Thursday, October 31, 2013

This is so good!

  My E has been back to some sleepless, wet nights.  He's coming home at the end of the day just worn.  I know that it takes every fiber of him to behave, to try to learn, to not do so many things that he's constantly tempted to do.  He is tired from trying so hard and it doesn't help that he isn't sleeping well.  Remember when you had a baby and between late afternoon and bedtime, it's witching hour? Too late for a nap but too early for bedtime? Yah, that's us.
  So we do our strict schedule and it helps.  Mostly, I really believe that God has softened my heart to him in many ways.  I just don't care anymore about a lot of stuff.  Ryan will roll his eyes at me because by 8 o'clock every night, E and I are arguing back and forth.  We both have to "have the last word."  I know my dad is laughing at this right now; this was always the reason I was grounded as a kid.  He gets that from me.
  Today was different.  Today, E came home, did his snack and his exercise and then-wait for it-he went and got his "sight words" and began writing.  It's Halloween, people!  Candy and lack of structure and routine!!  He asked me to help him write his sight words in 10 sentences.  There was no crying.  No quitting.  No whining or pretending to go to sleep.  No thumb sucking.  When he messed up, he crossed it out and started over again.  It was awesome.

  That is what we like to call evidence of God's grace.  

  I had been pretty frustrated.  We have a lot of stuff (mostly really good, see here) going on.  We have a dead beat renter squatter that owes us over a year's rent to our KS house.  I was bummed about that terrible mess.  At work, we've had an "intruder" (think guy with a automatic weapon roaming the halls of a clinic), super young teen moms, mentally ill patients.  Just ugly stuff that weighs on me.
  And then, BOOM.  God shows up again.  At my kitchen table in the form of sight words.  Reminding me of what He is doing in my son.  And in an orphanage in Kigali.  In the homes of 55 (!) families that are matched with kids.  What a blessed, insanely dramatic life we have here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The NEED to talk

This has  been a  season of so much redemption  in our home.  In our Etienne.  In my heart. Letting  go  of all our ideas  of  what "normal"  really  looks  like. Embracing dysfunction. Living  with  two  little boys  that  started  their  lives  in an overcrowded  orphanage  is never  going  to  look  like a Disney movie.  Remember  those  after  school  specials  in  the 80s?  Like  that.  Only maybe  without  a quick resolution followed and a PSA.
So I  thought I had  truly  let  go  off  all  my grief  and ugliness. I  said I  didn't  care  that my house  is a bit damaged,  that  we  don't  all  sleep well,  that  it's  hard  to  find a  sitter  on Saturday  night.  And  most  of  the  time,  this  is  totally true.  Totally.
Except  there's  this  thing about behaving  at  school.  We've  been  saying  that  we  don't  care  if our kids  aren't  the  best readers  or mathematicians  but  we  do  care  that  they  are  all respectful  to  everyone;  that  they  are showing God's  love  in  their  actions.  To  me,  it  seems fairly straightforward  that  if a  grown  up  says "be  quiet!"  you  do  it. And  when  you obey,  you  show God’s  love  to  your  teacher.
E's  poor  teacher  has  begun  using  this  website  called "dojo"  to mark  his  daily behavior.   We  just  log  in  every  night  and -voila!-  there  is a  cute monster  with a behavior pie  chart  thingy. My kid can not, CAN NOT, not  talk. Don't  get  me  wrong,  it's  light  years better  than the regular  visits  to  the principal.  But  he's  still failing miserably  at getting  through  the  day  in the  classroom.
Today's talking  was  off the  chart lousy.   I'm  trying  to  rationalize   with  him as  we  do our strict  after  school routine (high protein snack,  laps around  the house, help mommy in the kitchen).  Even  as I  talk, I  know  it's pointless.  Finally, I sighed  and  asked  him why  it was  so  hard  not  to  talk.  I  swear  this  is  what  he said:
"I need  to  tell my  table  that Jesus suffered because He  loves  them  so  much.  I need to  tell  them  that."
Oh. I  feel  like God  just  took  me  and  shook  me  upside  down.  Like He is shouting "Hello, Kara,  this  life  is  so  much  bigger  than talking  in  class.  This  boy's  worth  is  why I died."
Holy  awesome.  How  do  we discipline a  child  who  is desperate  to  share  the gospel?  So desperate,  in  fact,  that  he's choosing  to sacrifice a  trip  to Pizza Machine ( we  are not above bribes)  because he NEEDS  to  tell others  the Good News.
I am  not  sure  how  to navigate  this  one.  But I  am beyond humbled to be trying  to figure it out.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


This is a first!
     Friday Etienne got his first ever "Way to go!"  These are awarded by the teacher for either being respectful, responsible, safe or caring.  This was kind of a big deal (for obvious reasons).  Then, on the way home, he chucked it out the window.  Typical irony of our life.  We love small victories and funny stories.
     We had parent/teacher conferences tonight.  Cheering that we haven't had calls from the Principal this year.  Thankful that no parents have complained or threatened us (not exaggerating, true stories).  Bummed that E's poor teacher has to discuss a lot behavior drama with us.  Bummed that school is not his thing.  He is getting English Language Learning (ELL) again; she says that she can definitely identify some language barriers.  Still.  Etienne is also getting some supplemental reading.  These are services that I never would have imagined I would be so appreciative or rely upon.  They are essential for my son to learn.
     Rejoicing that she said "Some of the things he says amaze me.  There are times that he comprehends things beyond years.  It's like he's an old soul."  This brought tears to my eyes.  The only prayer that I have ever had for Etienne in public school was that people could see the real him; that his behaviors wouldn't hinder relationships or learning.  Ultimately, his classmates and the staff around him can see his loving heart and caring ways.
     I spent this morning in worship alone.  Reading scripture and listening to music.  Reflecting on how far God has brought our family and my heart.  I can't believe that the softness in my son's eyes, the way he leans into me when I am near him, or how in the past week alone we have been "lunch buddies" (packing the same lunch) and "work buddies," (doing home repair together!).  This is so much evidence of God's grace in our home, in E's healing and my heart.
     Etienne is back to having a difficult time sleeping at night.  This makes learning, behaving and functioning all day long a lot harder for our man.  We have totally compensated over the years as to how much rest we need, but our prayer for E is that he may rest well each night so that behaving and learning is a little easier during the day.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Nothing so broken.

   A couple of nights ago I got one of those moments.  You know the ones.  The kind that need savored, captured in  a corner of your heart where you will never, ever lose it.  Even in the midst of it, I told myself that I would relive this moment even when I was old and gray.  Over the last few years, since we adopted two of our children from Rwanda, many of our moments have been rough.  Painful and not blog-worthy.  But the other night, I was gifted with a sweet moment over the letter 'W.'
     E's been home a long time now.  Four years today, in fact.  Long enough that most of our community doesn't really remember us from before we became insane (eh, I mean a party of 6).  Long enough that it's easy for outsiders not to possibly grasp the enormity of how we became we.  The intricacies that weaved our boys to us.  Long enough not to understand that sometimes even the littlest thing, like only eating two helpings at dinner instead of five is a really big deal.  Or how a six year old finally, finally recognizing the alphabet after four years of practice is enough to send his mama into a heap of tears.
     It's no secret that school isn't E's thing.  Kindergarten was really all about attempting to grasp some of the general expectations that the world has on people.  Don't put your feet on your neighbor.  Stop clogging the toilets with paper towels.  Avoid throwing your socks on other people's faces.  Those.  And also recognizing the alphabet, counting to 20.  Tying your shoes.  Sigh.  By spring time, E hadn't really mastered any of the above listed.  He did, however, share the gospel with at least 3 classmates, open his milk by himself and wrapped his way into his teacher's heart.  That's about it.
     Before E had started school, I had done a couple of years of "homework" with E every day to help him try to catch up to the rest of the kids that didn't have three languages scrambled into their heads before the age of 4.  Sometimes our homework involved tubs of rice, a string of dyed pasta or a bucket of water.  We used clay.  We explored forests.  We celebrated when E sat for 5 minutes straight.  Eventually, I realized I wasn't getting anywhere.  The boy still had a blank look when we read "Chicka Chicka Boom."  Every patient tactic I used failed.  Two years of our efforts, and at the end of kindergarten he could not if his life depended on it identify more than a handful of letters.  We knew, being the savvy attachment parenting gurus that we are, that this was because our son was still struggling to bond with us as his forever family.  There was this wall between my son and me.  I finally threw in the cards the day that my sister-in-law pointed to a McDonald's cup and asked him the letter. He didn't know I was nearby as he proudly said "M."    My stomach lurched and tears filled my eyes.  That was the last day that I did any extra "homework" with my son.  We still read books as a family each night, but I quit trying to help E learn.  It was pointless.  He still cringed when I touched him.  Our nights were sleepless, filled with a wandering six year old, wet linens and  restless sleep.  The kid still glazed over when I told him that I loved him.  Each day we were filling every minute with strict routine and structure for our son; giving him less opportunity to spiral into uncontrollable behavior.  After three and a half years, we had reached a point where I really believed that God would redeem my son.  But  redemption would not come in my lifetime.
     So we decided to go to Africa.  Coworkers, the same ones that weathered years of me swallowing tears, avoiding calls from the Principal's office, generally looking frazzled, raised their eye brows.  Family politely, subtly questioned if that was a good plan "for E."  Why not?  Really, we'd already been in survival mode for so long.  Part of me wanted the 16 hr flight to just sleep.  The rest of me just needed a break from constant frustration.  It hurts to keep on loving on someone that doesn't reciprocate.  We had reached a point where we knew that whatever repercussions would come from our trip weren't anything worse that what we were already living.
     We came home to the best summer ever.  The kid didn't wiggle away from my touch.  He looked me in the eye.  We all six had fun.  We laughed.  We didn't speak of it, but Ryan and I felt that there had been a shift in our home.   I found the energy to work on a little "homework" again.  The week before school started, I asked E to do chalk on the driveway with me.  At first he whined, but eventually I convinced him we could make a game.  First, I drew a whale.  He guessed it.  Then I drew a whistle.  After the whistle came the wave.  Soon, E got that we were making the 'W' sound.  It's a tricky one.  Just say 'w' aloud.  Doesn't it sound like it should start with a 'd?'  I held up my middle three fingers, forming a wave or a 'W.'  E could see it.  Holding his middle fingers formed the shape of a wave and the letter.  It was pure luck that I pulled that wave/three finger W thing together on th"e spot like that.  Whatever.  I asked the other kids to say 'w' words throughout the day to help their brother with the repetitiveness of it.  For a couple of days, the six of us did great holding our three fingers up for a 'w,' trying our best to use silly words like "wing nut" and "walrus whisperer" in normal conversation.  Then school came and we jumped into our fall routines of school, sports, drama, work.  Life goes on.
     Ryan and I were tucking E in the other night.  I was feeling a little guilty that we hadn't read that night, we'd watched "Wipe Out," instead.  Ah-ha!  "E, was does 'Wipe Out' start with?"  I asked.  It had been at least a week since we had practiced the tricky letter.  E thought for a moment, then said
"Wa, wa, wa.  W! Wipe Out starts with 'w'!"  He grinned and held up his three middle fingers, forming his wave.
"Worm! Water! Wave! Wiggle!"  He continued with his words.  We were all three smiling big, goofy grins.  Then Ryan asked E.

"E, who taught you the letter 'w?'  Was it grandma? Was it at school?  On Sesame Street?"

     A slow grin spread across E's face.  He put his arms around me, sort of pulling me to his chest.  Then he said
"Mommy taught it to me."
     By this time, I didn't just have tears in my eyes.  I was crying hard and E kept wiping my face.  We didn't need words to explain why this was a big deal.  E knew just like his parents.  That wall had come down.  He learned something from his mama.  For the first time ever.
     Sure, one could argue that I have indirectly taught my son many things since bringing him home.  Speaking English, brushing his teeth or blowing his nose are all things he's learned living in a family.  Those are all necessary skills for a child in a structured setting.  This was very different.  My efforts, four years of wheels spinning, hadn't ever gotten us anywhere.  And here we were, on a random school night in September, crying our eyes out over the letter 'w.'  It couldn't have been more perfect.  Another chapter in our E's story that only our Creator could write.
     Redemption has come.  In my lifetime.  In unexpected and beautifully messy ways.  It wasn't me.  It wasn't the constant structure or framework.  I can't attribute it to attachment parenting or a good therapist.  It's so much more than that.  God's love has knocked down that wall that brokenness and abandonment had built around my E.  And it's not going anywhere.  I can feel and see and tangibly touch the changes in my E's heart.  His eyes are soft and he leans against me when we are near.  E is all mine and I am all his.