It has been quite some time since I have been able to squeeze in a blog post!! I suppose the every day challenges of being both a full time partner of a law firm and a mother of a highly unstable adopted child and an energetic/independent 4 year old has its challenges! But for a while I just didn’t post because I just really didn’t have anything nice to say. I don’t want to end up just discouraging anyone who might want to adopt from the foster care system, but the reality is that children aren’t necessarily as resilient as you may want to believe they are.

This ties into Ariel’s story. A few of you have asked for more specifics on her history, and I realized that I hadn’t really shared much of that here because it was privileged/confidential until she was legally adopted.  It is a long long story, so I will try to boil it down to the basics.  Ariel was born to a teenage mom in Denver county who admitted at birth that she had consumed alcohol and used some drugs during the pregnancy.  Ariel’s father was in prison, but we don’t know any details other than his name and that he was in prison.  Ariel’s bio mom loved her very much and really wanted to keep her, but she was completely unable to care for her. Not only was she a teen, but had also been diagnosed with mild mental retardation, and likely still used drugs & alcohol. The county therefore decided to give custody of Ariel to her maternal grandparents. Huge county mistake. Grandpa was schizophrenic and grandma also had mild mental retardation. Yet Ariel stayed there for about 2 years before a report of physical abuse was made against grandpa by a hospital employee.  Following investigation, Ariel was removed and placed with the first foster/potential adoptive placement. She lived there for about 2 years. While we don’t have many details, we understand that Ariel was doing well until the parents brought home another foster child that had special medical needs. At that point Ariel started displaying very difficult behaviors, and the family decided to remove her back to the county.

I think Ariel was about 5 at this point, and here she begins the trek of foster family after foster family.  There were a total of 5 more families that Ariel was placed with before us, including 2 homes that were supposed to have been adoptive placements but failed.  So when she finally came home with us, we were essentially home number 9.

When I talk about Ariel’s story, it breaks my heart. All of her behaviors and trauma were not her fault, and she had no control or “say” over any of it.  And it is truly, mind-bogglingly, horrifying to think of what she had to go through.  Yet I think what has been the hardest part of this journey has been to reconcile that actual knowledge and understanding with my emotional response that I can’t seem to control when Ariel is having one of her “melt-downs” or “rages”. When she is throwing things at me or across the floor, breaking or tearing things on purpose, screaming at me or others in the family, crying excessively without apparent/obvious reason (only subconscious fear), or even writing “I hate you mom” in pink highlighter on my bedroom door (this latter one almost sent me out the door with Jeffrey to my mom’s).  I am really struggling. I feel like a horrible person and a horrible parent most days. I unsuccessfully walk on eggshells. I try everything in my power to do better, from therapeutic parenting, to meds, to therapy, to support groups and even an adoptive moms group. I read books and blogs on adoption, and implement as many different strategies as I can to make our home feel and be more safe and stable.  But sometimes I just want to throw it all put the window and scream “this isn’t working!!!!!” The reality is, it DOES WORK. But Ariel needs so much time to counter all the damage and trauma that has been done in her little life. And it is frustrating beyond belief when you feel like you aren’t making any progress, or when you have a relapse of behaviors that you thought you had gotten past.

So I heard something on KLove that has become my mantra. Ten fingers – one words for each finger on your hands – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.  ALL THINGS. Not just the easy things, but the hardest things I have ever been faced with in my 40 (yep 40 next month!) years of life on this earth. So God please give me the strength and endurance to continue to persevere in this journey.

If you had asked me for my thoughts on spiritual warfare a year ago, six months ago, a week ago, or even two days ago I probably would have said that I think it exists, but that I hadn’t ever experienced it in a way that made it feel REAL.  Until last night.  We have had moments with Ariel where I know she is battling all of the evil things that have happened to her, but last night I believe she was actually battling the evil spirits around her. I know some of you are thinking I am off my rocker, but hear me out!

The night started off somewhat “normal.” We got home from a birthday party where the kids did well and had a good time.  The kids got in jammies and we started to read books. Ariel wanted me to read her the book I got her for the adoption, called “I Love You Everywhere.”  I read it to her at least three times, and then it was time to read Jeffrey his choice.  So Ariel said she was going to go upstairs and get ready for bed.  A few minutes later we heard Ariel playing on the tablet (which she snuck because it is not allowed on Sunday nights) and John had to take it away from her.  That started what seemed like a typical Ariel “meltdown” with defiance, whining and crying.  After giving her a few chances to either read with us or calm down, I had to take Jeffrey into another room to be able to finish reading his book to him (all while Ariel is screaming “mommy!” at the top of her lungs over and over), and eventually John was able to calm her down.  When I came back about 10 minutes later, Ariel was asleep on John’s lap.  So we took both kids upstairs and put them in bed, both still sound asleep.

At this point you may be thinking that all doesn’t sound so bad, nothing too unusual, right? Right. That’s just what I was thinking. I only share what led up to the real situation to show that it was pretty much a regular day.  All seemed generally normal, even with the meltdown just before bed…. but here starts the real story.

About 5 minutes after we put the kids in bed, John and I heard a bang coming from the bedroom.  John went in to investigate, and found Ariel climbing down the back side of the bunk bed between the bed and the wall (not using the ladder at the front which she uses every day regularly).  She was in an utter panic and was terrified.  After about 10 minutes of trying to calm her down, John came to get me and told me she was basically hyperventilating and in a severe state of anxiety, and asked me to come sit with her which of course I did.  Usually she will calm down pretty quickly when I sit/lay down with her, but nothing I said helped her.  It started off with her saying she was scared I was going to leave her, and I assured her over and over again that I wasn’t going anywhere.  I repeated “its going to be OK” and “you’re all right” and “I’m not going anywhere”, and held her tight.  But she only got more and more anxious. She said when she fell asleep she had bad dreams and felt me slipping away from her. She clutched the book I gave her in both hands with a death grip, and just cried and cried. I told her it was OK to cry, and OK to be sad, and she just started to sob loudly, again nearly hyperventilating. 

She then started to tell me that she felt “black inside” and really icky.  And out of the clear blue, she reaches her hand toward the ceiling and starts screaming for Jesus to “come back.”  She continued to literally BEG Jesus to come down from heaven and just give her one hug, one touch.  At one point she was just pointing her finger toward the sky and asking over and over for just one touch.  The utter fear and devastation she was experiencing was like nothing we have ever seen.  It was almost as if her heart was being torn out of her chest.  Try as we might, we could not get her to calm down.  I started praying for her, and praying for the Holy Spirit to “touch” her and calm her fears.  This continued for at least 30 minutes.  At one point during this episode we moved from the rocking chair in the loft to her bedroom, and I just held her as tight as I could.  I tried to explain that we would be able to go to heaven and see Jesus when we die (maybe not the best thing to say to a distressed 7 year old) and she literally said “so KILL Me!!!” I was stunned and had no idea what to do or say.  Again when trying to explain that it wasn’t time for Jesus to come yet because there were a lot of people who still needed to be saved, and it was our job to teach them about Jesus, she kept exclaiming “but I NEED HIM!!”.

I am not sure that these words can effectively describe the emotions that were happening last night, and I can’t even explicitly explain why I think this was spiritual warfare, but I believe that she was attacked spiritually in her sleep, and the onset of panic and despair and her descriptions of feeling black inside led me to believe that she was truly fighting for her life.  Then the crying out to Jesus which was literally unprompted and unprecedented from her brought everything full circle.

I am not sure what ultimately calmed her down after an hour and a half of terror, other than her therapist coming by and helping to distract her with questions about what day it was and what month it was (thank you Jennifer!). But we were emotionally exhausted and confused.  I definitely want to look into more of the spiritual warfare piece of adoption, and would  appreciate all of your prayers for Ariel! She is God’s child and Satan can’t have her!

Yesterday was the big ADOPTION DAY! I can’t believe how fast it went. Ariel moved in to our house on February 15, 2013 – and nearly five months later she was adopted on July 12, 2013.  Typically in the state of Colorado you have to wait at least six months before you can be eligible to adopt.  However, because Ariel was already legally free for adoption we were able to file a motion to accelerate the adoption hearing based on her emotional/ therapeutic needs.  The court granted the motion on Monday July 8 and gave us the hearing date with only four days’ notice! We gladly took the date though, as we were anxious to get the foster care phase behind us and move forward with Ariel’s adoption. Although to be honest I was a little bit panicked at first. We didn’t get a lot of warning or time to prepare, and finalization brings a lot of mixed emotions with it.  As many of you know, this has not been an easy road for us, and life is filled with daily challenges.  But as the news set in, I slowly got my mind around this train that was moving full speed ahead and began to feel excitement for the hearing.

We weren’t exactly sure when and how to tell Ariel that we had been given an adoption date. Tough question!! We know it is her tendency to get super excited which produces a significant amount of nervous energy, manic behaviors, and intense anxiety. We therefore initially decided to wait until the morning of the hearing to tell her.  However, on Tuesday night something really made Ariel sad, and scared that she was going to have to leave us.  After being unable to fall asleep, she came downstairs and sat on my lap and told me how she was feeling.  John was out at a meeting, but I decided that it was a perfect moment to share the good news with her. So I started by asking her if she wanted to stay in our family forever, and when she said that she did, I told her that on Friday we could make it official! She was so happy and started sobbing on my shoulder, which was a nice bonding moment for us. After that I was able to put her in bed and she actually feel asleep!

Wednesday and Thursday were a little rough for Ariel leading up to adoption day, with a lot of anxiety and nerves (which resulted in one full day of hyper manic behavior, followed by one full day of sleeping all day), but we made it through and I was actually glad I shared the news with her in advance because it alleviated some of our own stress at keeping the secret.

Just before 1 p.m. on Friday, a huge group of us headed down to the light rail station to go downtown for the hearing. Despite a small hiccup (train w/ John, Ariel, Jeffrey, Nana and Sydney actually left as I was standing at the machine outside trying to buy us tickets!) MJ, Jen (Ariel’s therapist) and I had a nice train ride downtown by ourselves and an opportunity for me to “gather” myself and mentally prepare.  Jeffrey was of course ecstatic to be on the train, and Ariel was in a fantastic mood with the hearing coming up.  We all got to the courthouse with plenty of time to spare (at least 30 minutes early), only to find out that our hearing was late and we were being moved to a different courtroom!   But it was nice spending time with everyone, including Uncle Mike and cousin Catie who flew down from Jackson Hole, Wyoming to be there with us, Ariel’s prior foster parents who came straight over from the hospital following a surgical procedure, and her whole case “team” (her caseworker, guardian ad litem, our adoption agency representative, and two of her therapists!)  We were a huge crowd and everyone was bursting with excitement.

The hearing itself was about 2o minutes long.  After having everyone in the courtroom introduce themselves, the Judge asked John and I why we wanted to adopt Ariel, asked us if we believed we had good moral character, and what having good moral character meant to us.  My favorite question to answer was why we wanted to adopt Ariel, because we were able to speak directly to Ariel and tell her why we wanted her as part of our family, and she was SO HAPPY.  The caseworker was then asked to tell the Judge why the county approved us for adoption.  Afterwards, the Judge read us all of the legal responsibilities, made sure that we understood that we were completely “on our own” after the DHS case was closed (to which I basically responded “no offense, but thank God!”)  Then they pronounced her our daughter, Ariel Hanna Ala!! Everyone clapped and cheered, and afterwards we stayed to take pictures of the family with the judge.

We finally made it back home at 5:15 or so, with Ariel’s adoption party to start at 6 p.m.! Despite being exhausted from the long, emotional day, we managed to push through and get everything down to the park to celebrate.  Many of our good friends and family showed up to congratulate all of us, and it was a whole lot of fun!  Our friends from church, Karen and Nicole, did face painting for all of the kids which was absolutely the highlight of the party!!  I don’t think I’ve seen Ariel this happy in the whole five months we’ve had her with us.  She was glowing all day, and was an entirely different little girl.  I am hopeful that as she continues to heal and feel safe and secure in our family, we will see much much more of this amazing girl inside!

Now we get to get on with the rest of our lives… 🙂

OK, I haven’t been blogging enough. I will try harder! Here is a brief update: We’re doing OK. Just OK right at the moment, but we’re hanging in there!  We had about three great weeks, which was so refreshing (it doesn’t mean everything was perfect, but we were making our way towards a “new normal”).  Then this last week was like a bomb went off.  Too much stress!! We love love loved having our family over, but it took us out of routine and was very busy, out of the ordinary, and stressful so it took its toll on both Ariel and I.   We are trying really hard to get back into our normal routine, which should help settle us all back down again. I hope.

Good news: Yesterday was our HALFWAY milestone. On May 16, Ariel has officially been with us for three months. So we only have three more months to go until the adoption can be finalized. We’re well on our way to that – we have all the paperwork in, new fingerprints done, and all of the subsidy paperwork completed.  I think the next step is to get a court date, which should be in August.

Here is a quote for the day, which I saw on Heather Forbes’ e-newsletter, and I think it so perfectly describes what I need to do:

“So, instead of waking up in the morning thinking, “I’ve got to get up, fix my children
breakfast, pack their lunches, somehow get them out to school on time through the tantrums and meltdowns, and then prepare myself for the dreaded homework after school!” I encourage you to say to yourself, ‘Today is the day that I will press on to help change my child’s brain. Today is the day that I have the ability to create safety for my child through predictability, understanding, and loving support in order to help my child heal at a physiological and emotional level.’

Love you all. I hope to have more time to write soon!

Below is a letter that was just forwarded to me by another mom who adopted three teenagers from Uganda.  The author of this letter is unknown to me, but it PERFECTLY describes the feelings surrounding parenting Ariel.  Since I haven’t had time lately to post my own blog (one will come soon!) I thought sharing this would shed some insight into our life right now, and how it feels.

We are sisters, you and I. You know who you are.  We have a bond even closer than blood and even if I don’t know you well, even if I don’t know you at all, if I knew you in the past, or will meet you sometime in the future…even If I will never again lay eyes on you this side of heaven, our lives are intertwined.  WE ARE SISTERS.  We are mommies.  We are adoptive moms, foster moms, biological moms; but we are bound together by more than that….  We are bound together by a common thread.  A broken child, or broken children, that we have been called to MOTHER.

We are heart healers, which is so hard to be when we ourselves are broken. Our hearts are broken, too…often by the same children we are trying to heal.

We’ve been the recipients of abuse, emotional and verbal and physical. We’ve had to turn the other cheek, put up a brave front, treat others the way they would want to be treated even thought they refuse to do the same for us. We have had to show love-real love, yes, and sometimes – somewhere in between love to some of the most unlovable people imaginable, all in the name of healing.

We have the same secrets sister.  We’ve  lost our tempers.  We’ve parented in anger. We’ve said and done things we regret. We’ve tried, at our most broken, to make our children understand.  Sometimes, we have hated a child.

We have the same fears and the same questions, too.  Will I ever love my child for real?  Will I ever look at her without seeing a monster? What kind of a person will he group up to be?  Am I making a difference at all?

We are tired. We are weary.  Some days, we want to give up altogether, beat ourselves into the ground.  And yet we persevere, sometimes because we want to, sometimes because we’ve been asked to, sometimes because there is simply no other choice.

We have good days and bad days. Days that we feel like we can change the world, make a difference, and days when we wish the world would swallow us up. End the turmoil of our lives.  We are filled with guilt for the damage we’ve sometimes allowed to fester by not being perfect moms.  By being selfish.  By being human.

Once upon a time, my sister, you were a girl with a beautiful dream, and so was I.  We were going to be mommies.  We were going to share a lifetime of love and laughter with bright eyes, dimpled children that would thrive under our care.  We were going to foster or adopt and give a future to a child who had no future. Our hearts were loving, our motives were pure, we just didn’t know then what we know now.  We didn’t know that damaged children take more than love and security and structure to heal.  More than food on the table and a roof over their heads and clean clothes and new toys and a good education and piano
lessons and band aids on skinned knees.

Our damaged children need to be loved perfectly, unconditionally and completely.  No matter what!!!! And herein lies the problem  We can’t do it, can we?  We’ve tried and
we’ve failed time and again. Our kids need the love that only Jesus can give, and we must wake up each day and surrender our mothering to Him.  Or fail.

I used to feel entirely alone as a mom.  Mothers of normal children simply cannot understand the depths of pain and shame and heartache and anger I have felt.  The utter hopelessness. I still feel alone sometimes, but I’ve begun to hear whispers from other places….other mommies that are destitute in their despair, too.  I know you are out
there, somewhere under the veil of secrecy and guilt.  And I need you to know something.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  I/we understand exactly how you feel.  You don’t even have to tell me, but I will listen if you need me to. I won’t judge you.  I won’t hate you for how you feel.  I won’t even be surprised.  You are not a horrible mother for how a damaged child has changed you.  Good days and bad days aside, you are and always have been one of the special, the few.  The mommies that haven’t given up on beautiful even though it’s covered in ugliness, even though you sometimes wish you could run the other way.  YOU HAVE ALLOWED YOURSELF TO BE PUT INTO A PLACE WHERE GOD CAN USE YOU TO DO MIRACLES.  AND HE WILL, IF YOU LET HIM.

Your dreams are still beautiful………..once upon a time, I had a beautiful dream.  I wanted to rescue children who had no hope and no dreams of their own.  Be their mommy.  It hasn’t worked out exactly as I’d planned or expected, but it has brought me here…to the point of surrender.  And I’m discovering that this, in and of itself, is far more beautiful than anything I ever dreamed up on my own.

Have you ever lived out this verse? “Rejoice in our suffering, suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope…” (Romans 5:3). Really God? REJOICE? I can honestly say I hadn’t known what it truly meant to persevere until now.

This afternoon/early evening was an utter disaster. I of course had high hopes going into it (which I should know by now will backfire), because Ariel told me it was the best day she has ever had at school, and her friend Chloe wrote her a super sweet note.  Seeing that Ariel was relatively regulated and playing well with Jeffrey, I decided to give the evil homework worksheet a “go.”  About 3 minutes in, it started.  She got frustrated with the problem, started banging her elbows hard against the table, and even banging her forehead on the table  (although not super hard – yet).  She was clearly about to have a melt-down, so I asked her to take a deep breath and asked if we could take a break. She got very agitated, and said “no” repeatedly. So I said we would not be working on the homework and put it away.  John had to take her upstairs to get her calmed down.

Not too long thereafter, Ariel came back downstairs, and she soon somehow got into it with Jeffrey. She got angry again and violently threw a plastic yo-yo across the floor so hard that it shattered into pieces.  Our friends were just arriving with their kids whom we were babysitting that night, and in the blink of an eye I saw Ariel literally lunge out at Jeffrey because he made her mad about something I did not even see.  I grabbed her and physically removed her from the room, and John followed me to take over. She was screaming and I was about to have a nervous breakdown, and she also hit me twice (not terribly hard but still), all as our poor friends were arriving to drop off their girls!  I wanted to crawl into a hole. Thank God they really understand what we are going through.

So after they girls arrived and got settled in, Ariel managed to come down and play, of course acting like nothing happened, and happily saying “hi mommy!” Ugh. I wanted to vomit.  But I held it together and had a decent time for most of it. At one point Ariel was excluding one of my friend’s girls from her game, saying that it was because she didn’t have another American Girl doll for her to play with. Meanwhile she easily had 10 other dolls she could have offered. When I suggested that she offer a different doll, I received a nasty/sassy “mom, stop!” Followed by some other rude comment that I don’t recall, all right in front of one of the other girls. I walked away and told John she was going to need some consequences for that one once she was “regulated”.

As if all that isn’t enough, not too much later she spoke to me with such disrespect right in front of all the other kids (I don’t even remember what she said) that John told her she was going to have to go upstairs with him. I called the other kids down into the basement, and John had to take Ariel upstairs against her will.  She would not listen or comply.  I came upstairs after a couple of minutes to grab a board game, and John was still trying to get her upstairs. She then yelled at me saying that I was “disgusting” and “ugly”.  Choice words.

At some point during the first trip John had to make with Ariel upstairs, she got dangerously close to stabbing him with a pencil. Apparently she had it in her hand and sort of balled up in her fist, and she hit John with the fist that was holding the pencil. If the pencil had been sticking out of the fist further, she would have stabbed him.  In her rage, she also threw a bunch of things off her desk, breaking a photo frame with a pic of her prior foster family and God knows what else.

Then during the second trip upstairs, I guess she tried to bite John as she was trying to get away from her room. John somehow managed to calm her down and put her to bed.  I honestly do not know how he does it. I get so emotional and upset, and he is able to stay calm. Although he too admitted that her lunging after Jeffrey was a bit scary.

So that was today… I am glad this day is over. 😦