2 Years with Adley

Two years ago the call came. “I don’t know why I was hesitant,” the social worker said. “Once I met you, it was clear you’re the right family.”

My son, Adley, had languished in foster care for more than half a year once he was eligible for adoption. His social worker, who had been on the case since he entered the system at birth, was devoted to him. She wanted what was best and didn’t see how that could be me. Due to his special needs resulting from a micro deletion and micro addition genetically, her wish for him was a two parent home without any other children where he could be the primary focus. A single mother with two adopted children was not ideal.

She waited. She searched. She tried to find what she thought was best. I appreciate her concern and dedication. Having been told I was not a possibility, I’d attempted to convince Raine and Athena that he was not going to be their brother after all. They would not believe me. I’d made them no promises. I’d not even introduced the idea to them. It was something the girls determined on their own. As they visited with Adley at my friend’s house where he was being fostered, they decided he would be their brother despite being told all along it was impossible. To begin with, adoption was not looking likely in his case. Then, when at last it was, our family wasn’t a consideration.

Without any other options, the adoption department pushed the social work to at least meet me. Reluctantly, she agreed. Then we waited for her decision. Raine and Athena’s faith was unwavering. I knew the system well enough to know nothing was predictable. The meeting seemed to go exceptionally well but that was no guarantee.

“Yes,” a stranger at McDonald’s playland recently said, “This is the right family for him.” The woman, a recently retired special needs EA, had watched my crew intently after I shared how we came together through adoption.

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Easter morning 2018 – Kinder Eggs and Lego (Duplo for the boys, but they like to call it Lego)

“He has one older sister who really challenges him,” she said of Raine who was climbing in the structure calling to Adley to come up with her. “Another who is a little mother, encouraging him along,” she said of Athena who often came beside to gently lead him out of hesitation. “And a younger brother to run with,” she said of Branch. The two boys had taken off together in a rush when I announced they could leave the table and go play, that’s what had initially caught the woman’s attention.

“This is the best thing for him,” she said with certainty, as I sat back drinking coffee.

There are times I’ve wondered. Adley’s progress has been astounding since he came to me. He’d doing things previously thought impossible – eating on his own. There was a time he was choking so often a feeding tube was being considered. He’s speaking, sometimes in complete sentences. It was thought unlikely he’d ever communicate with words. His comprehension is often surprising. “Unless you have his full attention and speak directly to him in very simple words he won’t understand, “ his therapy team had told me in August before we moved here. We continued to do that. Yet often when I’m not speaking to him at all, Adley understands what’s going on.

When I told Raine and Athena that he wouldn’t be going to school last Monday because he had a dentist appointment, Adley jumped into the conversation, “Tooth. Pull. Out. Gone. No doctor,” he said. The week before, he’d fallen at school and cracked his front tooth. An emergency trip to the dentist had resulted in the tooth being pulled. We were returning to check on how he was doing. Adley understood the word dentist though when speaking directly to him I’d always used doctor. He remembered what had happened and could explain it. And he didn’t see any reason to go back since his tooth was already gone. The many facets of that interjection were considered to be absolutely impossible when he first came to us. The team of therapists who had worked with him since birth didn’t anticipate him to ever reach that level of comprehension and communication. It was a hope, but not something they were expecting.

This morning while waiting for the bus, he was jumping in puddles with his sisters like any other 4yr old would. Both feet left the ground as he tried to make splashes as big as theirs. When he came, there was still the real possibility that he could be wheelchair bound. That’s not even a consideration now.

I worried about making a move that would result in Adley being in a regular school instead of one specifically for special needs children which is where he would have gone had we stayed where we were. It was a risk I took with the encouragement of the team of therapists who had worked with him most of his life.

The school here on Wolfe Island has been outstanding. Being the only child with extensive special needs, Adley is able to access the full amount of funding designated for this area of education. He gets the same equipment he would have gotten at the special needs school. He has a one on one EA. He has friends who encourage and challenge him. At the little island school, he’s known and loved by all. Children fight over who gets to sit with him on the bus. From JK to Grade 8, the children are cheering him on as he makes exceptional gains.

When God brought us together, He knew where our path would lead. Though at the time I had no idea we’d find ourselves on this island, God knew. It’s been such a special place for Adley. Not only is he accepted despite his special needs, he’s celebrated in ways I never imagined.

Looking back on the boy who joined our family two years ago, I can hardly believe it’s the same child I watched splashing in puddles this morning.

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April 2016 – cautiously trying a meringue cookie. First place Athena wanted to take her new brother was the bakery.

When I said yes to Adley it was with the knowledge that those simple milestones might never come. I said yes to loving him in the limitations of his condition. In love, he’s been able to grow and exceed many of the expectations. Today, I’m celebrating the son God saw fit to give me. He knew we were the right family for Adley. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to love him.

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April 2018

My Orphan Heart was Given a Name

When she came to me, Raine knew her name. She’d always introduce herself by her first and last name. At the point of adoption, she struggled with gaining a new last name. I received a great deal of resentment from her. She didn’t like being adopted and certainly didn’t want her last name to be changed. I pressed on, wondering if I should have refused the change or made her last name a middle name so Raine could hold onto that portion of her past. In the end, that frame made me uncomfortable. I knew it wasn’t ideal for her to hold onto the past. But I also knew that being adopted was costing her dearly.

Raine struggled with the loss of her family of origin. And for what felt like a very long time, she resented her new last name. I thought of my sister who, caring nothing for marriage most of her life, entered into the institution after her son was born. His arrival made her want to have their family unified under a common last name. Giving Raine my last name gave us a recognizable connection. It mattered, though she didn’t know it in the moment.

Now, years later, she can’t recall the first last name she bore. It’s gone from her memory and she values the name she has. It means she belongs to me and, finally, her heart is able to rejoice in that reality.

When I decided to adopt Raine, several people said, “You’re crazy! I’d never do it. She’s so wild.” She really was. But I had a vision of who she could be. In the midst of all the nay-saying, a friend dreamed that during a Sunday morning church service Raine was at the pulpit saying, “I used to be so wild but Jesus healed my heart.” In the challenges following the adoption, I clung to that dream.

“Are you sure you’re ok?” our pediatrician asked more than once in those early days. Raine ended up on medication and it took quite a while before we got to the right type and dose. Sometimes I wasn’t ok. But I had a vision of where we could be and was willing to do the work. There were days my willingness didn’t line up with my ability in the moment to manage her rage and resentment. Still, not wanting that vision to become a fantasy, I pressed on.

There are things that remain obstacles, like Raine’s intense fear of abandonment that surfaces whenever we’re apart for more than a couple of hours. And that’s why you will find her in unlikely situations, such as when I’m catering an event at the church or yesterday when she and Athena came along to an all day seminar by Arthur Burk. The topic was “When Your Call is Blocked.” Watching Raine quietly colour all morning then watch movies in the afternoon while I listened, I realized my call may not be as blocked as I had imagined. I’m called to help my children heal and reach their full potential.

“Your children are so well behaved,” was the comment we received through out the seminar. It took most of the day for me to accept the truth. It’s easy for me to cling to that old label of wild, difficult, or challenging. But it’s time for some new labels. Calm and peaceful are the words most often used to describe Raine these days. Of course there are still times when anxiety overtakes her but that’s no longer her constant state.

After the season of struggle, I’m now able to catch my breath and see just how far we’ve come. Marvelling at the transformation, I was brought to tears when this song was sung at church this morning.

Your love made a way and let mercy come in

When death was arrested and my life began

Now, ash was redeemed only beauty remains

And my orphan heart was given a name

My mourning grew quiet and my feet rose to dance

When death was arrested and my life began

 

 

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Raine learning to skate with my sister (Feb 2016)

Live Your Life Filled with Joy and Wonder

This is the phrase I’m keeping in mind. Social workers have informed me that studies show weakened immune systems in children who have been in foster care and a tendency to be accident prone.

For six days Raine has been under the weather. Her appetite is gone and she’s not her usual energetic self. Refusing to admit she’s unwell, Raine keeps making up silly excuses for her symptoms. For example, she’s arguing that the bathtub is now dreadfully too small for her 8yr old body. Because it’s so painfully small, her head is hurting from trying to washing her hair. Despite the statistics, she doesn’t know much about being sick.

The last time she suffered was at age 3. Shortly after receiving the required flu shot, she came down with the flu and step throat. Then there was the time she burned her leg our first Christmas after the adoption took place. That healed remarkably fast without a trip to the ER.

In the midst of Raine’s lingering flu like illness, Athena managed to give herself a black eye. She has a way she likes to do things. Something mimicking modern dance or creative movement is how Athena goes about the house. While retrieving a stuffed seal from the floor, she somehow managed to cut her eye on the dinning room chair. No one knows exactly how since the rest of us were upstairs. Athena’s scurrying feet and tiny howls made me think she needed to go the bathroom. (Often she waits until the last minute then runs around in circles, panicking at the thought of not making it to the toilet in time.) I was about to shout, “Get to the bathroom,” when I realized she was crying.

Rushing downstairs and gathering Athena into my arms, at first I didn’t realize she was bleeding. She buried her face on my shoulder and I managed to calm her. When she lifted her head there was a stream of blood coming from the corner of her eye. I mentally prepared for our first trip to emergency. Staying calm, I put Athena down and went to get the first aid kit. With a bit of pressure, the bleeding stopped. The cut was much smaller than I expected. Athena assured me she could see perfectly fine – and found my constant questioning and testing annoying.

Later when I put Athena to bed, I tried to discover if she’d been afraid when she got hurt. The idea didn’t make any sense to her. “I wasn’t scared,” she told me. “Jesus was there standing right behind me.”

Well, that’s a crisis averted, I thought to myself. Athena isn’t gripped by fear or anxiety. She’s still dancing through the house and happily eating meals on the chair that maimed her. Her eye is swollen and black – but not in an overly noticeable way I’ve been told. Of course it is noticeable to me.

Looking at it, I’m filled with joy and wonder. It’s a miracle that the injury wasn’t more serious. And it’s a miracle that it’s been years since Raine was sick. In the midst of illness and injury, I’m filled with joy and wonder.

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Athena’s still happy and eager to make me laugh