Friday, August 26, 2016

327 Days and the Counting Crows...

This morning on my kitchen table I found this….

To you, it may just be a nicely drawn picture with song lyrics, but to me it was another example of how proud my firstborn son makes me.  You see my son, Shawn, drew this photo for his Godmother.  She had been bugging him about this for awhile.  She asked him to make her a drawing of Adam Duritz from the Counting Crows with the words to her favorite song {Anna Begins}.  Shawnie doesn’t have a lot of free time.  He is the hardest working 16 year old you will ever meet.  I couldn’t believe that he spent time doing this.  In this moment it really made me reflect on how lucky I am that he is my son.  How sad I am going to be when he leaves home in 327 days.  And, how much my life has been changed because of who he is.

When I found out I was pregnant with Shawn, my world was flipped upside down.  I had just turned 20 and was working a minimum wage job while going part time to school.  I was scared out of my mind.  My family and friends, for the most part, were ashamed of me and offered very little support.  I remember there was a lot of judgment.  Thank God for his father.  He always told me “this is not a tragedy”.  How prophetic those words are now.  He was excited and gave me confidence we could do this. When Shawnie was born my whole life shifted.  Holding that wriggly, slimy newborn with tears running down my face, I knew my life would never be the same.  I learned how to be selfless.  I learned how to be loving, generous and patient.  Through his pregnancy I vowed to always be compassionate and kind to all people.  He taught me what faith really is and that having faith means you must act with love.  To this day he remains my biggest supporter.  He is my reason for everything.  I need him WAY more than he needs me.  He has no idea how much he has changed my life. 

People have no idea how hard this kid works.  How much of who he is comes from how much he does.  Never complaining.  Just doing what needs to get done.  He has maintained a high GPA while taking all accelerated high school courses.  He has rocked out his ACT which means he will most likely be able to score free in- state college tuition.  He has done that for himself but also, for us.  He has always worked hard to make our lives easier. 

This year he had an opportunity to take 3 college courses and do a Monday-Friday internship since he got all his high school credits in a year early.  Most kids would not have loaded up on all of those classes.  In fact, Shawnie gave us all the reasons why he should not do this.  We kept encouraging him to take advantage of the opportunity and work really hard.  And, Shawnie did.  It was not the easy decision but he knew it was the best decision for his future self.  He is currently enrolled in 3 college classes that occur every morning.  Every night he has about 2 hours of homework that he does.  I never have to check on his work or follow up.  I never have had to.  He just does what he needs to do and moves on. 
He also has a MWF internship at our elementary school mentoring under a Kindergarten teacher.  He leaves his school and works here til 3:30.  His future aspirations is to become a teacher.  He could be anything he wants to be.  He chooses to pursue a job where he will work for peanuts, helping others.  He will most likely never own a giant house, have huge trophies or awards decorating a big fancy desk in a corner office overlooking the city.  He will work for others.  No matter how I try to discourage him, he has his mind set.  After his internship, to make sure I don’t have to pick him up, he walks home.  It’s a pretty long walk.  He never complains.  He just walks.  Most kids would spend hours a week complaining about this… Shawnie doesn’t.  He walks to make my life easier.  He is constantly serving others before himself.

On Tuesday and Thursday he leaves school and catches a public bus to get to the other side of town and then walks to his second internship/job.  He works for his Papaw in his real estate office till 6 on these days.  So far, he has been unable to have the bus let him out at the correct bus stop.  He has had to walk about a mile and a half to the office.  Again, he doesn’t complain.  He takes it in stride.  I pick him up and make him listen to my sad Spotify playlist called 327 Days.  He puts up with it and laughs as I cry. He gets home and digs right into his homework after eating a rushed dinner.  He laughs about his bus misfortune and tells his stories of woes always hoping to bring a smile to someone's face. 

Shawnie has also volunteered to help at our church running the Alpha program for our CYO group.  He hasn’t rolled his eyes about my pressure to stay involved in church. He just does what he needs to do and is excited about starting this.  This will be a commitment.  This has not stopped Shawnie from doing what he feel he needs to do.  He continues making his faith a priority and recently, has even asked to go on a silent retreat with me to discern his future.  He jokes about becoming a monk.  Part of me wonders if one day he may pursue that.  Even if it is a passing fad most teenagers go through, it shows me how he is constantly looking for God’s will in his life.

The kid also is in a band called Johnny Conqueroo.  The band is exploding.  He has band practice and gigs every weekend and they are working on recording, so most of his weekends are spent playing bass in the "studio."  Their band, Johnny Conqueroo, is currently being scouted by some record labels and a big time manager has been working with them for over a year.  The amount of pressure I know he feels being a part of this band is so high for a kid of 16 years, soon to be 17.  Most kids couldn’t handle this, but Shawnie can and does this with the ease and grace I only wish I could have. 

Most importantly, Shawnie has FIVE brothers and sisters that he helps with.  He is my right hand man at home a lot of the time.  In fact, when he leaves for college, I actually legitimately don’t know what I am going to do with out him.   His brothers idolize him.  Going to have a sleepover with Shawnie and being able to play video games with him is the highlight of their week.  The way they look at him is truly a thing to behold.  Emma is his best friend at home.  He watches out for her at school and makes sure that she surrounds herself with good people.  He is her biggest fan.  He has no idea how much she looks for his approval.  Kiley Grace adores Shawn.  She waits for the minute he chooses to call her out for time or attention.  Out of all my kids, she looks up to him the most.  Lucy Kate is the luckiest.  She gets his undivided attention each day when he holds her and cuddles her.  He is never overwhelmed by the chaos of a big family.  He has always adjusted and kept the peace in our family.

Most of you know that our son, Keegan, has Reactive Attachment Disorder.  This dominates so much of our time and energy.  Shawnie is the best encourager for Keegan.  He spends so much time mentoring him.  He makes sure Keegan knows when he is disappointed in his bad decisions but more importantly, he is right there to praise every good decision he makes.  Part of RAD is that the child treats the mother really badly.  It breaks my heart.  Do you know that anytime this happens, Shawnie comes swooping in to give me a big huge hug?  He constantly tells me and reinforces to me what a good mom I am.  And, I believe him.  He doesn’t just do that for me… he does that for all of us. 

Above all he is kind.  Really kind. He is good.  I mean really good.  He is the definition of selfless and humble.  The thing that gets me is I have no idea how he became this way.  Shawn and I made good parenting decisions but we also made some bad ones.  We always hoped we were doing a good job but you never really know.  There were so many nights I cried myself to sleep with guilt about how much I yelled or said mean things to my son because I lost my temper and focus.  I mourn how many nights I fell asleep without even remembering if I had hugged or kissed him good night.  But, I am so hopeful, that part of who his is, is because we did some things right.  If we did anything right, I hope Shawnie would agree, it was that Shawnie was loved.   At his best and his worst.  He knew he was loved.  He knew enough about his faith to know that the greatest commandment is to "love your neighbor as I have loved you".  Be compassionate, merciful, kind and never lose your faith.  Hopefully we can credit some of who he is with instilling in him selflessness.  Giving more to others than you do to yourself.  He is rich in all these qualities that, at the end of the day, are the only things that really matter.   

As I reflect on Shawnie and his last 327 days at home {how pathetic is that countdown} I am so thankful to God for giving us the wisdom to parent Shawnie the way we have.  Shawnie was our #unplannedpregnancy and society would have said he should never have been born.  What a waste to the world that would have been. Thank God we listened to our hearts and not to some of the harsh, unkind words that were said towards us.

 He has started his last year at home.  He has started it off by an act that is both humble and kind.  That picture is a true gift to his Godmother and more than the quality of the art, is the act from which it came.  He took time... a lot of time… to make another person happy.  He really didn’t have the time, energy or creativity to spare… but he did it anyways.  It is a gift I know his Godmother will treasure and it is one that has reminded me once again how lucky I am to be his mom and how very much he will be missed when he leaves our nest.    

*** Weirdly, Tim McGraw sang this song about my kid.  I hope this song makes you think of your own kid.  Enjoy every minute because it goes by much faster than you would think ***

  "Humble And Kind"

You know there's a light that glows by the front door
Don't forget the key's under the mat
When childhood stars shine,
Always stay humble and kind

Go to church 'cause your mamma says to
Visit grandpa every chance that you can
It won't be wasted time
Always stay humble and kind

Hold the door, say "please", say "thank you"
Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie
I know you got mountains to climb
But always stay humble and kind
When the dreams you're dreamin' come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride
But always stay humble and kind

Don't expect a free ride from no one
Don't hold a grudge or a chip and here's why:
Bitterness keeps you from flyin'
Always stay humble and kind

Know the difference between sleeping with someone
And sleeping with someone you love
"I love you" ain't no pick-up line
So always stay humble and kind

Hold the door, say "please", say "thank you"
Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie
I know you got mountains to climb
But always stay humble and kind
When those dreams you're dreamin' come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride
But always stay humble and kind

When it's hot, eat a root beer popsicle
Shut off the AC and roll the windows down
Let that summer sun shine
Always stay humble and kind

Don't take for granted the love this life gives you
When you get where you're going don't forget turn back around
And help the next one in line
Always stay humble and kind


Monday, August 8, 2016

Adoption Takes A Village

Today is Fantastic Five Day.  We named this day for the day Keegan officially and legally became our son and made us a family of 5 children.  Usually around this time of year I am reflecting on our adoption day and thinking about so many important things.  In the past I have written about Keegan, his bio mom, adoptive moms and how our family was changed on this day.  But, I have never wrote a thank you to all of the people in our lives who helped make Fantastic Five a reality.  Without their support and encouragement we would never have had the courage or faith to make this happen. 

Adopting a child is no joke.  Adopting a child when you had no plans for it are almost impossible.  Adopting a child while you have 4 biological children and live in a 1200 square foot is literally laughable.  No one in our lives doubted us.  No one in our lives tried to discourage us.  Most importantly, everyone in our lives prayed for us and gave us more support than we could have ever imagined. 

What people don’t know is that adoption does not just start and stop.  For some adoptive families, adoption is a journey that is difficult and the terrain is rocky and uncertain.  For us, it was very clear that something was not right.   Keegan did awesome in the beginning but after a year of living with us, his behavior became very aggressive and concerning.  Our days were consumed with fits, control issues and manipulation.  I received almost daily calls from school about Keegans behavior and I was literally trying to figure out how I could keep my job when my job needed to be staying at home helping my hurt son.  

When we received the diagnosis that Keegan had RAD {Reactive Attachment Disorder} we were literally panicked thinking of what our future would be like.  So many of the RAD families have such heartbreaking stories.  Stories of children who are removed and institutionalized.  Children who never thrive socially.  Children who are so manipulative that allegations are made and families are ripped apart.  During that time our daily lives literally felt like a constant tornado.  We never seemed to catch a break and were having to learn how to parent in a completely different way.  We were scared and feeling very hopeless.  Again, our community of supporters rallied around us and held us up through prayer, listening, encouragement and support. 

Finally after 4 years, things are settling down a little bit.  We have grown stronger as parents and Keegan is making huge strides.  We have found an awesome therapist and Keegan is thriving as he begins to learn how to trust more and understand how to control and identify his emotions.  I think he is finally believing that we are his FOREVER family and no matter what he does, that will NEVER change.  I am not na├»ve enough to think that our struggle is finished… in fact, it may just be starting.  But, I am so confident that we have the tools to continue making slow, daunting steps forward.  Most importantly, we are surrounded by so many people that we are indebted to for their support and understanding.

Today’s Fantastic Five Day blog is not going to be about us.  It is going to be a thank you note for ALL of the people who have helped us through this journey.  I have chosen some great examples and I am sure I will forget some people.  Just know how thankful we are for the support we have received during the last 4 years!

First, Tots Landing.  The place where I met and fell in love with Keegan.  Working at Tots Landing for 14+ years, I am still amazed at how my job has become an extended part of my family.  During this time I had so many of my employees and co-workers supporting me.  Here are just a few…

Missy, who I called when I realized this was really going to happen.  I had a complete breakdown in her house after I knew this was for sure going to happen.  I knew God was answering my prayers but I was so scared and worried that this choice would hurt my family in the future.  Missy helped me understand I would never have a magic ball that would help me tell the future.  I just had to have faith in God’s will.  That day I started praying for “Let me hear and know God’s will and have the courage and faith to follow it”.  I still pray that prayer everyday. 

Rob and Missy, my owners.  When I went to them and talked about needing to arrange my schedule to be very flexible so I could be there to parent Keegan, they didn’t hesitate.  They adjusted my schedule to be able to give me a Flex day to be home when my kids needed me. They enabled me to have my afternoons off so I could be home to monitor keegan… keeping him and my family safe and happy.

All of the Directors who listened to me almost daily talk about the process of adoption.  My fears, my tears and finally, my joy.  They stood by me when this was just a small dream, cried with me when we thought he would never come home and when he finally did come home, helped us celebrate and feel like a family!

When Keegan came to our house, we literally didn’t even have a bed for him.  The girls I worked with knew that we were so worried about the cost of adoption and that our house was not really conducive to adding another child.  But, they believed in us.  The girls pulled their money together to help buy us bunk beds so Keegan would have a place to sleep.  These are the same girls who constantly lifted me up without ever knowing it.  They never really knew how much I needed their support and encouragement.  They made me feel like the best mom in the whole world even on the days I doubted myself the most.

More Big Thanks to…

My sister and brother in law who offered to help us pay for the adoption.  This was going to cost us a lot of money and even though we didn’t end up needing it, just knowing this was not a hurdle we needed to worry about, was a huge relief.  That selfless offer helped us know that we needed to do this.

My father in law who helped us convert our basement into livable space.  Knowing that we would be doubling our living space and adding on 2 more rooms made this adoption a less daunting task.  He helped to give our older children private space, which they desperately needed. 

Our families, who met Keegan and immediately embraced him and our new family.  No questions asked, no worries or fears expressed.  Complete acceptance and love.  Never once did they share their doubts with us.   Never once did they give us any judgement on how we were choosing to parent him.  When Keegan started struggling, they accepted our parenting and helped to support us…even when they thought we were crazy.  They listen to me breakdown on my days where I lose hope and give me strength and courage with their words.  They love us all, unconditionally.  We have never had to doubt that EVER.   

Keegan's Godmother Emiley.  Her heart broke when Keegan came to live with us.  We knew how much she wanted him to stay with her.  But, she never failed to support us and encourage us even when everyone in her world was not so accepting.  Do you realize how difficult that is?  She is the definition of LOVE and to this day, we are so grateful that she loved Keegan before we did.

Bobbi Silver, a parent at Tots Landing, who took our first family photos.  She was the first person to capture how we all felt about one another.  She took this picture that captured our complete joy.  She also caught the many faces of Keegan... each one of them reasons why we fell in love with this precious boy.  I will never be able to express how much those pictures mean to us.  Our first famly photos.

Keegan’s teachers who have never judged us or any of our parenting decisions we have made.  My bestie, Melissa and Ashley.  Keegan’s preschool teachers who stood by us when we almost had to remove him from my own center due to behavior.  Lol! They were so committed and loved Keegan so much. 

Mrs. Kelley who cried with me when Keegan went through the hardest year of our whole lives.  We didn’t think we would make it out of Kindergarten alive.  She held us up and loved our boy even when he was at his most unlovable. 

Mrs. Lockhart who created a behavior plan that was so consistent and positive that Keegan had no choice but to fall into line.  She was the first teacher who gave me her cell phone number and text me almost daily with updates and most importantly, to share his good days.  She had my back and understood that we were working in his best interest.  

Mrs. Henderson who always wants to know more and understand what is going on.   She had my back on the day we made Keegan come to school to apologize for stealing.  We left within the hour after he refused.  He screamed and clawed the walls all the way out of the school as tears ran down my face in humiliation, anger and sadness.  I called her and she said she trusted my instincts.  This took away some humiliation and enabled me to deal with the situation with hope and encouragement.

Keegan’s principal, Mrs. McLaughlin and all of his special teachers, who know him by name and make him feel like a million bucks.  They help to give him praise and raise his self esteem.  This is such an important tool in his healing.  Being surrounded by a community of people who know he is the best kid in the whole world, even when he acts out.

My mom’s best friend, Leona who had adopted and fostered.  She was the inspiration for me wanting to help kids and foster.  That has always been on my heart.  When we were adopting Keegan I called her out of the blue.  I asked for her advice and she honestly and openly answered my questions.  She made sure I knew this was not going to be fairy tale story.  Real life adoptions from traumatic backgrounds are no joke.  They are hard.  They will test you.  Her honesty gave me a better perspective and armed us to ask the tough personal questions while we discerned.

All of my prayer warriors.  My CHRP sisters and St. Peter Claver family.  They knew our struggles and have prayed for us throughout.  They helped me understand that faith is an action not just a word.  Father Norman, who helps to give me encouragement and builds me up spiritually.  Reminding me constantly that all of this is for the Glory of God.  Lastly and most importantly, Paul and Ann Coakley who helped to answer questions on guardianship and prayed for us through the whole process.  After Paul died, I continued using him as my intercessor.  During Lent, I was praying so hard for understanding and help.  Literally begging.  I heard him clearly say, “Your job is not to fix him.  Your job is to love him.”  That perspective has been life changing for him and me.

How could we have done the impossible without all of YOU?  In the last 4 years I have learned that adoption takes a village.  So on this Fantastic Five Day, I need to thank YOU for making a difference in a child’s life.  Because of you Keegan will have a FOREVER family.  One that loves him unconditionally and will never give up.  A future that will be so bright.  People often say to us, “Thank God for you.  You guys are awesome for adopting Keegan.  He will have such a great life because of you.”  But, that’s not true.  He will have a great life because of all of you.  This Fantastic Five Day, we say a prayer of thanksgiving for you.  Thank you for being our strong foundation.  Thank you for your encouragement, prayers, support and love.  There are no words to express how important you are to us and most importantly, to Keegan.