Category Archives: family

A Little Reminder That Life is Good

When my older boys were little I made Halloween costumes (from sewing Buzz Lightyear to creating a bull out of a cardboard box), threw themed birthday parties (Veggie Tales and Sea Creatures), paper-mached a pinata (that turned out to be nearly indestructible), and baked birthday cakes (a school bus). Eight kiddos later and I sometimes feel a bit of guilt because my crafty skills are more often constrained by time.
Lately, I have to admit I feel downright aggravated with myself.

Between juggling home school lessons, tending to baby and coordinating teen work/commitment schedules, all those Pinterest ideas are little more than eye candy. Just when I contemplate reaching for the glue gun or sewing machine, I see the unmade bed, the unbrushed hair, and the fingerprints. A thousand other chores bellow for my attention.

Even finding time to write a post had become a hassle as of late. Inspiration rises to the surface only to be squelched by a cry or a “Mom, I need your help.”
But tonight when I sat down to save pictures from my camera, I discovered all these happy moments that we’ve been wracking up together. And I am reminded that I am my own worst critic because life in this big brood can’t be all that bad if the measure of judgment is metered out in smiles. 

 

The birthday bonanza lasts from late March through September and everyone gets to wear my homemade birthday hat. Note the sticky papered age tags so I can keep track.
Lilia got to spend her birthday with dogs, lots of dogs. Oh yeah and Aunt Tammy, too!

Nikolai getting help from his baby bro.

This is the 15 year old boy version of a smile. I’ll take it.

Nothing says “We had fun” like dirty, bare feet!
Pierce turned 18 and got his driver’s license. He promptly drove out alone to buy his siblings lunch in celebration.

Okay, so Pinterest does get credit for this idea. I simply had to find the time to give my 6 year old a surprise minion cake.
marshmallow minions

So I didn’t make the pinata, but I don’t think anyone cared where the candy was raining from.

Daddy and the boys at the race.
Indeed LIFE is GOOD!
 

The Fall, An Accident Inspires Gratitude

Doing the baby jig at the rear of the adoration chapel, I glanced down at the book of thanksgiving. Perusing the list of gratis for health and healing, family and friends, my eyes were drawn to two lines in particular. The familiar scratching of P. I. O. called my attention. Truly this wasn’t the first time my nine month old’s name has been sprawled in childish print in that book, but on this day he was mentioned in two consecutive entries.

Thank you God for protecting Pio.

For keeping Pio safe.
Instantly I jumped back in time to that late morning less than two weeks ago.
Crouching on the family room floor next to the coffee table while attempting to finish grading a lesson, my second eldest son had me stop and proofread his assignment. With my hands baby-free for a few minutes I felt like I was actually making headway in keeping the school day on track so this interruption wasn’t troublesome. It was a good day.
Off in the distance a commotion erupted which I was fully ready to ignore, figuring it was the umpteenth “he did-she did” of the morning. But my son leaped up like a guard dog that’s caught whiff of danger and my internal radar said to follow. The next minute (which was really more like ten seconds) felt like a slow motion scene as my brain tried to clue in to what was happening. Five steps in, I watched that son break into a sprint as he flung the dog/baby gate open. Close behind him, my own movements felt less conscious and more reflexive.
Then my ears registered the words, “THE BABY.” My body stiffened and my head starting spinning like a twister as I instinctively prepared.
My concern-faced,7 year old son rushed at me and thrust the crying infant into my arms, as he explained that the baby had fallen down our basement stairs. Nausea rose up as I scanned little Pio from head to toe. Running my fingers over his hard skull to feel for lumps, I stared into his dark brown eyes to be sure he was fully coherent. Bending and rubbing chubby limbs, I tried to remember not to overlook any part of him.
The kids were talking rapidly, questioning one another. Fear was palpable.
Sweet Pio was simply happy to be in his usual spot, my arms, and so his crying ended quickly. My jarred nerves were not so rapidly soothed as I spent the remainder of the day on watch trying to decide whether a nap was indeed a routine nap or the signal of a concussion.
By the grace of God alone I managed to remain calm in front of the children although internally I was anything but. I was angry and scared, worried and fearful. However, I knew that the children were watching me for a reaction and it would set the tone for theirs. The child who had accidentally allowed the baby to get out of sight was gripped by remorse and anxiety and there was a delicate balance to be struck to prevent the siblings from laying overwhelming blame.
Once the story unfolded and the pieces were fit together it appeared that the baby had only slipped part of the way down the actual stairs before free falling over the open side of the staircase straight to the hard basement floor. Thankfully, he hit a stack of plastic crates which probably slowed his descent. Standing at the bottom of the steps trying to play detective, I had a distinct sense that Padre Pio had been a party to this event. Hard to explain, I just knew he had been there.
Although I’ve offered abundant thanks and praise for the blessing of my sweet youngest, that day reminded me again that life is a precious, fragile gift. Without any advanced notice, everything can be rearranged. For as easily as joy can fill us up, just as swiftly sorrow can rush in. Like the thief that comes in the night, a moment can steal away our well-crafted plans.
Reading those scribbled words in the chapel book, it seemed clear that the gravity of the situation had not been lost on even my young ones. Our family life has exposed them to much of the realities of life and clearly the lessons are sinking in. How beautiful it is too, that even though they fuss and fight, they are able to recognize in small ways that we must be thankful in the moment to moment of life together.
Standing there in the chapel, I looked around at those 8 bowed heads and counted my blessings by name. And I thought, this is the good stuff of family life. The reality checks that keep us grounded. The events which drop us to our knees in petition. The gifts which swell our hearts with gratitude. Countless opportunities to practice patience and forgiveness. And the chance to turn our dirty sock-strewn, toy-riddled, noisy home into a domestic church within which precious souls are formed and made ready.

Misty, The Girl I Never Met: Never Judge a Book by Its Cover or a Person by Their Abilities

special needs children need special love
Gabriel Max (Artist)

Her name was Misty. It was printed in chalk on the nurses’ station board along with a list of other first names. We would never actually meet, but I caught a glimpse of her one day as I walked passed her room. The mental picture I’d developed before that sighting was of course all wrong.

Just days into our month long stay in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, we met Misty’s family: aunts, an uncle, a grandmother, father and cousins. Now, almost nineteen years later, I’ve lost count, but there were enough of them to fill the room around us. Doubtful our paths would have ever crossed if not for the circumstances that forced us all into that tiny waiting room.


Naive, overwhelmed newbies we were, but Misty’s family were well-seasoned veterans in this system of corridors, white coats and ever-changingprognoses. They took to us and us to them in a fast friendship that felt like it would last a lifetime.

In bits and pieces, through conversations and encounters over the next weeks, Misty’s life story unfolded. Born to young, unwed parents, her mother died sometime before the baby would finish toddlerhood. Knowing she would never see her daughter grow up, Misty’s mother had one dying wish; she made her sister swear to raise the child as her own. That little sister bore that promise with unswerving faithfulness and along with the rest of the extended family she committed the next fourteen years to caring for her sister’s only offspring.
Sometime after losing the mother, it became apparent that Misty suffered from serious medical conditions which were the result of an under-developed brain. Her life would include many PICU stays and she would never know the freedom of spinning to “Ring Around the Rosie” or the joy of singing her ABCs. By the time we met her family, she was relegated to a bed, unable to speak or provide her own basic needs.
Surely some outsiders questioned her “quality of life”. To a culture that equates physical fitness and mental capacity with the measure of a person’s worth, Misty might have appeared a hopeless case.
Her family knew her better.
She loved it when her aunts and grandma fed her, they proudly boasted. At mealtimes, she rewarded them with smiles and eyes that spoke the words her mouth could not. And though the doctors and nurses insisted she was forever silent, Misty cooed for those who loved her. Rather than flowers and teddy bears, family members shopped for new, lace-trimmed nightgowns to make her not infrequent hospital trips more pleasant. Every day it was someone’s job to brush out her long, flowing hair and wash her pretty face. True to her promise, Misty’s aunt insured that someone always remained nearby.
Words like burden, trouble, or unwanted never entered our conversations.
As though it were yesterday, I recall the upset in their voices on the day they discussed the doctor’s recommendation for a feeding tube. Considering the infrequency with which doctors actually bothered to speak directly to family members, I assume the news was delivered via the shift nurse. The tube was being ordered to better facilitate her nutritional needs. On a floor full of kids dependent on breathing tubes, drainage tubes and electronic monitors, a feeding tube was the next logical step. But to Misty’s family, that step was leading in the wrong direction.
To the doctor, who probably spent five minutes reading her chart, this fourteen year old was a case study in medical interventions. To the busy nurse, Misty was another terminal patient with machines to monitor, levels to record and notes to take. The act of feeding her was just another necessary procedure to follow, but to her aunts and grandmother meals were so much more.
At the time I thought I understood their desire to retain this autonomy for Misty, the ability to taste flavors and feel textures across her tongue. But now that I’ve experienced the excitement of spooning first bites into my own little ones’ open mouths, I can relate all the more to their desperate attempts to protect her mealtimes. Three times a day, Misty’s family had the privilege to lovingly nourish her with food and she had the opportunity to feed their hopes and dreams. With my own not-yet-verbal children, I have to watch for their bodily cues to tell me if the food I offer is pleasing to their palate and when they’ve reached their fill. Feeding a child means moving in close, making eye contact and connecting (physically and mentally).
A feeding tube meant more than simply relinquishing a chore, it meant stripping Misty of one more “normal” function. When you expect your child to grow-up, to advance through life’s milestones, it’s easy to take such little tasks for granted, but Misty’s family didn’t have that luxury.
On that day, walking passed her room, I peered in expecting to see the girl my mind had formed. Instead, the young girl of about fourteen appeared so tiny and fragile in her hospital bed. Her legs barely reaching beyond the midway point, she was no longer than a child of five or six. And that long hair flowed nearly the full length of her stunted body it seemed. I was startled by the reality.
The image I’d created was based on my idea of “normal” because that’s how Misty’s family portrayed her. The obvious love they had for her communicated a different picture, while my eyes sized her with a worldly measure. No one ever knew my surprise and for that I am glad because I am ashamed of it. My false vision betrayed my ignorance and bias.
Those few weeks, nearly two decades ago, changed my life. I lost touch with her family, so I never did learn whether or not they managed to protect her from the feeding tube directive, but I’ve never taken for granted the real importance of “feeding” my children.
Misty was truly everything that her family saw her to be. Beautiful. Worthy. Special. Perfect. And in my mind, she will forever remain larger than life not because of her stature, but because she personified Christ (the hungry Christ, the naked Christ, the imprisoned Christ) to those who took the time to see.

Adoption Takes The Gold In the Race For Parenthood

adoption is the loving option

As a young engaged couple, we fantasized about the blessings of a large family. I’d been an only child for the first ten years of my life and my sweetheart had never known the joy and rivalry of sharing his life with a sibling, but we knew we wanted to be surrounded by little life forms and lots of them.

While our notion of large has grown during our twenty-one years of marriage, even during those first family planning discussions adoption was part of the plan. Not that we’d had much experience on the topic, but I suppose God’s seed had already been mysteriously planted in our hearts.


Of course, like too many other naive couples we mapped out our life plan decades in advance. We’d wait the culturally respectable amount of time before opening the door to tiny hands and pitter pattering feet. Our birth children would be welcomed first and then in time, perhaps when we were a graying couple we’d enlist our names on the adoption register.

Two years and a few months into our wedded bliss, we gave up control (sort of) and God blessed our union with the miracle of life in my womb. Nine months and seven hours later joy spilled forth in a hospital maternity room in the shape of a perfectly beautiful, totally unrepeatable baby boy, who we called Dimitri Mikhail.

But within hours our lives skipped a beat, like a record when the needle hits a scratch. The next month consisted of two surgeries on our son’s broken heart, needles, tubes, respirator vacuums, leads, bleeping machines, white coats and cold comments. After so many nights slept in corners on rock hard waiting room floors, we stood (the three of us) wrapped around one another as that precious gift drained of earthly life.

When the spinning slowed enough to form a conscious thought, that mystery seed began to germinate. A child cannot be replaced, but the empty crib erected in our bedroom beckoned for a sweet-smelling occupant. Those brand new onesies and home made blankets kept babies on our minds and so we started the process of finding an adoption agency.

I can’t quite recall how everything worked out as it did, but then again my Heavenly Father has a way of steering my path without my ever knowing it. People and information simply appeared and so by year’s end we were jumping through the hoops of placement preference forms, background checks, recommendation letters, physicals, and interviews.

Eleven looong, nail-biting months later (of course, in retrospect, eleven months was less time than it took to conceive some of our children), we received the photo of a seemingly chubby, cherub-faced boy dressed in red plaid. With scant bits of black hair and Asian, brown eyes, he was a dream captured on film. Our caseworker knew this would be our son, but because there were loose ends to be tied she was only able to say this baby was a possible match for us.

Talk about anxious anticipation, the next few weeks we felt like children circling the pile of presents under the Christmas tree, wondering which gift had our name on it.

Busy answering questions, making appointments, and checking in patients at a podiatrist’s office, my baby fever was temporarily masked by work. Then THE call came. The call to trump all calls. On the other end of the cord sat our social worker, her voice pulsing through the phone lines. The equivalent I suppose to seeing that plus sign appear on the pregnancy stick, I heard the words that decreed we were about to become a family.

In a whirlwind of enthusiasm and impatience, we made the necessary arrangements and sped down the highway toward Greensboro. Like our mad dash to the maternity ward a year and a half earlier but a whole lot less painful (for me), we couldn’t wait to greet our newest blessing. Clueless to the agency’s mode of operations we were told to sit in an empty office, our stomachs churning with that kind of nervous joy/anxiety we’d felt on our wedding day. Unbeknownst to us, our little boy was being laid in a cradle just steps beyond our reach.

family are created in a variety of ways adoption is part of that plan for usFinally, crossing the threshold of a small room down the agency hallway we beheld our first vision of him. Resting peacefully in a gorgeous cradle, draped in white with blue and pink trim, was our son, our second son. My heart ached from the swell of love that welled up within my chest. Early on in our parenting, an occasional ignorant bystander bludgeoned me with the proposition that biologically-connected love could somehow trump adoptive-love. In that moment, meeting my son for the very first time, such absurdity would be forever discredited.

With our son stretched across his lap, Greg sat motionless caught up in an intense gaze of wonder, love and fatherly admiration. Perhaps, that was the precise moment when their bond was forged because this son, more than any since, shares his father’s interests and passions.

That was 17 years ago now that we first became a family. Seventeen cherished years of watching that little person grow and mature into an intelligent, faithful, handsome young man with an opportunity-filled future before him. This second son wasn’t a replacement for the first, nor is he overshadowed by any sibling since, he is our beloved child, as are each and every one of our brood individually.

becoming a family through adoptionWe were the youngest couple (at 25yo and 27yo) ever to apply at our chosen, local agency. Sadly, many couples consider adoption as a last resort, the silver medal in the race to parenthood. Not until they’ve exhausted their fertility expense account and shed rivers of tears do they finally relent and open their hearts to the adoptive process. They waste a lot of time and energy, in my opinion, not to mention prolonging their heartache. How thankful we are that God planted that tiny mustard seed so long ago and taught us that He is the Father of life, all life. He founded our family.

In the course of our Natural Family Planning classes, we always make a point of sprinkling seeds by reminding those fresh-faced couples that adoption is part of the Divine Plan. Being open to life extends beyond the biological mission. Our Lord and Savior, Himself, was raised at the hip of His foster-father and no one could question the complete charity and devotion that existed between Joseph and Jesus.

And how could we not have admiration and gratitude for our son’s birth mother, who sacrificed her body and surely pieces of her heart to allow him to grow within her. A woman, not much older than his is now, she heroically challenged the culture and carried her unexpected gift for eight months. I can only imagine her internal conflict, when after the pain of childbirth, she relinquished her firstborn with the hope of providing him the best in life. Wherever she is today, may she have peace and confidence that our son is loved and we have tried our hardest to instill in him a sincere respect for her.

Those well-laid, life plans of so long ago have been rewritten a thousand times over. In our wildest dreams we couldn’t have conjured up the twists and turns our life journey would take us through. While the loss of our firstborn scarred us in some lifelong ways, it was the catalyst that inspired us to open more fully the flood gates to so many blessings. I never would have chosen that course, but in His infinite wisdom and mercy, God didn’t ask me to choose. He orders our path, He steers the ship and so much the greater is His vision of our passage.

adoption was part of our family planning