How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Holidays

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How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After spending the last dozen or so years being a bit of a Scrooge from November 1 though December 25, this year feels totally different. And of course, it’s all because of DJ.

For the first time ever in my adult life, it is December 7th and my Christmas tree is decorated (albeit with a lighting scheme that wouldn’t be my first choice if it wasn’t for a certain 9-year-old and my DH), a good chunk of my Christmas shopping & Christmas cards are done, and I’m actually seeking out the 24/7 Christmas music channels on the radio. And did I mention that we’re going to see *A Musical Christmas Carol* downtown tomorrow?

Maybe my heart hasn’t really grown three sizes since the day that DJ joined our family, but I’ve definitely become one of those people that I used to look on in the not-so-distant past in wonder and maybe just a little disdain (okay, I still silently curse folks who send out their Christmas cards the day after Thanksgiving, but motherhood hasn’t changed me completely!).

Not that the holidays aren’t fraught with headaches & challenges in addition to all of this overflowing Christmas cheer. One of the big points stressed by adoption professionals is that the holidays are often a confusing and difficult time for adoptive kids. And while DJ continues to be making incredible progress, he’s no different from other kids who have lost some or all of their biological families and struggled to find a permanent home. For DJ, this will be his first Christmas with his fairly-new mom and dad along with all of our extended family and friends.

Even for a non-adoptive child, the holidays with our clan can be a bit overwhelming. Our schedule for Christmas Eve & Christmas Day as we attempt to spend as much time as physically possible with both sides of our families could frazzle even the calmest person’s nerves. So we’re making sure to really take things slowly and celebrate the holiday season a little bit everyday instead of trying to pack everything in to a couple of days. In a particularly uncharacteristic burst of festiveness, I bought our first Advent calendar and made activities for each day. While the activities vary from the silly to the practical, it’s really about creating fun & non-frantic time to spend together as a family. It’s also given our holiday season a much-needed structure that we know DJ craves & needs as he’s trying to find his place.

But for every happy step we take forward together as a “forever family,” there are those speed bumps that remind me how much our little boy has been through in his short life and how careful we need to be to nurture & protect him, especially during the holidays. For example, last night while we were decorating our tree, he admitted that he’s afraid that we’re going to get rid of him the  day before Christmas! While we were quick to reassure him that he’s stuck with us for good, it was heartwrenching to see the fear & uncertainty on his face. Permanency is still a really unfamiliar concept for him, and we can’t take for granted that what should be a carefree and happy time for DJ can also be fraught with questions and worries that we would never think of.

Since my greatest Christmas wish has already been granted, it’s hard to imagine asking for anything else. But if I did, my wish for this year would be for my boy to know that he is loved, that he is precious, and that he isn’t going anywhere!

Giving Thanks

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I know it’s been a long time since I posted, but with Thanksgiving quickly approaching, I couldn’t help but feel inspired.

While it’s been far from easy, life with DJ has been a dream come true. The last five months have been so full–bringing DJ home for the first time, introducing him to family & friends, developing our daily rituals like nightly storytime, going to the bus stop for the 1st day of school,  getting together for family celebrations, watching his soccer games, going over spelling words, doing battle over shorts vs. pants, and so much more.

There have been rough patches that I will probably explore in future posts, but I’m honestly grateful for every minute since DJ became a part of our family. And I’m especially indebted to everyone who helped to bring DJ into our lives and kept us sane during this huge transition. Adoption is definitely not something that you can do on your own, and my only hesitation in writing this post is that I’m going to forget someone. So let me say right now that I’m deeply thankful to all of the family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers who have made the last five months possible.

I am so thankful for all of our family and friends who have been so amazing throughout this very long process. Nothing has given me more joy than watching you get to know our dear DJ. Whether near or far, your support has made all the difference.

I am so thankful for our caseworkers on both the east and west coasts. We never would’ve even known about DJ if it wasn’t for our matching coordinator at Three Rivers Adoption Council sending us an email to check out a little boy on the Northwest Adoption Exchange. In the weeks since DJ’s arrival, all of our caseworkers have done an outstanding job staying on top of the multitude of paperwork and answering our numerous questions. It is because of them that we will hopefully be able to finalize DJ’s adoption early on in the new year.

I am so thankful to DJ’s former foster parents who have done an amazing job loving & providing support for a little boy who was coming from a hard place. DJ’s relatively easy transition into our home is due, in no small part, to their kindness, patience, & generosity over the years. It sounds cliche, but words cannot express how grateful I am for the care that you took of our little boy while he was “waiting”  for his forever family.

I am so grateful to DJ’s birth mother, who despite making some bad choices in her own life, made it clear to DJ that he was loved and that none of her mistakes were his fault.

Last but certainly not least, I am so grateful to my dear husband and DJ himself. It has been a wild ride so far, but your courage and love make it all worthwhile. Although I’ve sometimes approached Thanksgiving with  a fair amount of trepidation in the past, I couldn’t be more excited for our first Thanksgiving as a family.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Back to School, Part 2

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I can’t believe that it’s been a week since DJ started school. Granted, we did have Monday off for Labor Day, but we’re already finding our groove, and the long summer days are starting to feel a little distant.

The first day got off to a smooth start until we got to the bus stop. It’s a busy intersection even at the best of times, but during rush hour, it is pretty much insanity on a stick. In addition to the traffic, the bus was very late (which I’ve heard isn’t that unusual for the first week). But needless to say, it felt like forever to my poor nine-year-old who was waiting to start yet another new school.

Our little guy headed off for the first day of school–you can’t tell from the pic, but he’s wearing the Star Wars shirt that we bought on our back-to-school shopping trip!

When the bus finally arrived, I couldn’t believe how tiny DJ looked crossing the street to his bus. It took all of my self-control to keep from running after him and giving him a hug.

While it was definitely nice to be back on my own schedule again, all day I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had left something really important behind. I kept doing things like looking in my rear-view mirror expecting to see him sitting in the back seat.

I also couldn’t help but wonder how he was doing. Did he like his teachers? Were the other kids being nice to him? Did I pack enough food in his lunch? I wished more than anything that he could’ve had a least one friend going into his first day of school.

By the time 4:00 rolled along, I couldn’t wait to see him and left extra early for the bus stop. Unfortunately for me, the bus was even later in the afternoon than the morning and didn’t show up until 4:50. At least I learned a lesson about remembering my iPod and wearing sunscreen to the bus stop.

Once DJ crossed the street–again resisting the urge to hug–I tried to ask nonchalantly how his day went. Based on his normal attitude towards something new, I was prepared for “boring” or even “I hated it.” But I was thrilled when he responded that it was okay! Math was still his favorite class, and he didn’t like Communications (or what they used to call “Language Arts” back in the day). On the short walk home, I asked if he made any friends, and he told me that he talked to two kids but they didn’t talk back. Pushing down an immediate dislike of these two unknown children, I simply told him that he’ll just need to try to talk to some other kids tomorrow.

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A little over a week later, and DJ has made wonderful progress. He now has a friend that he plays basketball with at recess and seems to be happy at his new school. He fluctuates almost daily on his favorite class, and I have to admit that I especially love the days when he chooses Communication over Science. And last but not least, in spite of vehement “no’s” to virtually every formal activity over the summer, he also agreed to join a recreational soccer league (emphasis on fun & learning, not competition). His first game is tomorrow. Go Red!

 

Back to School, Part 1

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While going back to school is probably routine for most parents of 9-year-olds, I couldn’t be more excited or nervous about DJ starting school. Every fall for the last ten or so years, I’ve dreamed about my child’s first day and all of the back-to-school preparations. As usual in the world of parenting–adoptive or not–things aren’t going exactly how I had envisioned them once upon a time.

First, DJ will be starting 4th grade, not pre-school or kindergarten. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that part of me is jealous of all those moms sending their kids off to their “real” first day of school. One of the hardest parts about being an adoptive parent of an older child is that you’ve already missed so many important “firsts” in your child’s life. Nonetheless, I’m fairly confident that I’ll be just as proud as any parent when the bus pulls up on  Thursday morning.

Second, school shopping with a 9-year-old boy was not the warm-and-fuzzy experience that I was expecting. Go figure, huh? Turns out that DJ would rather be checking out the Legos in the Toys Department (like most other 9-year-old boys) than helping me pick out new clothes. In fact, I had to promise him ice cream in order to get him to try on exactly five pairs of pants, none of which fit him, of course.

Fortunately, DJ brought a lot of clothes with him and has two aunts who have been very generous  in sharing clothes outgrown by my nephews so our failure to buy new clothes really isn’t a problem. At least not for DJ. I, on the other hand, am a different story.

While I pride myself on being a fairly non-materialistic person, I was actually sad that DJ didn’t want a bunch of new clothes for school. I think most of my angst, however, was more about growing up in a large family where money was always pretty stressful than conspicuous consumption. Now as an adult who is financially stable, I struggle with the desire to want to give my child more than what I had and yet raise them to be a responsible consumer. Or put less graciously, I don’t want a child who is spoiled rotten.

Nonetheless, I managed to cover my disappointment and resigned myself to just buying a couple of shirts, including a retro Star Wars t-shirt that I’m secretly hoping he chooses to wear on the first day of school. Okay, I also splurged on a $30 Pittsburgh Steelers hoodie even though he absolutely didn’t need it. What can I say?

Then we moved on to the highly-anticipated (at least for me) school supply portion of the shopping trip. Thankfully, DJ was much more willing to shop for pencils and folders than shirts and pants. His predilection for being indecisive, however, meant that we spent an inordinate amount of time debating mechanical pencils vs. #2 pencils, Clone Wars folders vs. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and on and on. I wouldn’t have minded, but the poor kid agonized over every purchase. He didn’t say it out loud, but I could tell that he was worried about having the “right” kind of everything for his new school and the possibility of appearing “baby-ish.”

Finally, I never expected to be so emotional about DJ starting school. I teared up just talking to his school principal on the phone out of sheer joy! I also feel an overwhelming sense of relief that he’ll (hopefully!) make friends–something that he’s refused to even try to do all summer–and won’t have to rely on me as his primary playmate.

Warning: blatant self promotion

At the same time though, I’m a little worried that I’ll be really lonely once he’s gone. After waiting so long for a child, I’m reluctant to give him up, even if it is for school. I keep telling myself though that it will be great to get back to more of a pre-kid routine, including my freelance editing work and spending hours in coffee shops as well as the really mundane like uninterrupted time in the bathroom.

So that’s where we stand with T-minus 36 hours before DJ’s first day of school in Pittsburgh. Hopefully I’ll have a post up in a couple of days with how the first day actually went! In the meantime, feel free to write in the comments about how you imagined your child’s first day of school and whether or not it actually turned out that way.

A Day at the Museum

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To be perfectly honest, it was closer to 1 hour & 29 minutes, but that’s still pretty good for the boy who has been telling me for weeks that he doesn’t want to go to the Carnegie Natural History Museum. I’ll admit though that I took him to Bruegger’s for bagels this morning to soften him up, and after several rounds of no’s he finally agreed to go. (For those of you who were really paying attention at the beginning, there were concerns about him being sensitive to gluten, but so far the only allergies that still seem to be significant are peanuts & pork.)

Although DJ vehemently hates getting his picture taken–so much for the photo album that I bought to keep pictures of all of our family firsts–I managed to get a few shots. His favorite exhibit, by far, was the minerals & gems, which was one of my favorites as a kid.

Polar World at the Carnegie Natural History Museum

DJ’s unwillingness to try things has definitely been one of our biggest challenges. And like so many things, it’s hard to discern when his reluctance is your run-of-the-mill 9-year-old behavior or something deeper or most likely a bit of both. I’m sure that I’m not the first mom to say this, but if I hear “Boring!” or “I don’t want to” one more time, I might lose my mind.

But as I keep reminding myself, I always knew that parenthood would be one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever attempted to do.

When you go through the adoption process for an older child, you are asked many times & in many different ways what kind of child are you willing to accept. I’m sure for every couple some questions are obvious, even idiotic. For us, accepting a child of any race was a no-brainer. We also knew that there was a strong likelihood that our adopted child would be born of parents who abused drugs and alcohol, possibly while pregnant.

And then there were the difficult and disturbing questions that remind prospective parents yet again how much these waiting children have already endured in their short lives. Are you willing to accept a child who has been physically or sexually abused? A child with a terminal illness? A child of rape/incest? A child who starts fires or smears feces or abuses animals?

After years of filling out these types of forms and attending classes for foster/adoptive parents, I feel like we had a fairly realistic picture of the types of issues and challenges that our adoptive child might be bringing to our family.

So while we’ve probably had more than our fair share of “bad days” and hours-long tantrums in the last two months, I’m choosing to focus on the incredible job that DJ has been doing as he adjusts to his new life with us. The times that he said “yes” to something new, like going to the museum today, or told us that he loves us “the mostest.”

And when I think that I can’t take him choosing to play video games over going for a walk on a beautiful summer day like I imagine all of the “good” moms & kids are doing, I’m going to remind myself that my boy is trying his best, and I love him exactly as he is right now.

A Very Good Day

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Morning:

  • Rise & shine at a very reasonable 8:30 (for the kid who claims to want to sleep in until noon) and no fussing over his morning shower
  • Bagels at Bruegger’s; reading Lego Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary and Parents magazine (I’ll let you guess who was reading what)
  • Visit to the Squirrel Hill library

Afternoon:

  • Trip to Target; lots of excitement over new Lego Star Wars sets. Plus, I worked up enough courage to allow DJ to stay in the Toys dept. for a couple of minutes on his own while I did some grocery shopping
  • No complaints from DJ about his reduced screen time, and he even put WWE 12 on mute while I was trying to do some work!
  • First time that I’ve seen DJ drink more than one glass of water in a day thanks to his new water bottle–why do things always taste better to kids when it comes in a bottle?

Evening:

  • Yummy dinner of lemon chicken, fried red cabbage, and rice (DJ still had his regular Kraft Mac & Cheese, but at least he tried the chicken & didn’t say anything looked gross which was a nice improvement)
  • Fireman’s Fair in Castle Shannon with Uncle N & the cousins–one of the summertime rituals of my adolescence that I was excited to share with DJ for the first time. Rides, games, Slurpees, & funnel cake…what’s not to love? Really wish that I had some pics to share, but guess who HATES getting his picture taken 😦
  • Started the 2nd Diary of a Wimpy Kid book for story time
  • DJ falling asleep to his book-on-CD, Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer
  • Laying in bed writing this post and listening to John watch Arrested Development

One month, five days, & ten hours

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Give or take an hour or so, it has been one month, five days, and ten hours since we arrived home with DJ. And while I’ve tried to get back to my poor, neglected blog at least a dozen times since then, it seems like every time that I started to write that (a) it was almost 11pm, (b) I was exhausted, and (c) my attempt always dissolved into surfing the internet for information about tennis lessons or bouncy houses or some other DJ-related topic.

I don’t think that it is an exaggeration to say that pretty much everything has changed since we met DJ. While that is definitely true for both John and myself, probably a bit more so for me since I’m the one home with DJ now that John is back at work. I’ve gone from someone who pretty much operated on her own schedule for the last few years–minus the occasional demands from part-time work, the dogs, and extended family–to someone whose days pretty much revolve around someone else. Not that I’m complaining…the past few weeks have been the most amazing of my entire life, but it has been a lot of transition for all of us. I’ve just been trying really hard to give DJ as much structure as possible–especially during this difficult time of transition–and structure has been missing from my life in a big way since I stopped working full-time.

Rather than summing up everything that has happened in a single post–and so that I can actually publish a post after my long hiatus–I’ll just make the rest of this post a series of lists. Hopefully some of you will be inspired to add your own responses!

I know it’s early on, but these are some of my favorite things about being a new mom:

1. Family story time before bed–we’ve already blown through two Origami Yoda books and most of the way through the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid!

2. Hugs

3. Telling DJ how awesome he is everyday

4. Going to the library & hanging out in the children’s section

5. Having an excuse to watch kids’ movies–although that’s wearing out surprisingly fast. If DJ had his way, he’d watch a movie with me during the day and watch the same movie with John at night everyday.

My New Guilty Pleasures

1. Watching The Regular Show

2. Miniature golf in the middle of a weekday

3. Ice cream (okay, that’s not a “new” guilty pleasure but somehow it tastes better with DJ around)

4. Buying books & toys for DJ

5. YouTube

Things I Miss

1. Eating Indian food

2. My blissful ignorance of all things WWE

3. Silence

4. Choosing the radio station in the car

5. Watching non-children’s TV

 

I’m so grateful for all of my readers’ support and interest! I will get back to more regular posting as soon as I can. In the meantime, please feel free to add your own additions to the lists.