Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Dana, My Heart


Yesterday, I went to the wake of a 27-year-old former student.  She is the fifth student that I have mourned (3 here and 2 in Mexico).  It never gets any easier but this one really tugged at my heart.  I thought at first it was because she had always been healthy.  She had Down syndrome but she didn't have the health issues that some of our students do.  As a special education teacher, you will most likely be at more wakes and funerals than most teachers.   But Dana wasn't one of the wakes you expect to attend.   I realized as I was driving home and processing why it hit me so hard.  Dana had a hand in saving Sara.

You see, Dana was my first female student with Down syndrome.  She walked into my classroom on the first day of school with Matt.  He quickly informed me that she was his girlfriend and they needed to sit together.  I had only had male students for the previous two years so this came as quite a shock to me.  I wasn't even sure what to do with female students and now I had dating students?  I quickly rearranged the desks so they were no longer sitting together.  I wasn't exactly sure what they meant by boyfriend and girlfriend but I was not about to find out in my classroom.  

I had a male student with Down syndrome before Dana who I adored.   But there was something different about Dana and the rest of  the female students with Down syndrome that I've had over the years.  I can truly say that I have loved them all.  I love their fiestiness, their stubborness, and their sassiness combined with their amazing sweetness and tender hearts.   It's a combination that is hard to explain but it's so fun and so amazing.   (Yes. I realize I am stereotyping right now but these things have been true of all the girls I've taught with Down syndrome.)

Dana was one of the first students that made me say "If God chose to bless me with a child with Down syndrome some day, I would not be disappointed." She was a blast.  She had a family that adored her.  For them, a diagnosis of Down syndrome was not an end to their lives but  just the beginning.   I met them in later years so I don't know how they processed the diagnosis or if they struggled. But I know that by the time she was in high school, they loved and accepted her for exactly who she was.  They were one of the first families that made me realize that having a child with a disability was a blessing and not a curse.  They helped teach me that you can raise your child with Down syndrome the same way you raise their siblings and they can turn out to be pretty cool kids.  Dana planted the seed in my heart and in my head that I could parent a child with Down syndrome.  

I only had Dana for one year because I changed positions the following year.  But I can honestly say that was one of my favorite classes ever. I wish I had gotten the chance to teach her again.  Even though I only spent a year with her, she will impact me for the rest of my life.  In part, because of this spunky, beautiful, amazing young woman, I am now the parent of a spunky, beautiful, amazing little girl with Down syndrome.

Because of Dana, Sara is now thriving in a family and loving life---the way that Dana did for her short 27 years on this earth.  Because of Sara, Laurence is now being adopted.  Who knows where the chain will end? Dana's life on earth may be over but the ripples will be felt for years to come.  


Monday, September 1, 2014

Christmas Shopping

I know.  It's September 1st. Seasonal creep and all of that BUT I started Christmas shopping yesterday.  And I know I am not alone.  Maybe it's because I'm a crafter so I have to plan ahead and wish others would too. Maybe it's because I'm so very excited about Christmas with Sara this year. Maybe it's just who I am since I usually had my Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving long before Sara was in the picture.

I'd like to give you something to think about as you start your gift and shopping lists:

Who is benefiting from your Christmas shopping?  

This is not something I thought of before two years ago.  I shopped sales and deals at Amazon, the mall, Target. I bought things that were cute and fun and benefited large corporations.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I love Target and my Amazon prime just as much as the next girl.  I'm just challenging you to think about Christmas gifts a little differently.  After all, isn't part of Christmas spreading goodwill and cheer?
For the last two years, my Christmas shopping has almost exclusively benefited adopting families and orphans waiting for families.  That may sound tedious and stressful but I assure you it's not.  Here are some examples:

*You find the perfect item on Pinterest or Etsy.  Send me the link.  I am almost positive someone in my adoption group can make the item at a reasonable price with all proceeds going to an adoption.

*You find something made by a direct order company like Avon, Tupperware, Pampered Chef, etc.  I know someone that sells it and will give the proceeds to an adoption or waiting child.

*You have an idea for a perfect gift but can't find it anywhere.  Let me know.  I can probably put you in touch with someone that can help you and help an adopting family at the same time.

*You need something for that person that has everything.  Why not make a donation to a non-profit in their name?  Lots of non-profits have special programs at Christmas time that give you a token gift for your donation.  (Need a non-profit? How about Reece's Rainbow's angel tree?)

*You want a unique gift that represents your family with pictures or birth stones?  I can hook you up there too with either Origami Owl or handmade gifts.

*You need to get teacher gifts and another candle just won't cut it.  (Although I can connect you with Celebrating Home candles if you want to go that route.)  How about personalized Christmas ornaments for a reasonable price?  I know someone that makes those too!

*I know that there are some people out there that these gifts just don't work for.  (My Dad!)  Sometimes you just need to order something from Amazon. Let me know that too and I can get you an Amazon link so that an adopting family will still get a percentage of your sale!

I know that not everyone is as passionate about adoption as I am.  That's ok!  I get that.  But would you rather help a big corporation or a family?  I don't think any of us are super passionate about big corporations.

Oh, and if you are looking for a gift for me, just message one of my adoption friends. They can help you out!

Monday, August 25, 2014

I'm Really Not Wonderful

Today began my 15th year as a special education teacher.  (Seriously, though.  How did that happen?  I cannot possibly be that old.)  Over the years, there have been numerous times when I've been told that I'm wonderful for what I do.  By parents.  By strangers in the grocery store.  By lots of people.  It's always a conversation I've been very uncomfortable.  I mean, what do you say to that?  I do what I do because I love it (most of the time).  I don't do it perfectly.  Some days, I don't even do it well.  But I like it, so I keep doing it.  Give me high schoolers with special needs over typical kids any day.  (I happen to think anyone that chooses to spend any time with junior highers is either a saint or crazy.)  

Now that I adopted (a child with Down syndrome *gasp* as a single mother *faint*) I am apparently on the road to sainthood.

The first day of school is meetings with new parents.  Last year, one walked in and said "I heard you adopted a kid with Down syndrome.  You know they don't get better when they get older."   (Talk about not knowing how to respond!)  This year, I'm a saint.  This mom was amazed that I teach sped all day and then go home to a child with Down syndrome.  (I'm wonderful.)  Then it came out that she's adopted.  (Her tan gave her away.)  (I'm amazing.)  Oh, and I'm a single mom.  (I'm on the road to sainthood.)

But here's the truth:  I'm not any of those things.  Seriously.  I'm a mom.  Who struggles.  Who tries to be consistent.  Who tries to do right by her child.  Who hopes to do better tomorrow.  

I'm not denying that I have had a unique set of life experiences that has prepared me to be Sara's mom.  I definitely have.  But I didn't adopt to make the world a better place.  Or to rescue a child.  I adopted because I wanted to be a mom.  That really is the bottom line.  I know that people adopt for a variety of reasons but that's mine.  I wanted to be a mom.

I have met quite a few adoptive families in the last two years.  Some have tons of prior special needs experience.  Some have none.   Some are doing well.  Some are struggling.  I don't think that everyone is equipped to adopt (especially kids with special needs).  I also don't think that you have to have extensive professional experience with kids with special needs to be a successful adoptive family.  There are a million factors.  I happen to have had some life experiences that have made Sara's transition easier but I also have a kid that has just adjusted really well.  Sometimes I joke that I hit the adoption jackpot.  I'm not wonderful but my kid pretty much is.

I was drafting this in my head while I made dinner.  Then, Sara lost it because I wouldn't let her eat her tortellini in front of the tv.  (We have a "spaghetti sauce only gets eaten at the table rule" which was deemed incredibly unreasonable tonight.)  There were some new, unpleasant behaviors that I haven't seen from her before.  (The first week of school is so tiring and hard.)  As we worked through the very unfair rules and mean mommy issues, I thought:  See!  I'm not wonderful!  I'm just a mom.  

A very blessed mom.  

Friday, August 22, 2014

Meet Laurence's Family

From time to time, you have seen me advocate for another family.  This time it's different.  This time, it's a family that I know and love dearly.  This time, it's one of my first Chicago friends that is adopting.

I wish I could post tons of pictures and tell you tons of stories about this friend.  Unfortunately, she has had some stolen identity issues in the past and doesn't really have an internet presence because of that.  So, I will tell you that she is a dear friend who has an amazing heart for orphans.  She's the one that really stirred my heart in that direction.  We traveled on a my first mission's trip to Mexico together.  We have taught at two different schools together.  We have served locally together.  Now, I get the pleasure of seeing her teach my students about service.

Her heart has always been for kids in need.  She has completed all the steps to become a licensed foster parent.  She has had several children in her home through the Safe Families program.  She routinely opens up her home to children who need a place to stay---all while working and raising her son.  She's now ready to open up her home to her new son permanently.

*She has started a blog for her adoption journey.  Please head over there and check it out.

*She has a page on Reece's Rainbow.  If you feel led, you can make a tax deductible donation there.

*I have an ongoing fundraiser for her (and a few other families I know and love) on my knitting page.  50% of any item ordered goes to her Reece's Rainbow account.

*Check back here and her blog for upcoming fund raisers and updates.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What Have You Learned?

How is it the middle of August already?  We've had a crazy, busy, amazing, exhausting, fun summer. I love that my job allows me to spend so much concentrated time with my little girl. Maybe someday I'll update. 

In all honesty, I've been struggling lately with what to update and how much to share. I don't want to end the blog now that Sara is home. On the other hand, I want to respect her privacy and not blog about every detail of her life. I'm going to strive to update more in the fall. I just need to figure out how to show the ups and downs of our life without revealing too many intimate details. 

I was talking to another mom at the Reece's rainbow reunion this summer about our kids. Both of our kids are doing really well and have adjusted beautifully (with a few bumps of course).  However, neither of our kids have mastered basic academic readiness skills yet. 

If I'm being honest, I thought Sara would be much farther along academically at this point. I had visions of her being ready for a year of inclusion kindergarten this  year.  She's not. Every color is purple. Every letter is B. Every number is 4. She won't say her own name.  She will sometimes say she is 5 but not always. (She turns 6 in two days so that won't be accurate anymore either.) 

Thankfully, my friend reminded me of all the things she has learned. She's learned a new language!  A new culture. School rules. Home rules. Church rules. Going to the grocery store rules. (Ok. So she hasn't mastered all the rules but she's learned a lot!)  She's met tons of new people. And she's learned what it means to have a mom. A family. To be a daughter.   To be a granddaughter, cousin, niece. That's a lot for 18 months!  I can't wait to see where she is 18 months from now! 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Keep The Change - For Laurence

One of the hardest parts about being an adoptive parent is not being with your child for the milestones---birthdays, holidays, first day of school, first loose tooth.  July 5th is Laurence's 13th birthday.  That's usually a scary birthday for orphans in his country since it means they only have one year left to find a forever family.  But Laurence can celebrate this year---his mom is on the way!!  And, with your help, his mom can celebrate that day, too.    

Keep the Change!

From June 5th to July 5th.  

It's pretty simple:

*Find a container--it doesn't have to be anything fancy--an empty cup, an empty jar, a bucket...whatever you have. (You can grab a picture of Laurence from his Reece's Rainbow page if you'd like.)

*Put the container in a visible place in your home---next to your purse, on the kitchen counter, on your dresser.  You could also consider putting it in your office or work space.  What a great conversation starter!

*At the end of the day, empty all the change from your pockets and wallet into the container. Say a prayer that Laurence will be celebrated on his birthday and know that he is loved.

*On Saturday, July 5th (Laurence's birthday), take your container to the bank and cash it in.  (Or sometime around then since it's a holiday weekend.) 

*Deposit the money into Laurence's FSP on Reece's Rainbow.

This is a very simple way for all of us to bless Laurence and his family on his birthday--even they can't celebrate together.  (Can you imagine how fun it will be for his mom to watch his grant grow on his birthday?) 

I have a jar of change that I've been saving since my adoption ended. I can't wait to cash it in and see what's in it.

If you want to participate, leave me a comment here and let me know!  I'll keep a running list of people who have agreed to pray for and bless Laurence and his famiy during the month leading up to his birthday.

So, start looking for the perfect container.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

(Happy) Birth Mother's Day

I recently learned that the day before Mother's Day is Birth Mother's Day.  I had planned to write this beautiful tribute to Sara's birth mother.  One about how grateful I am that she gave her life (I am) and how she made the self-less decision to "give her up" (I hate that phrase) so she could have a better life (I don't know if that's true or not).  I wanted to thank all the women who allowed their children to be adopted so they could have more opportunities than they could give them but it's just not that simple.  Adoption is crazy and messy and heartbreaking and dividing.  It's hard and painful for everyone involved.  

I have three adopted siblings and an adopted daughter.  Each of them has a different story.  Each of their birth mothers had different reasons, motivations, fears, and decisions regarding their children's future.  Some decided (for a variety of reasons) not to parent the child they gave life to.  Some had no choice.  While I don't know their hearts and don't know all of their reasons (I know less about Sara's birth mother's decision than my brothers'), I'm going to guess that none made the decision easily.  

It sounds so neat and easy.  "They gave up their child for adoption."  Never is it that easy.  It almost becomes flippant when talking about children with special needs.  "Their parents didn't want them because they had a disability."  Do we really think it's that simple?  Do we really think that their parents didn't want them?  That they didn't love them?  I can't believe that.  I won't believe it.  Believing it means I am passing judgement on thousands of women that I have never met.  Thousands of women who made a very hard decision for a multitude of reasons.  

I don't really know a lot about the culture of disability in Colombia and I don't know what motivated Sara's birth mother to make the decision that she did.  (I wouldn't share it here if I did!)  I do know that not so long ago in this country, parents were not encouraged to raise their children if they were born with disabilities.  They were only presented with one "solution"  You put your child in an institution and forgot about them.  Parents had to fight for the right to raise their own children.  It would not surprise me at all to find that this is currently going on in most parts of the world.  Parents are not given the option of raising their child with special needs.  They are TOLD to put them away and forget about them.  (As if you can just forget about your child.)  They don't know about the kind of conditions their child is living in because they are doing what they are told by doctors and professionals is best for their child and their families.  They didn't abandon their child because they have a disability.  They are following the directions of respected members of their society.  

Parts of the world are very superstitious.  I learned this first-hand when I lived in Mexico.   Anyone with a disability is seen as being cursed.  While a family may love their child deeply, choosing to raise that child could be detrimental to their family and to the child.  The family and child will be social outcasts.  Life could be very hard for siblings.  The parents may not be able to find work---after all, no one wants to associate with a cursed family.  People fear what they do not know.  Unfortunately for these children and families, fear can be dangerous.  It really may be the safest thing for these families to place their child and pretend they never existed.  At least pretend publicly.

There are countless other reasons a birth parent could choose not to raise their child:  poverty, lack of resources for a child with special needs, abusive relationships, fear, age, marital status, broken relationships, religious beliefs, societal expectations, and on and on and on.  I cannot even imagine having to make that decision.  I can't imagine making the choice to allow my child to be raised by someone else.  Or worse, making the decision to place them in an orphanage and hope that someone chooses to raise them!  I respect any woman who has made that choice--even if it was made out of ignorance and fear.  And while I may not respect the choices that a woman makes that lead her to have her child removed from her care, my heart goes out to any woman who is not raising a child she gave birth to.  It cannot be easy to wonder where your child is and how they are doing.  It has to be painful to hope that your child is being loved and cared for.  I can't imagine a scenario in which a birth mother doesn't think about their child regularly---especially on Mother's Day.

When I think of Sara's birth mother, it makes me sad.  I don't know her reasoning for signing over her rights to Sara.  I believe, though, that she is a kind, sensitive, caring woman with a spunky personality.  Those traits that I see in Sara are innate.  She was born with them.  I can't help but be sad that this woman doesn't get to know her wonderful daughter.  She doesn't get to wake up to that adorable face and those sweet kisses.  She doesn't get to see her learn new things almost every day.  She doesn't get to see her get excited over the littlest things.  But I do.  And for that, I will always be grateful.

Happy Birth Mother's Day!  I hope that you somehow know that your daughter is loved and cherished.