our home address. She actually gave me hers at the hospital when Malcolm was born so she clearly doesn’t have privacy issues. If she knew how to use google, she could probably find our address pretty easily. But that’s not the point. It’s about boundaries.

I like clear boundaries, and I keep people at a distance until I trust them. It takes a long time to build trust. But man, once you’re in, you are sooooo in. Good luck getting out. I feel like I’ve set clear boundaries with her, and she continues to ask for more. It starts with an innocent enough request, such as a five-minute phone call every 5 or 6 weeks, but a simple phone call has evolved into a therapy session of ms R explaining to me her how her feeling have been hurt by H and L. These feelings are very real, and if what she says is true, she should feel hurt. I just don’t feel comfortable listening to how awfully she’s being treated when all she ever does is give give give. She can be a bit of a martyr. But I must remain neutral. I don’t need to know the truth. Whether H, B, BJ, L and the whole gang make good choices is irrelevant. They are good people who made one very awesome choice. I plan on keeping just enough distance for the rest of my life that I can continue to think that way. And hearing details of the family dysfunction is difficult. I wish I could say I bonded immediately with his birth family and I invite them over for dinner and we see them all the time and it’s so easy and fun, but that’s not the way it is. And it’s not because of anything they’ve done wrong. It’s just not the kind of relationship we agreed upon in the beginning, not is it the kind of relationship I’m comfortable having. I believe it’s so important to have an open relationship with them and he always know where he came from and how many people love him. But I’m not comfortable with him calling them anything but “Mr B” “Miss H” and “Ms R.” I’m not comfortable with familial pet names. I’m just not. I’m not comfortable getting between their family squabbles, and I’ve agreed to keep Ms R in the loop from the beginning, even if it was against H’s wishes and without her knowledge. But I will never lie to anyone. I will not scramble to cover the truth, nor will I outright lie to spare someone’s feelings. I don’t like being put in situations where I feel expected to fib. I won’t do it. Every time we meet or every time we speak, one more thing is asked of us that I feel pressure to agree to. The latest is that ms r wants to meet our families on our next visit. She’s said it from day one, so I know she’s always wanted to, but I can’t commit to that. I don’t know whether our families are ready for that, honestly. There’s just a constant pressure to give in to every simple request, because after all, didn’t they give us the greatest gift of all? And I know she is appreciative of us, and is happy that Malcolm is with us. Because despite the pain she feels, she tells us that he is better with us. But while words flow freely for her, and she’s extremely emotional, mike and I are more reserved. She had no problem crying in front of us and ending every conversation with an “I love you,” because I believe she meant it. But I just can’t do that. I respect and appreciate every person who chose adoption for him, and I love them in a way that I love all people and want good things to happen to them. But to say it out loud and consistently after every phone call felt like too much. I’m a little guarded with my affections. I’ve been upfront about that from day one.

And on the other hand are his biological parents, who I feel so much more connected to, who don’t seem overly interested in a relationship with us. They declined a mid-year visit with us. Their lives are chaotic. Their son has cancer. Their relationship had it’s own troubles. I’m unsure whether they have jobs, but even if they have the ambition to have a job, it must be difficult to keep one with limited education and a sick child with unpredictable hospital stays, chemo, etc. I have always felt connected to them. They chose us to raise their biological child. The time I spent with H in the hospital, just the two of us, makes me think she is misunderstood by the adults in her life. She doesn’t always make smart choices, but how much credit do they give her? I know I don’t know the whole story, though.

But 18 months later, I’m starting to wonder whether it really was H and B that chose us. Ms R told me she kept our book we made for the agency to present to prospective birth parents to choose their adoptive family. She looks at it often. H told me that they were so grateful that someone was willing to raise a biracial child. Their options felt limited. So were we chosen, or matched by default? And does it even matter? No. It doesn’t. We were meant to adopt Malcolm, regardless of how we were matched. But I feel this pressure to be ms R’s interpretation of the people in the book. The things she connected with are not defining traits in our personalities. And those key traits seem irrelevant to her.

The truth is that every interaction with his birth family makes me feel all knotty inside. I walk away with a feeling in my gut that I can’t shake for weeks. Part of it is guilt for having such a wonderful life when I know they struggle. Part is it is having my boundaries constantly tested, and having to be assertive, but pick my battles. The biggest thing though, is me questioning God about why he placed these people in my life. What is he trying to teach me? As much as I’m inclined to push away when my boundaries are crossed, is He trying to teach me how to let people in? Or is He teaching me how to be more assertive? And what am I supposed to do? How can I make a difference? That knotty feeling is growth and change. I don’t see the world the same way I did two years ago. How do I answer Gods calling? What is he calling me to do?