7.05.2015

The Unknown


Shaun and I have been feeling really uncertain lately about what God's plan for our family is. We've been trying to be less anxious or concerned about what we don't know, but we're both more of the type A personalities, and it's been hard to be at a standstill as we itch to do something--anything--rather than just waiting for something (or waiting for nothing! We really don't know).

We're SO happy with our kids and life the way it is. If we're done having kids, we're happy with how things are and it'll all be okay--we just wish we knew. But we don't know, and even though the unknown is hard, I don't believe God lets us go through tough stuff that won't ultimately help us become better, and closer to him.

A favorite quote of ours (displayed in our kitchen) is from Neil A. Maxwell: "Faith in God includes faith in his timing." I know that, even though we're stuck in a weird kind of limbo right now, not sure what direction to go, that God is watching over us. I read a really good talk about faith from Dallin H. Oaks, where he says "Faith must include trust." He tells the story of Christ suffering for the sins of the world in Gethsemane, and the infamous line: "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done." (Luke 22:42) Christ is the ultimate example of faith and trust in our Heavenly Father. Faith without trust is incomplete, and so, my faith in God, my faith in his plan for me and my family, and my faith that his timing is what's right for us, needs to include complete trust that, whatever the future holds, he knows what he's doing, and all will be right in the end.

So, as we wait, and wonder what the future holds, I am committing (or rather recommitting) to strive to put my trust more fully in my Heavenly Father. I know he knows what he's doing, and I know he loves me. 

7.02.2015

Book Review: The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole


The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, written by Lori Holden with Crystal Hass, is the book I wish I'd read six years ago. Every prospective adoptive parent should read this book. Co-authored by an adoptive mother and the birth mother of her child, this is by far the best adoption book I've read to date.

In all of the adoption education classes and seminars and workshops I've been to throughout the years I feel like I've learned a lot, grown a lot, and stretched a lot. This book encompasses so much of what took me years to learn and understand, and educates readers with love and straight-forward honesty. The premise of the book--a line repeated often throughout it, is:


"Adoption creates a split between a child’s biography and her biology. Openness is an effective way to heal that split and help your child grow up whole."  
The premise alone is a lot to talk about. I love (love love LOVE) that the focus throughout the book is how to best parent and help kids mend this "gap" of biography and biology.

What I loved most about this book was how child-centric it was. Adoption should be about the child who was adopted/ the adoptee. Adoptive parents sometimes go into adoption with emotional scar tissue that brought them to adopt (infertility being the most common). Birth parents go through immense pain and sacrifice as they place their children for adoption. There is so much pain and emotional baggage for the adults involved in adoption. I love that this book emphasizes not projecting your pain onto your child. One thought that particularly stood out to me was the admonition to be responsive rather than reactive.
"We adoptive parents continually walk a fine line. We don’t want to dwell on adoption and assign every growing-up difficulty to it, yet we also don’t want to deny its effects and not see/hear/know when something adoption-related is going on. To walk this line requires us to cultivate mindfulness, clarity and inner calm, to tune in to ourselves and our child, especially during moments of stress, and be responsive rather than reactive." (Chapter 7)
There are also many other gems. A section about how to speak to your child about their adoption (that I'll admit I didn't expect to learn much from) surprised me with this sage advice: Emphasize that your child's birth parents were unable to take care of any child when they were born. Rather than saying "She couldn't take care of you," depersonalize it--"She couldn't take care of any baby at that time in her life."
We do a disservice to the adopted person when we try to establish a hierarchy between nature and nurture. If our own insecurities require us to assert that nurture is more important than nature, then perhaps we should dissolve those insecurities rather than discount a person’s biology. (Chapter 5)
My only criticism of the book is that I felt like, in sharing their opinions, the authors became almost too preachy or pushy at a few points--again, about topics that were really subjective. While I respect the feelings each author expresses, and appreciated reading their thoughts, I wish it had been more clearly expressed in certain parts that these were opinions being shared. One persons opinion does not invalidate another's. No two adoptions are the same, and relationships in the adoption realm are complex, just like any other familial relationship. Some decisions in adoption are so personal and individual, proclaiming a right and wrong way to do things in a book is just not going to work, and ultimately may alienate some. Again, I definitely appreciated the opinions shared in the book and I'm not saying I felt the authors were wrong, but neither author has experienced every possible situation, and it didn't feel right for certain opinions to be pronounced as gospel.

The honesty and empathy expressed throughout "The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption" more than makes up for any generalizations, and the heart and soul of the book--the emphasis on child-centric parenting--is perfect.


"In the days of closed adoption, the birth family was to disappear, never to be seen, heard from or wondered about again. Both families were to proceed as if there were not an easily apparent seam in the fabric of their lives.
"In the open era, however, we know the seam is there — for both families. The birth parents have experienced a child-ectomy. But instead of a hidden, festering sore, the healing happens in the open. The adoptive parent(s) have grafted a family member onto their tree, one related by love rather than biology, much like a marriage. We are not ashamed that there is a seam. Why would we be?
"Others may still rather avert their eyes or speak from the days of secrecy and shame, and here is where we become teachers, ambassadors. Here is where we vanquish the shame and fear that used to go along with adoption." (Chapter 4)
This book is truly the most worthwhile read I've found yet about adoption. I recommend it highly to any member of the adoption community, particularly anyone involved in or hoping for an open adoption relationship. 

7.01.2015

Book Review: Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other


I happened upon a small (very small) stash of adoption-related books in the nonfiction section of the library a few weeks ago. Nonfiction is something I associated with school and never read leisurely until a few years ago (probably around the time I actually finished school), and so I'm relatively new to the genre. This little section of books was something I wanted to spend more time perusing, but with my two sweet littles anxious to get to the kid's corner of the library, I just grabbed the first books I saw that looked promising. (I'm not naive--I know there are plenty of anti-adoption books out there, and I wasn't interested in reading those now, so I did make sure to pick things that didn't look like huge downers. The subtitle of this book says "In Praise of Adoption," so it seemed like a safe choice.)

"Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other" was written by Scott Simon, who I'd never heard of before. Apparently he's pretty big on NPR, PBS, sometimes the BBC, and has written other books too, but this was my first introduction to him. Simon is the father of two little girls who he and his wife adopted from China. He shares experiences that led his wife and him to adopt, as well as the stories of when their daughters were placed in their arms. He also summarizes adoption stories from friends of his, I presume to give a more rounded view of adoption. There's a lot of love about this book. There's also a few things I didn't love, but first I'll share what I loved.

I can't deny that Simon is a pretty good writer. He has a strong voice that I could hear as I read this book. Despite not ever actually hearing it on the radio etc. I felt like I knew who was sharing their story with me. I love the first "chapter" (although there aren't actual chapters in the book, so to clarify, the first 10 pages). It hooked me quickly, with relatable descriptions of the awkward questions and comments that come with infertility as well as adoption, followed by the raw and sweet story of Simon and his wife traveling to China to pick up their first daughter, Elise. When she was brought into the room, their hurts surged with love. Baby Elise cried hysterically as she was placed in their arms. She peed through her clothes all over her new mother. After returning to their hotel room, Elise was still inconsolable. After a day or two, she warmed up to her new parents. As Simon puts it, their hearts were completely hers from the moment they saw her. They knew she was their daughter, and the love was strong and immediate on their part. At the same time, there were conflicting emotions--guilt being one of the dominant ones. It was all so relatable to me--the instant and strong love that's hard to explain, knowing you'd do whatever you could to make your new child happy, and at the same time worrying that what if you yourself aren't what's best for him or her? Over time these feelings disappeared for Simon, and in my own experience there were moments where I couldn't deny that I knew God had sent my kids to me (albeit in a less traditional way) and that despite my many imperfections, me being their mom was no mistake at all.

The thing I least liked about this book was that it was almost completely devoid of birth parent stories. While Simon expresses love and gratitude for birth parents, I felt like the vital role they play in adoption was downplayed and sometimes ignored. It was frustrating to see so many stories of closed adoptions being told, with little thought for the biological families and the possibility of opening relationships in these situations. As an adoptive mother, I certainly believe that my kids were meant to join Shaun's and my family. As the title declares, I know that we are meant for each other. But this does not mean that they weren't meant for their birth families as well. In open adoption, an adopted child is able to continue meaningful relationships with his or her biological roots; with the family that shares their DNA. It's a really awesome thing. I realize that this is not always possible in every adoption. However, there were only two or three paltry pages about open adoption in this entire book filled with stories from many people. I wish that the stories had been less sugarcoated, more well-rounded, and involved all sides of the adoption triad (adoptive AND birth families, as well as individuals who were adopted).

Overall this book was an enjoyable read. It was fluffy and mostly upbeat, though it felt very one-sided. I would recommend it to adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents, particularly those considering international adoption. 

5.19.2015

Recipe: Homemade Pizza (with whole wheat crust)


Pizza is one of our favorite foods. The kids love it just as much as we do--a rare find! but it's bread and cheese, so is that really surprising? Who doesn't love pizza? 

But homemade pizza can be a bit tricky. I remember as a kid, I dreaded pizza night. Thick, bready crust, sweet tomato sauce and cheddar cheese topped with ground beef...as a kid, I really hated it. As I type that, it doesn't sound too bad anymore, probably because I'm hungry, but for me, I love my pizza crust thin and a bit crispy, with a slightly spicy (and not sweet!) sauce, mozzarella, parm, and lots of chopped veggies. 

It took Shaun and I years--really, years!--to find our perfect pizza recipe. My friend Merrick has a really awesome blog, and our pizza recipe has been slightly adapted from the epic recipe she posted a while back. It's the best homemade pizza ever, I promise.

Crust

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup hot tap water
  • 1 Tablespoon yeast
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour (or all purpose if you prefer)
  • 2 Tablespoons vital wheat gluten
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasonings (or dried basil or oregano)

Directions
  1. Stir yeast into hot water and let sit for 10 minutes to proof. 
  2. Stir in vital wheat gluten, salt, seasonings and flour, and knead for about 5-7 minutes (or let it mix in a standing mixer with the dough attachment). 
  3. Pour a bit of olive oil onto the top of the dough after kneading and turn it over to grease the entire ball of dough. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for at least 30 minutes. 
  4. After the dough has rested for at least 30 minutes, divide it into two. Roll out thin into a circle shape, and fold and pinch edges down to make a crust. 


Sauce

Ingredients:
  • About 2 cups canned tomatoes, drained (I use home-jarred tomatoes. Diced or whole is fine.)
  • 1 6 oz. can tomato paste 
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
  • 1 (scant) teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed dried red pepper

Directions:
  1. Place all of the sauce ingredients in a blender and pulse until everything is well-combined. 
Assembling your pizza:
  1. Spread sauce over your prepared crust and top each pizza with grated mozzarella cheese. We use about 1/2 cup for each pizza. 
  2. Then top it with your favorite toppings. (Our favorite toppings: sliced black olives, bell peppers, red onion, fresh herbs like basil and cilantro and whenever possible mushrooms. We also like sausage, but we don't make it very often.
  3. We use a few tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan cheese to finish it off. It somehow helps keep everything from burning weird on top. 
  4. If you want a nice crisp crust, bake at 500 degrees for 10-12 minutes. If you'd like a slightly crisp crust that's still softer inside bake it at 450 for 12 minutes. (That's how Shaun likes it. i prefer the crisper crust.) For best results you want to cook your pizza on the lowest rack possible in your oven.

Variations: We have tried barbecue sauce and pesto sauce instead of the traditional tomato sauce, and both are amazing. We aren't too adventurous with cheese--we always use mozzarella over the sauce and then top all of the toppings off with freshly grated parmesan. 
  • Barbecue sauce goes well with grilled chicken and pineapple atop the mozzarella. Mushrooms, onions and fresh cilantro are also great additions.
  • Pesto is good with grilled chicken too, as well as thinly sliced tomatoes, black olives, mushrooms, and fresh basil. 

Note: If you don't have a pizza stone, you can flip over a cookie sheet so it's upside down and cook your pizza on top of that. The way the air circulates under it cooks it well that way, although use a stone if you have one. Either way, I suggest cooking your pizza on parchment paper for minimal mess and for a nice, crispy crust.


5.18.2015

Siblings


Something that we hear quite a lot from people is how much Bean and LilMan "look like they're really brother and sister." I know this is intended to be a complement; that it's intended as validating. I appreciate that. This post is about my personal feelings on why this may not be received kindly by all adoptive families. These comments make me uncomfortable, and I know a lot of my friends in the adoption world agree. Bear with me as I try to explain. 

Look at these two, thick as thieves:

Obviously, our kids have birth families and unique stories of how they came into the world, but to me, it's also obvious that they are totally each other's siblings. I believe that to them this is the case as well. They're growing up together, they fight, they adore one another, they get jealous of each other, and when things are crazy, they really do care about each other. They have a true sibling bond. As I see it, they are totally siblings, real and complete. 

Our society loves sameness. This may be debatable in some regards, but in terms of families, I sometimes think there is almost a narcissistic obsession with being sure kids look like their parents, and that siblings look like each other. If we don't see sameness, it can be alarming to some. When Bean was a newborn a stranger remarked to me that my daughter looked nothing like me. It felt like it was supposed to be a slap in the face. I politely told her that I didn't anticipate Bean ever looking like me, as she was adopted, and that I think she is beautiful looking how she looks, and left it at that, but it bothered me for a long time. Why is it concerning for a child to look different? This could be a huge, heated conversation, and I'm not feeling up to dragging it out to that, but I think it's good to think about--Do we place too much importance on sameness? 

This is probably something I'm vocalizing because we've had possible trans-racial adoption situations come up before that, if they were to work out, would result in our kids suddenly not looking alike. Even though these situations have not worked out to date, I know someday our family could possibly look different. That is one reason I feel it's so important to emphasize that my kids are siblings, whether they look alike to others or not. 

Easter morning they were ecstatic about their baskets.
These baskets were practically identical content-wise.
What you don't see here is how they kept comparing their
 stuff to each others, casting envious looks at each other.
I'd say that's pretty typical "real sibling" stuff.
At least it was in my family. 
Bean is the older sibling, and she mothers LilMan and tries to keep him in line when he's having a hard time following the rules. LilMan knows how to push Bean's buttons and irk her like no one else can. The kids know how to tease each other, and they hurt each others' feelings sometimes. But they are also each others defenders and champions. When one is hurt and upset, the other stops and tries to help, sometimes crying too because their best friend is hurting and that truly seems to make them hurt too. Cheesy as it sounds, it warms my heart to see the love they have for each other. It's evident and it's beautiful.
Everything about my kids' relationship is reminiscent to me of my relationships with my siblings. (For the record, my siblings and I all look quite different, and we are in fact biological siblings. I remember our lack of "matching" being something that fascinated others when I was growing up, and it always annoyed me.) We sometimes clash more than anyone else could--we grew up together and saw each other at our worst--and yet this also creates an amazing bond--it unites us. We know each others pasts, we know each others strengths and weaknesses, and we love each other always, no matter what. I look forward to my kids growing up together. Sibling relationships are so special. 


And most of all, my kids love each other completely. Yes, they fight. Yes, they tease. Yes, they get jealous of each other. And yet they will defend each other, rally together whenever necessary, and sympathy-cry when the other one is crying. Heck yeah they're siblings, whether you think they look alike or not. 

(And once more I reiterate that I appreciate the well-intentioned comments all the same.) 

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