The gift

I was having a conversation over coffee the other day with a woman interested in my business that eventually turned towards our adoptive family life. She was asked to speak at a local event about her foster care and adoption experience and was asking me what I thought she should say. We talked about all the "usual" topics that surround adoptions but we both resolved that it all felt so fake.

You see, talking about adoption is so very different than living it. It's true, some families have beautiful stories of taking a baby in and raising them as their own and living none the wiser. However, those seem to be the only stories we hear about in public settings. Meanwhile, other families have harder stories that right now feel almost too heavy to share with anyone else. When that is the case, sharing the truth is considered discouraging to others and a "downer" for everyone's romantic view of adoption. Even now as I type this I am tempted to wrap a pretty bow on it for you, to keep you comfortable, by saying these harder, heavier stories are beautiful too but that's the problem. Even though it's true, and we believe it, it's not reality right now. From what I've learned so far, trying to paint a picture that doesn't actually depict your here and now, only causes more tension and heartache. So I apologize, I can't do that.

Now my story isn't all bleak. But our daily life IS, and will always be, in the trenches. There are still so many triggers, so many gaps, and so many unknowns to the process that keep "life together", ever so fragile. Having a child who's heart is like a landmine you are trying to navigate without setting off in negative ways can be taxing on one's energy and exhaustive for their perseverance. Some days, we just can't. We don't have it in us to do it well. Our nerves are shot and we just want to be "normal." Other days, we are able to avoid all detonation and give a big sigh of relief when we lay our heads down for the night. But the story begins again the next day and we try all over again.

I've said it before and I will say it again, adoption has taught me more about God's love than I would have ever known without it. Like marriage, adoption is a unique vantage point for unconditional love, grace and compassion. But also like marriage, it's hard and not everyone should do it. I know my family was called to this and we are doing well in light of the obstacles we have all had to face. But there is still no denying life would be way less complicated without adoption being a part of it.

Again, I am tempted to soften the blow of that statement for you b/c inside I fear you are jumping to conclusions like, "Is she saying they wish their daughter wasn't their daughter?" Quick answer, no! But I don't owe you that explanation. I think it's safe to say that if anyone had the option of doing life the less complicated way or a more complicated way, we would all choose the easier path. Difficulty level doesn't determine worth but it does test endurance and adoptive families are tired. That is our reality.

I say all of this to offer a peek into our world and hopefully help others to understand that there is a great amount of guilt that we adoptive parents carry when we are living the hard and heavy days outside of the line of sight of the general public. We make weird decisions for our family b/c we know it will help us avoid triggers for one child. We request odd things of leaders and teachers so that we can have more success at home when they return to us. We have to restructure typical situations to fit special needs and provide predictable outcomes whenever possible for our children to feel safe. We make it up as we go b/c no day is like the one before or after it. We are chameleons and know it looks odd from the outside but it's the best we can do. Still, we are made to feel like it's not enough until it feels beautiful and romantic to others.

Instead, I ask you to make room for adoptive families to be different. One family may be thriving and another may be barely surviving and yet BOTH are true. If you give us a platform to share our experience, please don't set expectations of keeping people comfortable, it's too much work and we are already all tapped out. We love to be a resource but we can only lock arms with others when we are honest about our journey's. Release adoption from the box you think it fits into and give families space to share their hearts and souls from their realities. That is truly the gift that goes both ways! Make way for it and we will all be better served.


Stop petting my daughter

I have a jacket that is crazy soft and so comfy. Literally, it feels like a warm blanket with arm holes but WAY better than a Snuggy. I LOVE this jacket. When I wear it around the house it is inevitable that my family will reach out and touch it. Once they do, they fall in love and find it hard to stop petting it. They love how it feels so much when I am out of town they have been known to ask if they can sleep with it!
I also have a teal pillow on my over-sized chair in the living room that if you ever visit my house, I will force you to touch. I am slightly embarrassed that I even spent $30 on a pillow but making people touch it helps me feel better about the indulgence b/c once they do, they will understand. It's life-changing.
I'm telling you all of this to emphasize from the get-go: I am a lover of all things soft. I too process feelings through the art of touch. In fact, my secondary love language is physical touch so if you’ve been around me you know I, like Olaf, love a good warm hug. Touch in and of itself is a beautiful way to connect with another human being.
But there are times when it would be most appropriate to ask permission to touch someone or something. For example, when I was pregnant, it took a little getting used to how people would approach my belly like a separate piece of my body and start petting it and talking to it. Some people don’t think twice but I would prefer it when people took my feelings into consideration and asked first.  Or if someone was walking with their dog, isn’t it common knowledge by now that you should always ask the owner IF you can pet the animal BEFORE reaching down your hand to do so? It just makes sense.
So here is the rub for me and I will say it as nicely and as plainly as I can…
Please stop petting my daughter.
I know Jaydn has beautifully soft skin (I do too- shameless plug for Rodan+Fields). But a smooth skin texture does not warrant the same form of touch as my comfy jacket or life-changing pillow does. It also doesn’t equate to how you would approach touch for a pregnant belly or an animal.
Think about this a little … Let’s say you give me a hug and notice that my skin is really soft (it is thanks to Rodan+Fields). I don’t know anyone who would spend the next 5-10 minutes rubbing their hand up and down my arm while we carried on in conversation. Yet that has happened on multiple occasions to my daughter.
Of course, I have my speculations but I won’t project them onto anyone else unfairly. So, for now I will just challenge YOU to ask yourself the question WHY? Is that appropriate? Would it be socially acceptable in any other circumstance? I am relatively sure you will conclude that it’s not
It seems preposterous to many that I am even having to address this issue but you have NO IDEA how often this comes up in regards to my daughter.
If you’d like to know where I got my jacket or pillow, I will be happy to pass along that information. I will even lend you one of my many soft blankets and let you pet my dog if you need to but my daughter is a different story entirely. So please, no more petting.


Building the Nest

Picture this--220 men and women made meals in advance, set out clothes in little piles, arranged rides to practices, and said goodbye to children (pulled them off their legs in some cases). They set aside life for a weekend to come together, as a couple, as a community. Couples were encouraged as parents to children who have experienced hard things, as couples who need each other to work as a unified team, and as individuals who are called to a big task.

That’s the kind of thing that fills my heart. It’s so very needed.

It was The Sparrow Fund who made it happen. Founded in 2011 by a mom and dad who’s hearts felt that need too, The Sparrow Fund is a nonprofit based in the Philadelphia suburbs whose mission is to support foster and adoptive families through grants, training opportunities, and this marriage retreat Together Called. They also care for waiting children across the world and those who care for them day in and day out by taking teams into an orphanage in central China annually.

And, this month, they need our help so they can continue helping. A whole bunch of businesses are coming alongside of The Sparrow Fund, saying, “Yes, we support adoptive families and the work of The Sparrow Fund to pour into them.” More than 40 partners have made a commitment to give 10% of their total sales during the month of May so that The Sparrow Fund can help others as they build their nests.

That’s where we come in. Click HERE to see all the businesses and then shop purposefully (there’s really no better excuse to shop, right?). Share the link with your friends. Get the word out, and make that 10% something crazy big.



Yellow never looked so good

I don't know how they do it in your schools but where my kids go, the younger kids (PreK and K) are graded for behavior based on a color scale. Green is typically at the center and where everyone starts out at the beginning of a new day and kids can go up and down from there. 

Well for the past two years Jaydn has gotten nothing but green marks on her daily chart. I mean it... Every. Single. Day. It got to the point I didn't even ask or look anymore because I knew what it was going to say. 

To most parents getting a green everyday would be fine. But come on moms, we know our kids and they are not the same everyday, all day for two years straight. So when it came to Jaydn I was forced to assume one of two things was happening: 1. She is in "robot mode" (as we call it at home) or 2. teachers are smoothing over her behavior bc of her "story." 

Yes I admit there could be more to it than just these two options but in our experience with Jaydn these seem to be the top two trends. Allow me to explain further.

1. Robot Jaydn is the girl who will literally not do anything unless she is told to do it. For example, for the past 4 years when she wakes up in the morning she will stand in her doorway until someone tells her to go to the bathroom, get dressed for school, go downstairs to eat breakfast etc. But you can only tell her one instruction at a time or you've lost her completely. This has only been altered recently when the girls started sharing a room and now she can follow Jovie around and do what she does every morning. Even then, if Jo wakes up first and leaves the room before Jay wakes up, someone will have to go talk her through all of the steps for the daily routine or she will just sit there. So if this was her behavior at school for the past 2 years than it isn't surprising she got greens everyday. She only did what she was told and therefore didn't go above and beyond or make choices contrary to instructions. 

2. I have blogged about this before but we still find that people tend to make allowances for Jaydn because of her past. Yes, it's true she WAS an orphan and she is African but she doesn't lack for anything. She is surrounded by a family that loves her and takes care of her well. She doesn't feel deficient in any way whatsoever. So when people single her out or make exceptions for just her she doesn't understand why they are doing it. She does know, however, that there is something about her that makes it easy to manipulate people so she will, quite often. All this does though is encourage her to feel different. We see our family differences as worth celebrating but often times the way people respond to her, it sends the message that her differences are reasons to feel sorry for her. Despite our obvious physical differences, my daughter and I are very much alike. There is no need to feel sorry for us. We are proud of who we are and how far we've come.

So all of that to say that for the past two years I've felt as if I lived with a different child than the one I dropped off at school each day. Every parent teacher conference I had I walked away dumbfounded at what they would say about her when I never got to see it for myself. But this year, so far, is different...

This year she is in Kindergarten. Although we are concerned for her from an educational standpoint we have been so encouraged to see her environment has changed. Even though she has only been going to school for two weeks, her behavior chart looks like a freaking rainbow! I can't even express to you how exciting this is for me! I know I sound crazy but just think, if she isn't just getting greens anymore than that means she is either making her own choices (good or bad) or that she is finally being treated like everyone else in the class! I tend to think it's the latter but either way, that's good news to this weary mama's heart. If she is indeed making choices contrary to instructions then it means she is feeling a sense of confidence and security in herself to do so. If she is just doing what she always does at home then it means her teachers are maintaining a standard of behavior and expecting her to adjust to it- AKA treating her equal. This reflects our home environment so to have that at school would be so helpful! 

Like I said, either way you choose to spin it, this is really exciting stuff for us. We have to celebrate the little things on this journey to Jaydn and while you may see this as so minor, if it continues this way, this might be one of our biggest steps forward in relating with her. This could turn out to be key to her understanding that mommy and daddy aren't being mean when we include her in the family standards of behavior, it's an act of love and effort to build relationship. Having teachers call her on the carpet in class will only validate our parenting at home and since she has never had that consistency in both places, it might bring about major growth in her. Anyway, this myriad of colors on her chart excites me! Yellow never looked so good!

If you would like to be a part of our prayer warrior team please pray alongside of us that Jaydn will begin to see how loved she is by her family and that God will be breaking down the walls that hide her heart from us. Pray for mine and Nathan's endurance and patience as we navigate this unfamiliar road of special needs parenting. And lastly pray that the community around us will come up alongside in support of our dreams for her and work with us (not against us) in trying to help us realize those dreams. Thank you ahead of time. What a beautiful story we live indeed...


Just because she smiles...

Its been a year since I last posted. I've thought about posting many times but one thing I've learned from being on the inside of the adoption community is that people on the outside only want to read about the romantic "success" stories of adoption. They aren't as drawn to the raw, real, life in the quicksand type of adoption stories. Well I don't have a romantic story to tell you. Our daughter is still the emotionally detached robot she was when we met her 3 years ago only now she is taller and smiles sometimes. The changes may be few but we cling to each and every one of them. If you are looking for a feel good story, mine isn't it. If you are willing to sit and read through a story of day in and day out struggle and about a family desperate to connect with their daughter then feel free to read on...

Halloween is tomorrow. Most of you have kids who have picked out what they want to dress up as. They have probably changed their minds a million times in the past few days causing a lot of frustration for you. You have probably already begun the candy battles and discussions about what they can and can't eat unless they want to get cavities. We have a couple of kids like that too. We also have Jaydn. Jaydn has no connection to whats going on around her and only lives to survive the moment. Therefore she doesn't make choices ahead of time. She doesn't make choices much at all. She waits for someone to tell her what to wear, do, eat, say. She would not even notice, let alone care, if I walked her around in jeans and a t-shirt tomorrow b/c she is not attached to anything or anyone- including her own life.

If I were her teacher, this wouldn't be such a source of heartache for us. Apparently Jaydn is a completely different child in a classroom. According to the parent/teacher conference we recently had, she interacts with other kids, speaks in complete sentences and takes on leadership roles nicely. Needless to say I broke down in tears during our conference b/c I really questioned whether she was talking about MY Jaydn. Then it hit me. It probably is her. At school she isn't expected to connect to anyone relationally, she just has to perform a task and she is rewarded with positive attention for it. At home, we expect more than that. We don't know how to parent a robot child. Our dream is for her to feel like a daughter- be part of a family...our family.

Being part of a family is different. I never realized it was so different until Jaydn came home. Its more than just people you share a house with, its people you share your heart with. Sharing your heart comes with a lot of emotional moments too. Families touch/hug/hold hands with each other, not only for physical reasons but b/c they have emotional needs met by touch too. Its a reassurance that this person you are touching will be there for you, its comforting, its security felt. For Jaydn touch is all physical. Its very awkward, stiff and not at all about connecting emotionally. Its just for show. Another example is that families also fight. We fight because we care. This is a struggle b/c Jaydn thinks fighting or being corrected is disapproval (her worst fear). She doesn't understand that we are disagreeing with her or telling her "no" b/c we care, not because we don't. There is a difference. But in all honesty it isn't our care she seeks after, its our approval. And in her mind approval only comes in the form of "yes" and 24/7 focused attention and she won't "tap in" for anything else.

For those of you who believe its just a matter of time until she "gets it" I have to ask that you not put that kind of pressure on her or us. This is her reality and we are trying to learn how to live with it amongst an entirely different reality with other children in the same home. Its constant whiplash for Nathan and I. We have a style of parenting with one child that may seem to others as cold, formal and always black & white but its the only way she can function. She can't handle anything more than that. We have another style of parenting that comes more naturally to us, that is warm, intimate, and full of grey areas that works best with our other 3 kids. But its hard and we get frustrated often. While it feels like anger, its really concern that this is all she will ever know. Despite our efforts, she may never know what it feels like to be a part of a family.

From the outside it may appear more natural than what you are reading but below the surface it is all very different and unfamiliar to us. She does the "right" things but not for the assumed "right" reasons. For example: you will hear her call me mommy not b/c its a relationship we share but to her that is my name. You will see her holding my hand as we walk through the hallways and that isn't because she feels secure with me but b/c she has learned it isn't appropriate to hold hands with, let alone walk off with, complete strangers so Im better than nothing. And just because she smiles it doesn't mean she is happy, she has simply learned that is what people like to see and it awards her positive attention. Her "why" for doing things doesn't come from her heart but from her head. Her goal is simply this: survive your current environment. Do what you have to do to keep the authority in the room happy and just make it through to the end. She will never cause a ruckus and she will never go above and beyond, she will just exist. That's enough for her.

We understand that all of this is a result of her past. We used to have sympathy towards her about it but soon learned that we were the only ones hurting. We weren't helping her deal with anything we were just confusing her even more. The future doesn't have the impact on her that the past did but even while we watch her survive each day our never ending ache is to see her thrive one day.

I also know that just because our adoption story isn't romantic it doesn't make it any less redemptive. God has still done something amazing by grafting us with Jaydn. There are spiritual applications to this path that I never would have gotten a glimpse of if we had not been called to adopt. Sometimes it feels like I am living the story of Hagar, loving a child that will never love me back. Then I realize I am Hagar and God is loving me despite myself. So romantic or not, God's purpose to redeem not just Jaydn's story but my own is in full effect.

Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. - Philippians 1:6


Forward motion

Its been a while since I've updated everyone on our journey with Jaydn. Part of that is because we have made a lot of transitions lately (moved, new job, started school, having another baby etc) so its been busy. Another reason is honestly because progress is hard to see when we are standing up close. In so many areas we feel like we have gone nowhere while in others we can see sure steps of forward motion.

Moving back to FL has almost been like a "start over" in some of Jaydn's adjustment. She adapts so easily to new environments so that isn't what Im referring to. However the resources for her whole development were not available in AR so now we are getting her caught up with vaccinations we weren't told about, evaluations she has always needed, and getting professional advice that sits more peacefully in our hearts. Its as if someone is hearing us and our observations clearly for the first time. We knew there had to be more to it all than what others were advising us when we lived in AR. Here in FL we are getting a lot of gaps filled in and starting on paths we wanted to pursue 2 years ago! So its both frustrating to think of all the time that was wasted and also hope giving to be in this stage where even more progress is possible. Here is a basic rundown of where we are now:

1. Jaydn's social skills have really improved. Our new environment has been so respectful of our unique challenges with Jaydn and they have worked with us to help her learn the proper steps of meeting a stranger, not seeking physical attention instantly, and interacting with peers more than adults.
2. Jaydn's communication is better but not complete. She is at the stage where we (and a few other people) can understand one or two of her words and can piece together what she means to say. Its similar to a baby who starts to babble and mom and dad can interpret their mumblings to others b/c they have heard it more than anyone else. She talks in sentences and will go on and on but we can't stay with her long b/c of the many gaps in her articulation and missing words that would complete her thought.
3. Jaydn started school this fall. She began at our church VPK program which was the perfect starting block for her to receive instruction from someone other than me but also learn that her teacher was not her mother. They work so well with us on healthy interaction with Jay and reserving special attention for us her parents. In partnership to that class setting, I would take her to speech therapy twice a week at a nearby elementary school. They quickly noticed that 90 minutes a week was not enough to provide Jaydn the help she needed. So just a few days ago she was approved to be enrolled in their full time program where she is integrated with other developmentally delayed preschoolers and led by teachers specializing in whole child therapies while receiving education appropriate to her understanding. We are really excited about this recent development and have high hopes for its long term impact.
4. Jaydn can do a lot of things like a 4 year old (ie buckle her seat belt, get dressed, wash her hands etc). She loves learning how to do something new and enjoys feeling independent.
5. She doesn't require constant physical attention anymore but when she gets it, she becomes very clingy very fast so we are still working on helping her feel secure and fully loved without having to carry her around everywhere.

Prayer requests:
1. Attachment is still difficult between Jaydn and family members. She doesn't connect at a deep level so most of the time we feel like we are all just functioning as a family rather than really feeling like one.  We are hoping that as communication increases and her understanding deepens we will be able to pursue a more palatable relationship with her as well.
2. Jaydn is very "black and white." By that I mean you can't tell her to stay in her bed at night for sleeping without her thinking that means she cannot get up to go to the bathroom if she needs to. Despite our explanations of that exception, she will either wet the bed or cry her head off in the middle of the night until we come in and take her into the bathroom. Another example is that sometimes we send her to her room as a consequence of some poor behavior but sometimes we ask her to stay in her room and play until we say she can come out (IE if she wakes up too early in the morning or we need the kids to take a break from each other). But no matter what, she assumes that she is in trouble and throws a fit. She cannot differentiate circumstances at all. Last example: yesterday we were playing outside in the cooler weather and she started coughing so I told her to sit down and take a break b/c I didn't want her to get more sick. She interprets that as being in trouble b/c Im asking her to stop playing and sit down so she went into melt down mode. I tried to explain that I was trying to help her stay healthy but she can't comprehend that. Its difficult when you can't communicate the differences of situations to her b/c of her lack of understanding at this point.
3. Jaydn's speech is likely effected by the structure of her lower jaw jetting out so far and the constant intrusion of her tongue so some medical professionals are projecting she will need a jaw surgery in the future which typically takes place during the teen years. Until then we can only work with what structure her mouth has now and try to improve her articulation as best as possible.
4. Jaydn still catches a cold about every 2-3 weeks and while they are rarely cause for concern, she has a very loud and gagging like cough tendency which can be a hinderance to sleep for everyone.

Here are a few of Jaydn's favorite things: books, baby dolls, cars, playing puppy or baby, bubbles, swimming, food, watching a TV show or movie, doing back flips off the couch, washing her hands, riding bikes, and laughing.


Jaydn is not an orphan

Jaxon and Jovie have never known me as anything different than a "suck it up" kind of mom. Yet when Jaydn came along I made a huge effort to be a real softy even though it hurt, a lot, and I got really worn out. As time has distanced us from her past I made a shift and had expected others to follow along. Jaydn has a family, a loving home and all that a child needs to thrive. Yet for some reason people still act as if they need to give her extra attention or allow for certain behaviors they would never normally be okay with because, well, you know, she's... 

I know I sound like a crazy woman but think about it: if you are lighting up like a Christmas tree at the sight of my youngest daughter but hardly notice my other two, why is that?! If you let Jaydn climb all over you while you sit on the couch trying to exchange a sentence with me but would be annoyed if anyone else's 3 year old mistook you for a jungle gym, why the sudden acceptance of such behavior? If you are asking for a hug from Jaydn and not the other two kids standing in front of you, how might that make them as spectators feel?

I whole-heartedly believe that no one comes into our home or interacts with our family with this mindset intentionally but allow me to explain a few of the results for us as a family.

1. Attachment with Jaydn has been opposite than most cases you hear about. Jay goes to where the attention is. So anytime you make her stand out and into the spot light against her siblings, she would rather walk off with you than stay around me, her mom who has to share attention equally. Of course we make moments where each child is celebrated individually but its intentional and purposeful for the sake of ALL our children. 

2. Jaxon and Jovie see people draw Jaydn out from our family and it causes some tension that often results in increased control of their baby sister at home. Almost like an "everyone else may think you need more attention but I will put you in your place" attitude. I watch those two as they see the focus shift to Jaydn so often in public and it breaks my heart. 

3. Ultimately it is no ones job to bring healing to our daughter's past but God's through us, her parents. We are called to give her the needed attention and extra effort that she needs. Until she has established a bond to us and us to her, this act of meeting her needs can only come from Nathan and I. 

Please understand that I am not asking for anyone to ignore Jaydn. I would just like for people to acknowledge if there is a draw to Jaydn more than the other two Gaddis kids and if so, ask why. If it is for any other reason than she and you click in personality, then please attempt to balance out the attention. It does more harm than good to our family to show favortism to our youngest child because of her past rather than calling her into her present and future that is so full of love from those of us in her home. 

Maybe this is me and my lack of compassion but I expect Jaydn to grow in her home environment. I really must stress to the world that JAYDN ISN'T AN ORPHAN. She is my daughter and the more we all treat her based on her past instead of her present, the harder it is for her to move past the manipulation and attention seeking nature that she used in the past. Our desire is to teach her healthy social interaction for her age, the art of meeting a stranger, a respect for personal space, attachment to family members, how to take time to get to know someone new before you introduce physical touch etc. All of these things take effort on our behalf and understanding from those around us.

I have seen some major steps forward in Jaydn regarding this stuff when others interact with her in a healthy way. We were at a large gathering and someone came up and said hello to Jay without reaching for her at all. She didn't respond until the person said their name. Then she turned to me and said, "I don't know (insert name)." I said, "you are right Jaydn! You don't know (insert name). Would you like to meet her?" Then she turned around and shook hands with the person while exchanging names and then she ran off. I was so proud.

In another instance someone asked Jadyn for a hug and she turned to me with a look that basically asked if it was ok. While I would have preferred this person not to have asked, I wanted to encourage the response from Jaydn and said it was ok. When she tried to stay with this person I gently removed her and gave her a hug of my own telling her that I loved her.

So you can see that progress is possible if we all work together to create a healthy environment for every child. Even if you know Nathan and I really well, you may not know our kids. Or you may know one or two but not all of them. So when you meet the others, help us teach them healthy interactions by following our lead and trusting that we know what is best for our kids based on their personality, not their past.