Sunday, August 25, 2013

Another school year begins...

All week, I have been meaning to write a blog post about the fact that my summer break is over and that I have gone back to school and as of this past Wednesday, I am officially back to being a fifth grade teacher in action.

Oh...back to school.  There is much to be said about it, though I imagine that you could all infer all that I have to say.  The overriding theme of this past week has been exhaustion.  Going back to work, after a nice and relaxed summer, is always exhausting in addition to being exciting and adventurous and all those other good things.

What is different about this school year, is that I am going back to school as a mom for the first time.  I just took a moment to read my blog post from this time last year.  Wow! What a difference a year makes.  Last year, I was thankful to be heading back to school because I had an entire summer to just sit around and think (and worry) about the adoption process. I remember it being an entire summer of worrying about when we would be chosen.  Last year, I was sure that we would never be chosen and that our baby would never find us.  Last year, I was certain that another school year (or two) were certain to go by before Carla and I got to call ourselves moms. How very wrong I was.

This year, I am going back to school after spending an entire summer with little Millie and as a family of three.  Needless to say, it was a lot harder to go back to work this year than last year.  But, the inevitable arrived.  The first day of school.  While getting back in the groove of the school year has been exhausting, there have been many good things to help make the transition a little less painful.

The most exciting part of going back to school this year has been the new role that I will be playing at school.  As you might have gathered by now, in general, I despise change.  I don't like change, I don't like adjusting to change, mostly I live my life hoping that things will remain comfortable predictable.  However, after teaching fifth grade for nine years, I was ready for some sort of change.  But I didn't want to change schools and I didn't want to change grade levels (I know, it doesn't seem like I have left much room for anything different).  What I did change was what I would be teaching in fifth grade.  This year, I will be sharing two classes full of fifth graders.  I will be seeing one class in the morning and a second class in the afternoon.  I will only be teaching literacy this year.  Teaching literacy has always been my absolute favorite part of my job.  I love bringing the love of reading and writing to my fifth graders and I love watching the transformations that take place.  So that is what I will be focusing on this year and I am thrilled.  My fellow fifth grade teacher will be taking the kids the other half of the day and teaching them science, social studies and math (my least favorite of all subjects to teach).

While we are both thrilled with the change and with the possibilities that the change will bring, it has definitely been an adjustment.  We are now faced with the task of connecting with twice as many students.  For me, and for so many of us teachers, building relationships with our students is EVERYTHING.  Without them, the important work that we have to do is just not possible.  If our students aren't convinced that we are on their side, then we will face resistance every time we want to push them just a bit outside of their comfort zone to the place where all the good learning really happens.  If our students aren't convinced that we show up every day because we love them and want to help them to be the very best version of themselves then they won't be willing to trust us when we ask them to do something they would really rather not do.  So, yes, the relationships are important.  As I said, they are everything.

This year, there are twice as many relationships to build and that has been tough.  I try to remember that it always takes time and so this year it will take twice as much time and I must be patient.

And in addition to having two classes instead of one, this is the first year that I am attempting to build these relationships while also saving energy for my Millie.  It is new and somewhat challenging to figure out, but like everything else that comes along with Millie, it is so so very much worth it.

Besides the changes at school, it is good to be back with my coworkers, many of whom feel more like family than like collegues.  It is good to be back doing what I love.  And after a summer of trying to figure out how to be a first time mom, it is good to be back at school where I get to do something that I have already been figuring out for over ten years.  There is comfort in stepping back into the classroom and I am happy to be back in that comfort.

So as this school year begins, it is incredible to look back at where I was a year ago and equally incredible to think about where I will be a year from now.  So much growing takes places over the course of a school year.  Yes, it is incredible to see the growth in my students, but it is also incredible when I am able to see the growth in myself as well.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

I thought it would feel more exciting...

Yesterday, we received five copies of Millie's new, and now official, birth certificate.  We have had Millie's original birth certificate for some time now, but we needed to wait until the adoption was finalized in order to get the new one.

We expected to be over-the-moon excited with the arrival of the new birth certificates.  We expected it to feel final and exciting and all things good.  And so when we saw the envelope yesterday, we eagerly tore into it. We took out the birth certificate and, as a family, we took a look.

And it didn't feel all good.

It was wonderful to see our names and Millie's current full name all together on such an official document.

It was wonderful to see ourselves recognized as co-parents (though my name was still written in the box that said father/co-parent, which only made us both chuckle).

It was wonderful to have official documentation of the legal standing of Millie as our child.

But in all of our excitement in thinking about what would be on the new birth certificate, we didn't think about what wouldn't be there anymore.  Millie's birth parents' names are now nowhere on her birth certificate.  The name that Millie was first given is now nowhere on her birth certificate.  And Carla and I both agreed that these facts made us a little bit sad.

Since we brought Millie home, we have had no desire to pretend that we are her birth parents.  We have had no desire to pretend that she only has one set of parents.  We have had no desire to pretend that she didn't have a history and a story before she came into our lives.  And now the birth certificate seems so devoid of all of those things.  For Millie's sake, it makes us sad.

I guess I just don't understand why it had to be this way.  I would have loved to have had her original birth certificate remain official and then be issued a second certificate, but this one a certificate of adoption.  It would still list us as her parents for all legal, and for so many other, purposes.  But, it wouldn't attempt to erase her first family or her start in this world.  If I was in charge of this world, which I so badly wish I was, that is how things would be.  Because then, a child would never have to feel as if part of his or her history and life were being erased.  A child would never have to feel as if his or her adoption meant the negation of his or her birth and first family.

So though we expected to feel only joy, we were actually met with a mixture of emotion.  And that seems to be the hallmark of this whole adoption journey.  In our extreme happiness, there will always be her first family's sadness.  And in the happiness that her first family feels in seeing how happy Millie is, there will always be the sadness that they feel in not being able to be there through every single step of her life.  I guess what we are starting to learn is that there will always be room for both.  We will always try our best to acknowledge both so that Millie grows up understanding that it is okay for her to acknowledge both as well.  We will never ask her to choose happiness or sadness about her adoption. We want her to know that there is always room for both and feeling one doesn't negate the other.

I just wish that we could have incorporated that idea into her birth certificate as well.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

So Very Much at Peace

My heart is so very much at peace.

Yes, Millie goes back to daycare tomorrow after a summer of being home while I was on summer vacation.  Yes, I have just a few days to get myself ready for a whole new year of teaching fifth grade.  Yes, there is more to do than I believe I have the energy to get done. And with all of that occurring, my hears is still so very much at peace tonight.

Today we met with Millie's birth family.  The whole family.  Her birth parents and her five birth siblings.  As I had mentioned before, I was incredibly anxious about the meeting.  My anxiety totally got the better of me in the days leading up to today's meeting. I am talking pain in the chest, racing thoughts, completely irrational worries kind of anxiety. It was awful.  I was worried about feeling their sadness, I was worried that they were feeling regretful of their decision,  I was worried that we would somehow say or do the wrong thing and accidentally offend them.  There were so many things that I was worried about that I can't even really remember what they all were.  All I can say is that I was a ball of nerves and I honestly made myself sick worrying about today.

And then today came.  And it was wonderful.  We met up with her birth family at a restaurant near their home.  Carla and Millie and I got there first and got all of us a table.  Luckily we had the world's nicest waitress and for some reason that made me feel better.  As we waited for them to arrive, my anxiety was so very much present.  And then they walked in the room and sat down and from that moment on, things went so very well.  They were excited to see Millie.  There was not any awkwardness between us.  We had so much to talk about.  They were so so sweet with Millie.  It was wonderful.

Perhaps my favorite part of the meeting was all of the talk of the way Millie was similar to her siblings. She has a screech, a really high pitched, loud screech that is identical to her youngest sister's.  She pulls at her ear when she is tired in the same way her youngest sister does.  The thighs that you are all familiar with my now are the same thighs that one of her brothers had when he was a baby.  Being able to hear those things and know that Millie will get to know those things made my heart so happy.

It was also just so wonderful watching Millie's birthparents hold her. The truth is, that at the beginning of all of this, at the very start of the adoption process, I worried that when we adopted our child and when we with his or her birth family, I worried that I would feel possessive or threatened or something in the way of a jealous kind of emotion.  Well, I can now say that nothing like that entered my heart today.  My heart was warmed by seeing and feeling the love that came from both of them towards her.  It was an incredible feeling and I felt lucky that one day Millie would feel that love and recognize it as the love that comes from the people who gave birth to her.

I am not saying that there aren't things still to be figured out and navigated.  There are some big things.  Things I won't go into at this point because I respect Millie's birth family too much.  I just don't want anyone to think that I am saying this is all easy.  Because it is not.  This shit is hard.  Really hard.  One of the hardest things that I have had to navigate thus far in my life.  And I am someone who always worries about doing things the right way or the best way and I have no clue what is the right way to do most of this.  It is hard and it is also so so very much worth it.

What made it worth it today was receiving a text message from Millie's birth parents this evening.  I had texted them to thank them for meeting us today.  And their response was the following: "Thank you guys for today.  We are so proud of you guys.  You are doing such a great job with Millie and we know we did the correct thing."

That text message was everything.  Absolutely everything.  We may not know exactly how to deal with every adoption obstacle that pops up, but what I do know is that the four of us are joined by this incredible love for this incredible child and there is nothing in this world that I wouldn't deal with or put up with or work to figure out if it meant that I was doing the right thing for this being that I love more than life itself.

And so tonight, with all of the things that I have to worry about in the next few days and weeks, I am happy to sit here with a completely peaceful heart.  As I said at the start of this post...Tonight, my heart is so very much at peace.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Summer Vacation 2013

So, as I mentioned, we had a whole week to be together as a family.  Truthfully, we could not have left the house and I still would have been thrilled with the week.  It is just so nice to have time away from work and away from stress, to just be together as a family of three (well, four if you count the dog, who accompanied us on our vacationing adventures).  

The first part of our vacation was in Galena, Il.  Galena is about three hours away from our house and it is a small, quiet town sort of in the middle of nowhere.  There is a cute cute downtown and lots of outdoor prettiness.  We rented a cabin that was built in the 1800's.  It had one big room and some stairs that led up to a bathroom and whirlpool tub.  It was absolutely perfect. As soon as I walked in, I ran back out to tell Carla that she was going to be in heaven and that we had found the perfect place.  The best part of the cabin was that it backed right up to a dairy farm and you could walk out the back door and visit the cows.  It was adorable.  Carla took Millie out to meet the cows and she absolutely loved them.  We then took the dog out to meet the cows and she loved them a whole lot less.

Anyway, we spent a lot of time going on family walks along the Galena River and through the trails in the nearby state parks. We walked around downtown.  We walked through a bunch of the shops.  We ate a LOT of candy (because in my mind, that is what you are supposed to do in small towns).  We hung out at the cabin.  We realized that in no way whatsoever, under no circumstances, does Millie want to sleep in a pack n' play.  We realized that she is willing to settle in for the night between the two of us on our bed.  And we just had time to relax and enjoy being together.  It was wonderful.

We came home on Thursday and spent the night at home and then on Friday we drove about an hour away from our house to join much of Carla's family on a camping trip.  It was wonderful.  Millie loves being outside and so during the day she truly enjoyed every aspect of the camping trip.  We hung out by the water while Carla's family was fishing.  We went on more walks.  We sat around the campfire. We sat around the campsite.  We ate.  A lot.  It was wonderful.

Again, the sleeping was not so wonderful.  Our two night camping trip turned into a one night camping trip because the first night, after sleeping for about thirty minutes, she woke back up and would not go to sleep.  It got so bad that Carla ended up taking Millie into the car and holding her the entire night, just so she could get some sleep.  So while we enjoyed the next day, we decided to head home in the evening.  It was a good decision for everyone involved.

We then had two more glorious days at home before Carla had to go back to work.  We had a chance to enjoy being home, visit with my family, see my best friend's new baby and just take some much needed time at home to relax.

It was an incredible week. Yes, traveling with an infant is not easy.  Yes, the nights made me wonder why we were doing this at all. But then, I look back at all that we did and the fun that we had and instead of thinking that I never want to do anything like that again, I just think about how excited I am to be able to do it again next year.

I will end with a few pictures from the trip because Millie is getting so big and that should be documented in as many places as possible!

The front seats were occupied by Carla and the dog

I got to ride in back with this delightful being

Here is our adorable cabin in Galena

And here is the view out of the back of the cabin
Millie meets her first cow

Millie was completely smitten with her new surroundings

We spent quite a bit of time hanging out as a family on the bed

And there was a whole lot of walking outdoors...

It was a most wonderful vacation and it was equally wonderful to be back at home and still have time to enjoy as a family.  It's how I know I am in the right place in my life.  We go on vacation and I love it, but coming back home is truly every bit as good.  

And lastly, my current favorite picture of our ever growing baby, because I just can't get enough of looking at it...

Friday, August 9, 2013

My Best Friend's Baby

So, I am a little behind on the blogging end of life, which makes sense since my teaching life is about to start back up again.  I realize I never wrote about our vacation (which was absolutely delightful, despite Millie's complete refusal to sleep in a pack n' play), but things just keep coming up that delay a post about the vacation.

And this one is big.  And wonderful.  And exciting.

Two weeks ago, one of my oldest and dearest friends had a beautiful, beautiful baby girl.  She is perfect.  Absolutely perfect.

I remember the day that my friend told me that she was pregnant.  Carla were on the adoption waitlist at that point and had no idea when our wait would be ending.  We were also deep into the angst and anxiety that comes along with the adoption process.  The conversation took place while we were in the car, driving to meet my sister and her son at the Children's Museum.  She told me she was pregnant and because she is so kind-hearted and so incredibly thoughtful, she was worried that telling me she was pregnant might make me sad.  And I am sure I was a little sad, but mostly I was overjoyed for her.  She told me that the way she figured, the world had a way of making sure that she and I did things at the same time.  We got married months apart even though she had dated her boyfriend for ten years before getting engaged and I had dated Carla for two years before getting engaged.  Still, we were married within months of each other.  The way she saw it, the world would find a way for us to have babies at the same time as well.  Looking back on the moment, there was not a kinder way that she could have told me.  She found the very perfect words to comfort me and little did I know it at the time, but she was right.

Several months after she told me, we found out we would be bringing Millie home.  And now, Millie is seven months old and her new best friend just entered this world.  I am overjoyed.  And as I watch this friend take the first, frightening steps into motherhood, I am so excited for what she will discover in this strange new land we call parenting.  And I simply could not be happier that we get to do it together.  Her presence in my life has been a constant for so long and I have come to depend on her being there in much the same way we depend on there being air for us to breathe. It just will always be so.  And so it seems so fitting for us to figure out these babies together and I am so excited for what is ahead.

So though I know these next week will be filled with sleep deprivation, anxiety, uncertainty, I also know, without a doubt, that there will be so much joy.  I am thankful to be able to watch it.  I am thankful to have her and her beautiful girl in my life and I am thankful that we get to watch a whole new generation of best friends grow up.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Final Beginning

Millie's adoption is officially and legally finalized.

In some ways, this is the end of our adoption process.  There are no more papers to fill out, nothing left to submit to our adoption agency, no more court dates, no more home visits, no more worrying about cleaning the house for home visits or making sure the dog is well-behaved and no more worrying about missing deadlines or needing to get licenses renewed.  These are all such good things.  They are important things too.  In many ways this means that we no longer have to try to prove to anyone that we are good enough to be Millie's parents.  Knowing that there is nothing left to prove to anyone is an incredible feeling and removes a huge weight that has been on all of our minds for these past six months.

And in other ways, this finalization is really more of a final beginning.  In January, I wrote a blog post for It's Conceivable. In this blog post, I wrote about the many different times that it felt as if we were officially starting the adoption process.  Signing up for an information session felt like the beginning, and then meeting with our adoption counselor for the first time felt like the beginning, and then finishing our profile felt like the beginning, etc.  So in some ways, when we received an email on Friday from our lawyer (who also happens to be my wonderful Uncle Rick) explaining that our adoption was finalized, it felt like the very final beginning.

I say that this is a beginning because in so many ways we are just beginning this process of adoption.  We are just beginning to build a relationship with Millie's birthparents that values everyone and allows everyone to feel good.  We are just beginning to understand the impact that adoption will have on our lives and on Millie's life.  We are just beginning to understand how to deal with comments that people make and will continue to make to us out of ignorance and out of misinformation about adoption.  We are just beginning to think about how we will talk about adoption to Millie.  We are just beginning to think about how we will be able to help Millie through the questions that she will have one day about adoption.  There are so many things about this adoption process that we are just beginning because adoption is for a lifetime.  It will always be present in our lives and in Millie's life and in the lives of her birth family.  And we wouldn't have it any other way.

So many of the misconceptions that people have about adoption seem to stem from the way that adoption was dealt with in the past.  In the past, an adoption was a single event.  One that would pass quickly and then be swept under the rug with the hopes of never having to take it out and examine it again.  Adoption meant secrets and dramatic revelations and hurt hearts and missing information.  When an adoption was finalized, it was closed, it was done, everyone just hoped the whole idea of it would go away.  So much of that has changed and continues to change.  We are so thankful that this process will continue throughout Millie's life.  Yes, there are things we don't know how we will deal with, there are things that scare us, there are things we wish we didn't have to deal with, but how is that different than any other set of parents? The things we will have to deal with might be different, but the fact that we will have to deal with difficult and uncomfortable things, isn't that what we all sign up for when we decide to become parents?

Today the actual certified copies of the judgement order of adoption from the court arrived at our house.  As Carla was cooking dinner, I stood in the kitchen and read the whole thing out loud to her and to Millie.  I cried through the whole thing, even though the majority of it was written in very boring and very legal sounding language.  There was one line that struck me and has stuck with me since I read it.  Towards the end of the document it says, "It is therefore ordered, adjudged and decreed that from this day the minor shall, to all legal intents and purposes, be the child of the petitioners and, for the purpose of inheritance and all other legal incidents and consequences, the same as if born to them."

"The same as if born to them." Yes, legally that will be the case, but our relationship with Millie is not exactly the same as if she was born to us.  It has its differences and we are committed to recognizing and honoring those differences.  It will not be enough to simply pretend that it is the same as if Millie were born to us because that discounts the very important and very real truth that she was not born to us, she found us after she was born to her birth family and we were the family that was meant to raise her in this world and that is so so amazing.  And that deserves to be honored and celebrated and that will take a life time to do.  That will never be finished.