Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Not Alone (And Not a Failure)

I'm just going to be honest because that, dear readers, is what I do best. I have been battling a loneliness and a heaviness, lately regarding Bo. We are living a life that the average person cannot understand. I cannot think of one person in my "real world" that can relate to my life; that I can call and tell about the latest poop fest or my fears about the upcoming IEP or a recent misunderstanding about Bo in our new homeschool co-op. I do share those things, but usually after I've processed them or found the funny spin in it all.  

I don't want to sugar coat adoption. In fact, I think I once promised that I wouldn't. Frankly people, it's easier to do that. There is a lot of pressure to provide the happy ending that you know folks expect to hear. It's fun to post the cute pictures of the smiling child and pretend that life is just grand in the happily-ever-after-world they helped create. 

(Let me stop right here and express that I love this child deeply and I would do everything all over again without hesitation to make him mine, even feeling what I feel and knowing what I know.)

Lately, I've struggled with feelings of failure. Bo is just not progressing like I thought he would. I foolishly thought that once we got him home and began to meet his needs, he would start to communicate, to follow directions, to decrease negative behaviors, etc. Those things are happening, but at a pace that feels ridiculously slow. I feel like we aren't doing this right!

I keep saying that he has come so far, and he long as the unit of measure is millimeters. 

Socially, he responds very much like an infant. All those smiling pictures I post on Facebook and here? Those are obtained by turning the camera backwards so he can smile at himself, like a baby does in a mirror. He also pulls hair and then smiles when KJ or Eon cry from the pain in a giant game of cause and effect just like your average eight-month-old. 

He loves shoes. He will crawl into my closet and sit for long periods of time staring at shoes, pushing them with one finger, lining them up, and occasionally trying them on. If we are in public, he will sometimes attempt to take a shoe off a stranger's foot or abscond with a random sandal at the splash park. 

He paints with poop. We must carefully dress him in onesies during the day and zip-up pajamas at night or he will go digging in his diaper and we will find it coating himself, his toys, and the walls. 

He still drinks thickened liquid from a bottle. We must put his food directly on the high chair tray or table because he will fling a plate faster than you can blink. We have to be very careful not to leave cups of liquid lying around because he will throw those, as well. 

I'm not trying to be negative Nellie, but rather to give you a picture of what our lives look like on a daily basis. He really has improved in some ways, so you can imagine what our lives looked like in the days immediately following our homecoming. 

So I was feeling discouraged and alone. And then I read Jen Hatmaker's post here in which she talks about the two years since adopting her children (neuro-typical) from Ethiopia and she is honest about the hard and the ugly and, based on how it filled my Facebook feed, it resonated with people. It did me, and her adoption and my adoption could not be more different. I cried when I read the comments and could relate to so many who shared their stories. It gave me hope and made me feel less alone. Tesney, whose adoption of Kirill I followed two years ago, responded with a post of her own which encouraged me to write this one.

And then I read magic words from Susanna. She wrote a post describing their newest son, sixteen-year-old Tommy, who was adopted from Plevin, one of the worst orphanages known to me. Tommy acts very much like an infant, as well, except he shrieks frequently, is bigger and stronger, and has foul smelling diapers. Susanna writes: 
Typically, when a child is loved and cared for, the older they grow, the more they progress. 
Tommy was so hurt for such a long time, that instead of progressing more as time went by, the opposite happened.  The older he grew, the more potential he lost.  The more unlikely it became that he would recover from the harm that was done to him. 
His progress in all areas might be infinitesimally small.
And do you know what?

There are no words to describe how okay that is with us.
The bolded line leapt off the page to me! I needed to hear that it is okay. It is okay if my son continues to act like an infant. It is okay if he never catches up to his same aged peers with Down syndrome, including his big brother. It is okay if he continues to act oddly with strange quirks and vocalizations. (It is not okay if he continues to play with poop. I have got to draw the line somewhere and that is definitely the line I choose!) 

He does not need to perform for us and he doesn't need to perform for God. I suddenly realized that all the expectations I have for Bo are not really for him, at all. They are completely selfish and rooted in pride. I needed to be "successful" with this, whatever that means. I think I also wanted redemption to look pretty. It's not pretty. Derek Loux had it right, of course. 
“My friends, adoption is redemption. It’s costly, exhausting, expensive, and outrageous. Buying back lives costs so much. When God set out to redeem us, it killed Him.” 
God doesn't need me to pretend like it's easy. It's not. I can be honest and real and hopefully, He will still get glory in the long run. The bottom line is that I could not do this without Him. It is, by far, the hardest thing I have ever done. (Remember, I have birthed seven children, some of them without medication.) I have come to the end of myself and found Him there, time and time again. My coping mechanisms are failing one by one and still He remains faithful. 

Some things have gotten easier as we've gotten to know Bo and better predict his needs. He has bonded with us well which is something few adoptive parents experience so quickly and we are incredibly grateful for that gift. It really does coat all the other stuff with a special grace and makes it so much more manageable. 

If you are another adoptive mom, I wrote this post so that you might read it and realize that you are not alone and you are not failing, either. Success is not measured in the progress of our children, but rather the obedience of our hearts. 
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31


  1. Tara, I know you saw my FB post today about Jadon's mini-breakthroughs that I recognized today. He's been home 23 months and that is where we are now.

    My reality is this. I brought home my 3 year old son, the size of a 9 month child, and developmentally that of a newborn baby 23 months ago.

    He is now nearing 5 years old, he's the size of a 2 year old and is developmentally that of a 9 month old.

    Id est quod est. It is what it is. I am not a magic cure all. I cannot remove the damage done to his brain through utter neglect. What I can do is walk confident in the one thing he needs MORE THAN ANYTHING in this world, and that my dear, is MY LOVE.

    Will it cure it all? Nope. BUT it will push him along in life, tiny step by tiny step and ever so often he amazes me. It's all good. That is my world and I wouldn't want it any other way for Jadon.


    1. Thank you, Christie! I don't know where this need to"hurry up & fix him" comes from, but I'm so glad to realize, finally, that I CAN'T! And get on with loving. ;)

  2. You're not alone, Tara. There are many of us in the tranches with you. We may not have all the answers, but there is strength (and solace) in numbers.

    1. Oh, indeed, Tana! So grateful for you!

  3. If you are on Facebook - PLEASE COME JOIN THE LIVING ROOM GROUP. It is for adopting RR families who now have their babes home and who want to NOT feel so alone. My FB is julia arnold nalle -

  4. Hi Tara! I'm not going to even insult you by pretending like I can relate. I have three kids who I birthed (Ok, the without medication thing for two of them). I will say that your post reminded me of the Apostle Paul who struggled with his weakness (that thorn in the side he never describes in detail). What he did say that I continually turn to is how he came to a place where he welcomed his own weakness, because "when I am weak, then you are strong." I see God bringing His love and grace so vividly to you when you're surrounded by your poop mess, which really just represents the pride and ego all parents feel as they struggle with how their children's lives reflect their own capacity and value. I know you don't really need me to tell you that God is with you and your family and created Bo and knew he would find his way into your family's tapestry. It's hard to release and trust and bear the brunt of the disconnect between the life God has lead you to leave and the life the world seems to be defining as normal. You guys are in my prayers and I'm thankful God has blessed you with such an open spirit that you can so boldly share that life (warts and all). Thanks and keep going! PS -- wholeheartedly agree that drawing a line in the poop is probably a good thing in the long run. :)

  5. You know Dariya has been home just over 2 years and I was having this very conversation with myself today. There are so many hurdles and victories she has won but so many yet to accomplish. Adoption is hard even when things go as smoothly as ours went. You are not alone.

  6. Tara, I so appreciate you writing this post and being so open and honest. Although I never adopted I have over the years cared for my two Nephews who were in and out of Foster care their entire lives. My oldest Nephew has lived with us for five years now. The thing is in the beginning I felt a lot of guilt because the boys were not progressing or behaving the way I expected them to. I had thought the same as you, that if they were finally in a home where they were loved and felt secure, and their needs were met that they would thrive. I felt overwhelming guilt every time I was sad or stressed out at how hard it all was. My oldest Nephew also smeared poop on walls...That was extremely difficult for me to deal with. I finally got to the point where I realized I am not super woman and I didn't have to be. I realized the boys were damaged by their past and that I couldn't take it all away...I couldn't "cure" them of it. But I could love them. No matter what we were going through I could love them.
    Thank you again for posting this one, it always helps to know you are not alone out there in your feelings.