#AdoptionIsLove & All the Other Things

“Did my birthmom give me up because my head is shaped like an oval?”

My son Harper was only six years old when he asked me that. I was shocked for so many reasons. First of all, because his head is perfect. Second, and more importantly, he was using language we hadn’t ever used. We never once said that she “gave him up.” We always said that she “placed him in our family” or that she was “not able to parent him.” Our careful word choice was not enough to change how he felt and how he felt was rejected, declined, discarded…

given up.

Four years ago on this day, we finalized Jay’s adoption. It took 19 long months of tedious paperwork, home visits from our case worker and jumping through legal hoops before this day became a reality. When I look back at the photos from that day in court, there is so much beauty and joy captured there.

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I remember the peace the kids felt when they knew that Jay’s place in our family was sealed and solidified. That his sonship was sure. There was a palpable sense of reassurance knowing that this little boy was ours forever. As our friends and family gathered with us in that courtroom, our hearts took a collective sigh of relief. We have an open adoption, and a great relationship with Jay’s first mama, so it was not as if there was some crazy custody battle. Quite to the contrary, The Lovely Miss N. - as we affectionately call her in the blog - was walking through this part of our journey with us. She too rejoiced when the adoption was finalized, because she also wanted Jay’s place in our home and family to be permanent and sure.

The fact that nobody was contesting either of our boys’ adoptions technically made things “easier” for us. Yet, as I continue to listen to and learn from the powerful voices of adult adoptees in my life and community, I can’t help but anticipate the dismay that my sons will likely experience as a result of knowing that nobody contested their adoptions. Nobody tried to stop it. Nobody fought us for them. The set of circumstances that created relatively obstacle-free finalizations are the same dismal circumstances that will cause our boys to process feelings of rejection and abandonment for the rest of their lives. Whether they were “lovingly placed” or “given up” almost doesn’t matter if their little souls question their worth and their place in the world.

I happen to know for sure, with 100% certainty that my sons were (are) both fiercely loved by their first moms. Because we have the luxury of an open-adoption with Jay’s birthparents, we have it on pretty good authority to say that they are absolutely wild about him. Due to situations that are not mine to disclose, my boys’ first moms made an impossible decision. Their choices were made out of anything but rejection or indifference. Still, we cannot possibly know how a child will interpret the actions or inactions of the adults in their lives.

And while we are entirely committed to facilitating healthy relationships between our boys and their birthfamilies, we know that there will be times of strain and hurt no matter how hard we try to prevent it. We know that there will come a time when they will confront the harsh awareness that they were “free to be adopted.” And knowing that their heartbreak is inevitable, I find these photos and memories equal parts joyful and disconcerting. The more I learn about the adoptee’s experience, the harder it is to celebrate these moments without also acknowledging the layered grief and loss involved in a day like this coming to fruition.

#AdoptionIsLove is a popular hashtag in the adoption community. And it is so true. From every side there is this imperfect, but unending love for a child. Adoption IS love. But a less popular truth is that adoption is also loss. It isn’t as trendy a hashtag and it isn’t as pleasant a view of adoption - but it is just as real, just as true.

Adoption is love. Adoption is loss. Adoption is wondering if there is something inherently wrong with you. It’s looking in the mirror, wondering who you look like, and thinking maybe your head is just too oval to be loved. Adoption is feeling given up, even when you were lovingly placed. As I tucked my boys in to bed tonight, I asked Harper if I could share this story from when he was a little boy with all of you. I said that I think it’s important to tell the truth about the good things and the sad things about adoption so that people can understand all of it a little better.

He gave me his permission. And then he added this,

“You can tell them that I said that when I was a little boy, but it’s okay to tell the things I worry about now. Like... I don’t think it’s because of my head anymore, but I still think it’s because of something. I just don’t know what it is yet. Maybe knowing that I still wonder will help people to understand the sad parts.”

I am thankful, beyond thankful, that I have the joy and responsibility of raising these two little crazies. I am thankful for the days that the states of New York and New Jersey said that they could be ours forever. I am thankful that I know - even when they don’t - that their first mothers would die for them in an instant. I am thankful and overjoyed, to be sure, I just don’t know if all the other feelings we have about adoption will ever quite fit into a hashtag.


 

What Lies Ahead

I have been home with my kids for nearly fifteen years and I have loved every, single minute of it. I have remained patient and full of the holy spirit for the entirety of the past decade and a half, and I would never - under any circumstances - drive past my house and go around the block multiple times just so I can finish an audiobook in glorious, uninterrupted peace. Also, I have no flaws, so...

Okay, fine. I am a liar. And the past 15 years have been just slightly more nuanced than that. Maybe I do have flaws. Like, if I had to ballpark… I’d say maybe 5-7 flaws come to mind?

Okay, fine. I’m a liar. Again. I barely survived the past 15 years. My flaws are infinite, and they are just scattered haphazardly all over the floor with the other rando debris in my home. But, while it’s true that I have loved being home all these years, I hate when people say they loved “every minute” of something, as if that’s even possible. Clearly it’s a gross exaggeration and if there is one thing I won’t stand for it’s a gross exaggeration.

Okay, look, I am just going to be lying on and off, basically this whole post. The truth is, my favorite kind of exaggerations are the gross ones. Still, I do despise an overly tidy sum-up of something as complex and layered as 15 years of parenting! Or a lifetime of devotion to a particular profession, or 60 years of marriage, or 25 years of serving our country. Any experience that could be compared to Sisyphus pushing that boulder up a hill over and over cannot possibly be enjoyed 100% of the time.

Still, I really have loved being home all these years. And if I could go back and do it all over again, I would make the same decision to be home. I loved being there for every first - first taste of every food, first steps, first words, first time covering their entire room with sidewalk chalk, or oil paints, or human feces. I rarely ever missed a first anything. And that I loved. I have loved being the room parent and chaperoning all the field trips. I loved being able to bring my kids their stuff when they forgot it at home. I also loved not bringing them their stuff sometimes, so that they would learn the lesson of being more prepared. I loved that I had the choice.

But, there were also a lot of things that I hated. I hated when people would say I was lucky that I could afford to stay home - as if we haven’t made huge financial sacrifices by living below the poverty line for a hundred years. I hated not showering for more days in a row than I care to admit, because I WAS NEVER ALONE. I hated having no sick days, and I hated the moments that I wish I could do over. I have a lot of moments that I regret. Moments of selfishness, impatience, and straight up ugliness. I regret not savoring each day that I had my babies home. I regret the times when I wished away the hard days and longed for this season to come - the season when all my kids would be in school full-time.

Now that time is nearly upon me. On September the sixth, in the year Two Thousand and Eighteen, I will be alone for the first time in 15 years. People ask me what I will do with myself. Here is what I plan to do with myself, in alphabetical order:

  • Be alone.

  • Blog more frequently.

  • Complete tasks. Observe/record what it is like when the task is not immediately UNdone by another, smaller person.

  • Eat pieces of candy without risk of what I call “the seagull effect.”

  • Finish writing my book.

  • Go to a doctor for adults.

  • Have conversations with adults.

  • Hire new booking agent.

  • Increase the number of speaking engagements from what I was previously able to do.

  • Maintain flexibility in schedule so I can still be room parent/chaperone all the things.

  • Paint fingernails.

  • Shower daily, during regular daylight hours.

  • Submit book proposal to publishing company.

  • Work during daylight hours.

  • Work without noise-cancelling headphones.

This might seem too ambitious, or maybe not ambitious enough. I honestly have no way of gauging what is realistic to accomplish during a school day. I had my first child in college, like a sinner, so I have no idea what it will be like to have five school-aged children and a whole day to accomplish things.

Here’s what I do know. I am at peace with it all. Not because I loved every single second of how it was, or because I have no regrets or because I was so awesome at being a stay-at-home mom 100% of the time. I am at peace with it because it’s what is happening. It will be like everything else… some of it will go too fast, and some of it will feel like it’s dragging on. Parts of this coming season will be easier, and I will probably be dismayed to discover that some parts will be harder. Some days will feel free, and some will be a grind. It’s going to be whatever it’s going to be, and I am at peace with all the unknowns and the certain bittersweetness of it all. While I am embracing the change, I am also operating under the total assumption that there will be a minimum of 84 mental breakdowns during that first week of school.

Until that day (where I can be found at home in a ball, eating candy, with a youtube video of seagulls attacking a sandwich playing in the background) I am preparing my heart for whatever God puts in front of me this year. In anticipation of what’s to come, I am so excited to announce that the amazing Jonathan Capuano - digital arts/graphic design extraordinaire - has completely revamped my website! While you’re here, please take a look around at how profesh he is making me look! My favorite new feature is that you can now send a request to book a speaking engagement directly through the site or, as always, connect with me through the contact page. I would love to speak at your next event - youth, church, college, women, corporate… I have had the opportunity to keynote so many incredible events in the past couple of years and I have loved every single second of it.

(Still, with the lying. smh)

Okay, fine… I maybe haven’t loved EVERY second, but if there is one thing I have learned in the past fifteen years, it’s that you don’t have to love every single second of something to know that you were made to do it. I was made to be a mom. But I was also made to be a fun and compassionate speaker who isn’t afraid to ask the hard questions, or to tell the hard truths or to lie comedically via gross exaggeration. So, I can’t wait for this next season of life, because I get to do all of the things that I love so much - writing, speaking, momming, eating pieces of candy. Even if there are a few seconds here and there that aren’t my favorite, I get to be what God created me to be, and I am still wrapping my mind around what a glorious and wonderful gift that is.

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Lara is now booking events for 2018/19, click HERE to invite her to speak at your next event.















 


 

 

A Sense of (Mis)Adventure

We used to take these really long road trips when the kids were little. Our first trip, nearly a month long, took place when our youngest (we only had four children at the time) was just 6 months old. We zig-zagged across the country from New York to Washington state and then down the coast of Oregon and California, then zig-zagged back. All 6 of us slept in a tent each night, and we scheduled one night at a hotel each week. There, we would shower and do laundry and use a toilet that flushed. After weeks living outside, indoor plumbing is truly a marvel. We did three big trips like that. (You can go back and read about the Capuano Tour De USA parts one, two and three.) It was hard work and a lot of preparation, but those trips go down in our family history as some of our very best memories.

People thought we were nuts. Maybe people were right, but I really didn’t care.

I wanted my kids to have a sense of adventure.

After taking those three trips, life changed for us a lot. We adopted our son Jay, so all of our money was tied up in adoption expenses. Jay was born healthy, but there were some complications within 24 hours of his birth that led to him receiving very high levels of antibiotics in the NICU for 12 days. This caused damage to his brain and permanent hearing loss.

Almost immediately after we brought Jay home, we began therapies and interventions to address his various delays. Oh, and bonus, Tom got laid off from his job of ten years! Around this time, our other son was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder and our life was consumed with intensive attachment therapy, weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I think it goes without saying that family camping trips to “nurture a sense of adventure” took a serious backseat to survival. Adventure felt like pure frivolity in comparison to preserving whatever shred of sanity we could. Still, in some small way Tom and I grieved these times we had. We felt a sense of simplicity and freedom on those trips, and even though almost every possible thing went wrong, we made some hilarious and wild memories. And for years we have missed taking these trips.

We have made some very noteworthy progress in our home in the past few months. After ten years of hard and intentional work, our son appears to be securely attached. He is thriving, he is loving, he is connected. We still have challenges but this summer felt different. It felt like adventure might be possible again. So, we started to plan a trip. This time, just a week. Start slow, work our way up.

In the weeks leading up to the trip I started feeling this longing for adventure once again. But, this time… it wasn’t about the places our family would go, this adventure, felt more like the people we were supposed to be.

For years Tom and I have considered whether or not we were in a place where we could be considered a stable family for a child in the US Foster Care System. During these past several chaotic years, the answer has been a resounding “awww he!!-to-the-no!” Yet, during these past few months we have been closer to “normalcy” and stability than we have been in the past 5 years. And I can feel the question creep back into my heart again.

As Tom and I were processing this possibility, we included the kids in some of these conversations about what life might look like if/when we ever did become a foster family. There was this unbelievable moment when I was listing some of the sacrifices we would have to make as a family. I told my oldest daughter, Annalee, that she would need to share her bedroom with her little sister, London. This may not seem like a big deal but Annalee is 14 years old and we are JUST NOW finishing her bedroom in the attic. The kid has been waiting over a decade to have her own bedroom, and what was her response?

“Having your own bedroom is a luxury. Having a family, should not be.”

Going into this trip, I no longer felt grieved for all the years we lost to chaos and suffering. I no longer feared that my kids would not have a sense of adventure. In that one pure moment with my daughter it was unequivocally apparent that our children are ready for adventure. If and when our family is ready to become a foster family, I can be confident that they will have what it takes to endure with a sense of true adventure. Not the frivolous kind that comes from seeing Mt. Rushmore or from using a vault toilet in the mountains.Their sense of adventure is of a much grander scope. To them adventure means sacrifice. It means being a family to a child who needs one. It means abandoning frivolity and taking the harder path. To them, adventure no longer means exploring the world.

It means changing it.

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Contentment Over Comparison

Guys, I have a confession. I am a total and complete phony. While I have a surprisingly convincing ability to fake enough confidence to get myself into all sorts of situations, I rarely posses enough real confidence for any of them. And - bonus - I also don't have the credentials or skill set that I have somehow created the illusion of possessing! On more than one occasion, people have confessed to feeling intimidated around me, which I find absolutely hysterical. In these laughable conversations, people have said that when they first met me they assumed I was very confident. I then explain the elaborate magic trick I like to call "overcompensating for insecurity!" and then we all throw our heads back in laughter and become fast friends. It's true, I have a big (read obnoxious) personality. But, that is often mistaken for being self-assured. In reality, I am just an extrovert who desperately wants to be liked. So basically, I'm a puppy.

 I spent most of my adult life in an almost constant state of self-doubt. Or more realistically, vacillating between self-loathing and absurd pride. Pan over to this embarrassing sample of my inner-dialogue:

Moment #1: I can't do anything right because I am the worst. End of story, nothin's gonna change my mind.

Moment #2: Sure! I can do that! There's nothing I can't do because I am basically amerrrzerrrng. (With "Nothin's Gonna Stop Us Now" playing in the background while an industrial fan inexplicably blows my hair around like Beyonce.)

Moment #3: Why? Why? Why would I agree to that? I am not capable, I know nothing and I am a total phony. Everything I do is horrible because I am a garbage person.

Moment #4: Did that guy just say I couldn't do something? Excuse me very much... we'll see about that mister. God has been equipping me for this my entire life! I am capable! Somebody, BRING ME MY HAIR FAN! 

Moment #5: He's right. I basically belong in prison. Because of definitely being a full-time, Grade-A, maximum strength, free-range garbage person.

Guys. It's sick. It's a really gross cycle of pride and comparison and insecurity and overcompensating. It made me super critical of myself, and then I felt small. And when people feel small they are intimidated and resentful of people who seem free and confident. And when people are intimidated, insecure and self-critical, they tend to be hyper-critical of other people. This would make me feel bad about myself, and then I would lather, rinse and repeat this destructive cycle all over again. 

The problem is that every time I tried to break out of this cycle, there seemed to be someone waiting in the wings with just enough criticism to make me feel like my growing sense of healthy, appropriate, God-given, God-driven confidence was premature, or worse, that it wasn't secure confidence at all, but was an unhealthy arrogance. It was as though any progress was immediately set back by one critical remark. 

I am not going to pretend that I am entirely through with this whole insecurity and comparison trap thing. That would be a lie. But here's what I do know: The more intimately acquainted I become with the character of God, and my worth in his estimation, the less I care what people think. I have found that God is much easier to please than people are. The closer I draw to Jesus' wholesale acceptance of me, the less concerned I am about the approval of man. I still have plenty of vulnerable moments where I am blindsided by rejection or criticism, but more and more I am letting God's love encourage in me a healthy self-acceptance. And not one that comes from some delusion that I am great, but from a much deeper security in who God made me to be. I am no longer (as) afraid to say that yes, I have gifts.

It took me 36 years to feel like I have gifts. 

Maybe it sounds prideful to say that I have gifts. But, I don't think it is. For me, it is profoundly healing. For the first time in my life, I feel as if I am working toward something resembling a confidence that comes from my identity and value being so securely rooted in the God who sees me (flaws, fears, strengths and all) and has still decided to allow me the privilege of doing ministry in spite of those things. Or maybe even because of those things. Scripture is filled with so many dirtbags that God chose to love, equip and use for his glory. I am not the first garbage person with gifts that God has chosen to use. And I won't be the last. But I AM all done denying my value. It's just plain offensive to the one in whom I find my worth.

As many of you know, just last month I had the privilege of speaking - alongside two other wise women from my church - about this topic of comparison, envy, jealousy and contentment. Despite the fact that I had been studying these topics for over two years, I was honestly terrified. The weeks leading up to it, I battled to mute every voice from my past that told me I had no business being a speaker. I had to filter out those that said I don't know enough, or I'm not churchy enough, or that I'm too silly or that I just want to make it about me. Those that said I was too outspoken or stubborn or rough around the edges. I had to lean in to God's word more than ever, and I had to trust that he chose me to be a part of this mission to help others be free from the bondage of comparison. Are there more gifted women at our church? Certainly. Are there professionals with more experience and bigger name? Of course. But that's not what God did. He allowed Nancy, Julie and I up there instead. Who am I to question him? Who am I to doubt what he is capable of doing - even through the likes of me? Who am I to figuratively spit in the face of my creator by saying he made me without any gifts? 

Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you feel like a total phony when your colleagues seem to know what they are doing, while you feel totally lost. Maybe you tend to be the critical one. Maybe you have a history of being so harsh with yourself that being harsh with others is an unintended, yet ugly, side effect. Even if you are a much better behaved person than I, you still have a little garbage person in there somewhere and I believe all of us can relate to the struggle of uprooting jealousy, envy, pride and insecurity in order to be more content and secure. A number of you have asked if the event was livestreamed and recorded. It was, and all three parts have since been put up on the Equip page of our church website! I generally would shy away from putting up a video from a speaking event because I hate to watch myself speak. But, I really think the content that these women and I worked so hard to present is valuable. I think we are valuable. And I think you are valuable. So this is worth sharing. If you have ever had enough pride that you fantasized about having a hair fan, you should check it out. If you live in terror that your incompetence will be discovered at any moment... you should check it out. And if it is as hard for you to recognize that you have gifts and worth as it has been for me, you should check it out. We discussed this topic in three parts, within the context of faith and the Bible, but there was still plenty of practical wisdom for just about anyone... even my fellow garbage people. 

Enjoy. 

Love, Marriage & A Side of Grief

Apart from the occasional humorous anecdote or good-natured jab at his expense, I don’t often write about my husband. Sure, I write a lot about life and family in general, but I don’t think I have ever written about marriage or romance. Since I debuted as guest-blogger here for the first time ON Valentine’s Day, it felt like maybe I should write about my husband, Tom, once and for all. As I sat down, I discovered that I just couldn’t do it.

First, allow me to explain why I don’t usually write about him. You see, I grew up with a bad-to-the-bone single mom who raised the junk out of us four kids. She taught us all the important things: like how to be kind and compassionate, how to curl and feather our bangs to perfection and how to make homemade donuts. Basically, life essentials. And she did all of this alone. She did this in the wake of a divorce and then the death of my 17-year-old brother just shortly after. She is incredibly strong, and she did a pretty great job with us. But still, it was not easy.

So, every time I feel compelled to tell the world about what an incredible man my husband is, I think of the women who are raising the junk out of some awesome little kids, and are maybe doing it alone. I think about the people who have marriages in crisis or marriages that are just okay. I think of those that are still grieving the death of their spouse, or all the peeps who are single-n-lookin-to-mingle. OR the zillions of people who are happily-single-and-just-sorta-sick-of-hearing-about-other-peoples-marriages. And I panic. It starts to feel all weird and braggy, and I get in my head about it all. I tend to be hyper-sensitive to other people’s feelings and situations. It’s the blessing and the curse of being an empath, and sometimes it prevents me from publicly celebrating certain victories or gifts in my life. Including my husband. I just don’t want my joy to bump up against someone else’s grief.

In the past year and half, however, I have spent a lot of time studying pride, jealousy and envy in the Bible. These are three things that I have struggled with immensely for the past couple of 36 years. (Alright look, basically from conception on I have been a pretty gross person ok?) I have sooooooo far to go in this journey of uprooting pride, sinful jealousy and envy from my heart, but the one area that I have felt pretty strong is coming along side of those who are grieving or struggling. This is very natural for me. What is less natural and requires more of an effort, is the celebration piece. Celebrating others, and feeling the freedom to celebrate in my own life.

In the spirit of Valentine’s day, that is what I am committing to do. I am going to celebrate all things love and marriage. And while I am still quite afraid of bumping into a wound or two, I am giving myself permission to publicly celebrate a man who is long overdue for me to gush over him a bit. Guys, if you take the beloved Jack from the hit TV show This is Us (hold the drinking problem and 70’s mustache - replace it with mild-to-moderate anxiety and lumberjack stubble) you have my husband Tom. He is dependable, thoughtful, conscientious, protective, hilarious, steadfast and strong. Unlike Jack, he would never die in a fire to save our dog, but that’s seriously his one and only flaw.

In the past 15 years together, we have faced some really dark times. We have had some big wins and some pretty major losses. We have had moments where we felt like total failures as parents, we have been passive-aggressive and cranky (me), hangry (him) at times, but also really devoted and self-sacrificing. He lives more like Jesus than any man I’ve ever known. All the good in our marriage has been him. So I celebrate him today. And I celebrate marriage and love and things that are going right. And for those with wounds - whether fresh or long held - there is plenty of room for this empath to give a reverent nod toward grief today too.

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