Patience is a Virtue……

Patience has always been a struggle for me. I’m pretty sure I had 0% patience as a child. Not much more as a teen, or even in my twenties. I have grown leaps and bounds in this skill, but it is a daily battle.

During my Crohn’s years, I was constantly waiting for a new medicine to kick in, for a fever to subside, for a break. There were times I asked God, “Why? Why me?” But then I would remember how many people were suffering from cancer. How many people in the world were so much sicker than I was. And my patience grew.

Adoption is a complete leap of faith. You never know what is going to happen that may delay, or stop, the process. When we were getting all of our paperwork together, we had quite a bit of control, but not all. We had to complete several steps in the home study with the social worker, and wait for documents. We had no control over those. They took time. We had to work with an adoption agency, on their schedule. Once our dossier went to China, we were at the mercy of a foreign government. Anything could happen. My patience flourished, and tanked, and rebounded again.

When we learned that Bill may have a chance to work in China, it took many months for it to develop. We were told it would not be certain we were going, until we were on the plane. We went through all the steps. Cultural training, social worker studies, conference calls that lasted hours. All planning the move. The move that was not certain to ever happen. Once we were settled in Shanghai, there were many other tests of patience. Language barrier, cultural differences, Internet speed. Too many to even recall. When we were done with our first 3 year contract, we didn’t know if we were going home or staying in China until the very last minute. We stayed another year. I didn’t mind. I loved it there. We were blessed to have the experience of living and traveling abroad. Many never have that chance. So, my patience grew.

Last year, as I have said, was a rough year in our family. There were innumerable meetings with doctors and school staff. There was plenty of waiting. Not knowing what was coming next. Waiting for things to improve. Waiting for brighter days. And my patience grew some more.

How many times do I have to tell my son to put his clothes in the hamper? I mean it’s RIGHT NEXT to where he drops them. Same with my daughter. Clothes on her bedroom floor. Mere inches away from the dirty clothes basket. How hard could it be?! Put the dishes in the sink?! Nope. Left on the table, until eventually I take care of them. Or better yet, until the dog realizes there is a tasty treat lurking nearby, and I start to hear the clinking of the collar and tags against the plate. I try to wait. I don’t want them to think someone else will take care of it. But eventually, it annoys me enough to do it myself. Backpacks, books, phones, glasses, shoes. They don’t intentionally leave them. Something else is pulling at their attention, and they just forget. Often.

The oldest does put his stuff away. His problems lie with getting up in time. Leaving the house in time. How many times do I have to wake him up in one morning?! Too many. Shave your face. Put on deodorant. Brush your teeth. Daily maintenance is a burden to him. He picks things up, walks around with them, then sets them down. Somewhere else. I have to go track said item down. He constantly has very important things going on in his head. He doesn’t even realize he’s doing (or not doing) it.

Over the years I have learned to pick my battles. They are good kids. I know they’re trying because these things have improved over time. Slowly. I continue to remind them. I find methods to encourage improvement. Reward. Punishment. Whatever works for each individual child. I remind myself that I am lucky to have kids. Healthy kids. There are so many people in the world who are not so lucky. And my patience grows again.

All of these things, little or big, have been lessons in strength for me. I worry less. I am less stressed. I think of the positive. I thank God for all of our blessings. And I remember…..patience is a virtue. I will continue the struggle.

In an Instant……..

And in an instant the next blog post has changed. A broken bowl spins on the floor, the high-pitched din it makes slowly fading, until it is gone. An angry child sees the consequences of carelessness that comes from anger. From not concentrating on the task at hand. This reminds me of all the other things in life, that change in an instant.

Last year, we were preparing for a championship sports weekend with one of our kids. Proud parents. All, or most, seemed right in our world. Yet in an instant, we are in a hospital emergency room. There will be no championships for us. The rest of the spring, summer, year, will be a trial in strength. It will change our priorities. It will remind us of what matters.

In August, just after returning to their winter home, my father has a stroke. He has been the healthier one. In an instant, he is not. My mother is scheduled for neck surgery, so I leave my husband and kids to care for my parents for five weeks. That’s what we do. We honor thy mother and father.

Years ago, May of 1998 to be exact, I was a mother with a two-year old son, but in an instant, I was a mother with Crohn’s Disease, and a two-year old son. That instant, that diagnosis, of course was just that. It is just a moment I remember well. Too well.  And that day in August 2002, the instant that I got my life back. When that foul, damaged, organ was removed from my body. When I started learning how amazing life really is.

The night my husband asked me what I thought about moving to China, was the instant I realized that I was braver than I ever gave myself credit for. The instant I realized that I was meant to be a world traveler. I wanted the adventure. I wanted to live in the moment. It was the moment I realized that too many people die without doing the things they would have really liked to, hampered by fear of the unknown.

The instant that I discovered that living and traveling abroad, has changed me at my very core. That I will never be the same person I was when we left, but more. That I will constantly dream of other places in the world. Where we can go, when we can go, or go back. And the realization that the possibility of that, can disappear in an instant. Nothing is guaranteed.

My oldest turned 18 a little over a year ago, and I suddenly realize that he is “officially” an adult. We all know that this is relative. There is plenty more learning and maturing that will happen. But in an instant, I no longer have control of many aspects of his life. His medical records and decisions. His school records and grades. I can’t call in for him when he is sick.  I have to hope that we have raised him well enough to do the right thing, or that he will ask us for advice.

Those moments, because they happen now and then, when you hear of a tragedy. When  you remember that your mother, father, siblings, husband, children, and friends, are not going to be here forever. That they, or you, could be gone tomorrow.  When the phone rings at an unusual hour, and your heart jumps into your throat. That your family could be broken, in an instant.

These “instants” happen throughout our life. Some are wonderful. Marriage, baby, adoption. Travel, new job, new house. Some are pretty good. Raise, good grade, great game. Some are disheartening. Sickness, job loss, broken pipe. Some are devastating. All of these instances put together, make us who we are. They remind us of the important things, and help us put events into perspective. They are a reality check. Because you just never know what could happen…..in an instant.

 

 

 

 

Be Not Afraid

Today, I want to talk about our second son, Brennan, who is now 15. It is hard for me to know how my active Crohn’s disease years, played in on our sons development. They were so young, but also at that age where they were learning the most, and developing at the fastest rate that they ever would. Due to how sick I was, Brennan got more snuggles than anything else, and I often wonder if that is why he’s my most empathetic child.

When Brennan was a toddler he was a happy kid, full of deep belly laughs. He never stopped moving, he was always busy enjoying life. He seemed to think he was unstoppable: Invincible. When he was a little older, and learned that the world wasn’t always rainbows and unicorns,  he started saying a personalized bedtime prayer. He made it up on his own and faithfully said it every night, at least once, but more on less confident days.  My favorite part of the prayer was when he asked God to protect his family from natural disasters or getting thugged. We are a quietly religious family, and never really pushed bedtime prayers,  he did it all on his own. To this day he still says a prayer when he feels it is needed, although I do believe he has revised it a bit.

At the age of five, when Mei Mei came home, he was absolutely ecstatic. He’s always loved babies, so having a baby sister was the ultimate gift for him. At least at the age of five, because let’s  be honest, siblings don’t always get along. When she came home he taught her to crawl then walk. It was a very fast transition, as Chinese babies tend to be a little behind at first, but catch up quickly. He also taught her baby sign language. They played together all the time. They had a very close bond for years. When I see that peek out every now and then, despite the tension of one at the beginning of puberty, and one at the end, my heart melts.

At 15, he still gives plenty of hugs and says I love you everyday. He is the first to question if someone is okay, or ask if you need help. He talks to me about the good, the bad, and the ugly in his life, without prompting. What parent doesn’t cherish that time with their son or daughter?! He is also me, as a teenager, in boy form, new and improved. He reminds me of myself so much it hurts sometimes, but it also makes me proud. He’s a responsible student, and never has to be reminded of school work, is very funny, and never feels the need to come back at people with a nasty retort if they choose to be cruel to him. His confidence at this age far outweighs what mine was.

He has a love of life that I wish I had at his age, but I wish he didn’t worry about his future as much as he does. He has pondered over what he is going to do with his life, and how good his grades are, since 6th grade. I wish he had waited a few more years for those concerns. You don’t get those worry-free childhood years back. I know this is a result of our four years living abroad when he was between the ages of 8 and 12 (these years will be discussed in future posts), as those worldly experiences definitely influenced our children. I also wouldn’t change those years for anything. They helped form who Brennan is today.

Today was Brennan’s day. I am blessed with three children. They are my heart and soul. I cannot say enough, how proud I am of them.

All in the Family

I remember as a young girl, probably between the ages of 9 and 12, whenever my mom made me really angry, when she had to pull out the heavy parenting hat, I would ask her if I was adopted. As if this would be the reason she was being so strict. As if this was a sign she didn’t love me as much as my siblings. This was especially humorous to her because cloning wasn’t even close to being possible, and I look just like her. If I only knew at that time, how wrong that perspective was. It is impossible not to love your adopted child with every part of your being. I know, because I am an adoptive parent.

My husband had been sporadically mentioning that we should adopt a child from China since the day after our wedding. “We should have a few biological children and then adopt a few,” he would say. He has always had an interest in China, and Chinese history. I don’t even think they were accepting international adoption requests at the time, but he said that time was coming. He has always been a dreamer, so I would listen over the years, but never thought it would happen, especially because of my Crohn’s.

I remember the day I asked him if he thought we would ever go through with his plan, and that if we were going to we should probably do it soon. I was sitting in the chair on our loft, in the evening, on a overcast day, in October of 2003. The next thing I know, I was at the computer researching adoption agencies, and within days we had submitted our initial application to the agency.

We were told that Chinese adoptions were taking up to 2 years at the time, and that was faster than they had been in the past, so we knew we were in for a long roller coaster ride, much of it in the hands of a foreign government. We began gathering all of the documentation; physicals, criminal background check, financials, fingerprinting, home study, passports, etc.  Then we waited, and waited, and waited for the finally document we needed, from the U.S government, before we could submit our dossier to China.

In February 2004, upon arriving home from seeing “Passion of the Christ” on the first day of Lent, it was in the mailbox. I did a little dance in the driveway. After such an emotionally draining movie, we came home to such a bright light of hope. We finished getting all of our documents certified and authenticated, and our dossier was in China by mid-March, along with a number of other families. General the agency would submit one batch of dossiers to China each month. Now the real waiting game began.

Once the paperwork gets to China, it goes through a number of  “rooms.” The documents must be translated and reviewed, then a child is matched to your family. This process takes the longest. At the time it was probably predicted to be about 12-18 months. At the end of this process each family in the batch that was submitted with ours would receive a “referral,” in which you get a photo, name, age and general information about your newest family member.

Before the referral is received in the mail by the family, they receive a call from their adoption representative. That is the BEST day. Rumors have been flying on the Yahoo groups that they are coming, but you never know until you receive the call. I received mine while I was on my way to pick up my oldest son from school. It was another overcast day. I was still on the call when I got to his classroom, and sat down at a desk to finish before we walked home. His 3rd grade teacher’s face was beaming. She knew we were getting the call we had been waiting for. It had only been six months since our dossier was submitted. This fast timing had never happened before, and it hasn’t happened since. Oh, and the birthday of our newest child, was the same date as my passport was issued. November 24, 2003.

In the next blog, I will tell you the story of bringing our new daughter home. Stepping out of my comfort zone, out of my little safe box. Taking a leap faith that I never would have thought possible.

 

 

Second Chances

The first thoughts that crossed my mind, while I was recovering in the hospital, were very basic. How do I dress now? Can I wear the same clothes, or will I have to wear overalls, or baggy dresses, for the rest of my life? Will the bag show if I wear jeans? Will I ever wear a bathing suit again? Will people know by looking at me? Am I going to have a perpetual bump on my front, right side? How do I take care of this new “appliance?” All of these things were a little scary for a 33 year old woman. It felt like these were things I shouldn’t have to worry about at my age; like I was robbed of some of my younger years.

Once I returned home, however, I discovered all of the positive results of the surgery. I required no more medication to control my disease. It was finally in remission. I didn’t have to know the location of each public restroom before entering a store or restaurant. The innumerable foods that I hadn’t been able to eat for four years were ecstatically served to me by my mother who was such a blessing and a help during those years.  I could easily hide the Ostomy bag. I didn’t have to dress differently, and if I didn’t choose to tell someone, they had no idea that I was any different then them. Finally, my kids. I could be there for my kids. I could help at school, take them to the park,  and play with them, without having to do it while lying on the couch.

Over time, I realized how strong this experience had made me. If someone had asked me if I could go back in time and change things; if I had never had Crohn’s at all, would I do it?  The answer was “NO!” Crohn’s made me who I am today. If not for this disease, I would not love life, the little things and big, in the way that I do now. I would not notice God’s beauty in so many everyday ways, and appreciate them on a daily basis. I would not have stepped out of my box to do things that I was not comfortable with, but I did……..things I never thought I would be able to do.

The Unexpected

When our first child was about two years old, I realized that my health had been slowly deteriorating. I was often out of breathe, with little action to cause it, tired, and I was having digestive issues. I made an appointment to see my doctor, not really expecting anything serious. I had no idea that this would be a pivotal point in my life moving forward.

In May of 1998, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. This can affect any part of the digestive tract, and although it can go into remission, it is a lifetime disease. My Crohn’s was basically limited to my large intestine. It became inflamed like a tire, both inside and out. It required medications to reduce the swelling, iron for anemia, due to the bleeding it caused, and a restricted diet. The diagnosis was very upsetting at first, but I soon felt that it was manageable, and went back to life as it was, with a few more pills and a few less tasty foods to eat. I was months away from getting pregnant with our second son.

The following summer, after our son was born, I started having increased symptoms from the Crohn’s. These things creep up on you. You feel like you have it under control. Change the diet a little more, change up the medication. Tell yourself that things will get better. Only they don’t.

On January 2, 2000, while most of the world was taking a sigh of relief that their world didn’t fall apart as many predicted, mine did, as did my husband’s. Or at least it began to. I went to the doctor after feeling like I had been suffering from a flu bug for a week or so, and ended up hospitalized for 2 weeks. It would be the first of a number of stays. After the pregnancy, running around with two young children, the stress of two relatives passing away around Christmas, and my denial of the symptoms, I was so dehydrated, and my blood pressure was so low, they didn’t know how I was even standing up.

In the year to come, I would have 106 degree fevers, tachycardia (racing heart), extreme weakness, handfuls of pills, a severely restricted diet, and I would go down to 88 pounds. The boys were now 4 years and 6 months. My husband had to travel quite a bit for work, and my mom would come help me. When she couldn’t be there, you would find me feeding the baby while I was wrapped in a blanket due to chills. I lived hour to hour.  Morning nap, afternoon nap, bedtime. Those were my goals to make it to throughout the day.

In the summer of 2000, I was once again hospitalized. This time for a staph infection I developed after hitting my leg on the car. For most, this would be a two day stay. For me, it was seven, including my birthday. My immune system was just too compromised from the Crohn’s.

There would be no relief for two more years. In 2001, I developed cataracts from the steroids I had to take for the inflammation, and at the age of 32, I would require cataract surgery. In April 2002, I lost vision in my eyes due to swelling of the optic nerve. This would require a hospitalization as well. Though I did eventually regain most of my sight, I still have blind spots, and have to be checked every few years.

Finally, in the summer of 2002, when all medications had been tried and none were working, I  realized that I had to take more drastic measures. I could not be there for my boys as I wanted to be. I couldn’t help at the school, or take them to the park. This disease was taking me away from my kids. I couldn’t live with that. I chose surgery. My large intestine was completely removed. When they removed it, my heart rate immediately went back to normal, and I mean at that very moment in surgery. They said it was almost perforated in so many areas that if I hadn’t been on a strong antibiotic for so long, I would have had a massive blood infection. I had no idea how close I was to dying.

I will live with an Ostomy bag, for the rest of my life. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I have never regretted it. Not for a single second.