I turn forty on my next birthday. It's still a little ways off, but it got me thinking. I started this adoption journey when I was thirty.
Has it really been ten years? Yes, it has.
I was thirty when I took my first class, thirty-one when Hannah moved in. These ten years have been an adventure. A wonderful, terrible, awesome adventure.
I'm different than I was back then. I've done a lot of changing. That's a good thing. I look back and remember who I was and all the things I thought I knew.
I didn't actually know much. Still don't.
But those things that I've learned over the last decade are such a help to me now. I wish I would have known them back when I took my first step toward adoption. I would have done a whole lot of stuff differently.
If I could talk to my thirty year old self, here's a few things I'd like her to know...
1. Not every battle needs to be fought today.
When a new one moves in, she's a mess, and not just in one or two things. She's pretty much a mess in every area of life. You can't tackle it all at once. You can't focus on honesty and respect and obedience and compassion and manners and language and hitting and volume and kindness and diligence and academics and, the list goes on. You can't. It will crush you and her. I know. I've been there. I've tried. I've said it before here. Pick three. Pick the top three things you need to work on and focus on that. Other things may need to slide for now. That's okay. It's not the end of the world.
2. Don't take everything personally.
She will say some pretty harsh things. Try not to say harsh things back. You'll want to, but it won't help you get to where you're trying to go. Keep your voice pleasant. Keep your temper in check. She's testing the boundaries. That's okay. Her words are her defense. Don't let them get to you. "You're not my mother," "You can't tell me what to do," and "I hate you" are all things I've heard many times. But I only hear them in the beginning of the journey, before a real relationship develops. The things she has said in the past don't matter all these years later, so don't let them get to you in the beginning.
3. This is not a competition.
The hard fact of the matter is, I'm not their first mom. I'm not even the second. To one of them I'm mom number six. And most of the time, I'm not even a good one. I do more wrong on any given day than I do right. I apologize more than anyone in this house. I guess if this was a competition I would win the apology gold medal. But it's not a competition. I'm not trying to outdo anyone or show up those who came before. I'm just trying to do my best with what God puts before me on any given day. My kids have other families they remember. They reminisce. They talk about and remember siblings they no longer know and parents they no longer see. And that's okay. Their memories are not a threat to me. I'm not their first mom, but I get to be their last.
4. Just make it to bedtime.
There are days when this is my only goal. Don't beat yourself up. In the beginning there are some tough days, tougher than you ever thought possible. On those days, apologize when you fall, take a break when you can, and realize that those days end. Because they do. Eventually. It just might not feel like it today.
5. Embrace different.
This is one lesson that I've only recently learned. When my first one moved in I thought becoming a "typical" family was the goal. I wanted to work through all these adoption issues so that we could be "normal." What I'm learning now is that there really is no such thing as a typical, normal family. Families are all different by design. They are made up of personalities, talents and skills unique to themselves. When it comes to adoption, your family will be different. And that's a good thing. So what if you don't look like the neighbors? So what if you add your own special spark to Grandma's Christmas party? So what? Embrace the qualities that God has given the members of your brood instead of trying to change them. They are special. Some days they're going to seem more special than others.
I wonder if I would have listened to myself ten years ago. I wonder if I could have gotten past the fact that I thought I knew it all, at least enough to listen to someone who had walked the road and come out on the other side. I would have been less likely to take these words to heart before Hannah moved in, but after that first year with her...
I think I probably would have listened up.