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Cheese in the Toy Box


Fathers Day…not a favorite of mine anymore. About 10 days ago I decided that I absolutely could not and would not sit through another sermon on the joys and responsibilities of godly fatherhood. Besides, it worked out best anyway, time-wise. In the last couple of years we’ve done picnics at the park on Father’s Day. Will and David had to get up to the fairgrounds today because they are both entering pictures in the State Fair photography contest. So, after Sunday School (which was NOT about fatherhood, thankfully) Ben, the Littles, and I left. That way I was able to get home, get things ready, run down to Hy-Vee and get the chicken, and then we could have our picnic and the boys had time enough to get up to Des Moines. It worked out.

I’ve had a harder time the last week or so with missing Paul. That surprised me. I guess I’d kind of begun to think I’d healed enough that I wasn’t going to do that anymore. It’s nothing like what it was, but it’s more than it has been. Maybe it was just the fact of going through another Death Day and then Father’s Day creeping up steadily behind. I may wake up tomorrow and feel nothing but relief.

A friend sent me a “Happy Father’s Day” text. It took me a little bit to realize she was sending the greetings to me. That was nice. But I can never take his place or make up for the loss, no matter how good of a mom I am. That knowledge weighs more heavily at times like this than at others.

Sam was super excited one morning this week. Eyes shining, he came up the stairs and exclaimed, “God answered my prayer!” He told me that he had been missing his dad and wondering about Heaven, so, before going to bed he had asked God to allow him to dream about Heaven. And, apparently, he did. It was a faith builder for him.

Oh, speaking of Sam…the stuttering has not improved a bit. I decided to not wait and contacted therapy services up at Blank (children’s hospital). So, this Wed. he sees our regular dr in order to receive a referral for therapy services. We’re probably looking at starting therapy in July – whenever they can work Sam in. I also ordered some essential oils that are supposed to help with speech, too. I’ve been doing all kinds of reading on stuttering and all the websites seem to agree that allowing the child to speak without indicating impatience is important, as is modeling slow, even speech yourself. And, I know that I tend to be a fast talker, so I am working on that last part.

I had an icky experience this last week on Facebook. I received a friend request from one of Paul’s cousins. I did not know him, personally, but I recognized his unusual last name as being a relation on his mom’s side. So, I accepted his request and then messaged him, asking him exactly where in the family he fit in. I explained who I was, mentioning that I was Paul’s widow. He wrote back and explained who his parents were – sort of. I couldn’t really make exact sense out of what he was saying, but I recognized the names he threw out.  Didn't say a word, expressing sorrow or sympathy over Paul's death.   The next thing I knew, I was receiving a phone call through Facebook messenger. I did not even know such a thing was possible! I was bothered by that because I am not going to answer a phone call from a stranger, even if he’s a cousin of Paul’s. I screen almost all my calls, anyway. I didn’t answer. Later, I saw that he had sent me a message on Facebook telling me that he had “just gotten out of prison” after serving 5 years and if I “had any single friends” I should “send them his way.” Ew, ew, ew!!! I don’t think I’ve ever unfriended anyone so fast in my entire history with Facebook! Yuck, yuck…

Will surprised Sam Friday by taking him fishing and out to breakfast. It was a really neat thing he did for his brother. Sam has really been wanting to go fishing for several years. But David doesn’t know how to do it and I sure don’t know how to fish. I’ve seriously thought about googling it, but I never did. But the last two summers, Will was gone at camp, so it hasn’t worked out. He told me what he was going to do, so I laid out everything I thought Sam would need – sunglasses, sunscreen etc. He woke Sam up early and told him they were going fishing. And Sam caught quite a few fish – he was so thrilled! I was gone all day doing my shopping but when I got home late that afternoon, Sam met me in the driveway and he was trying to talk so fast he could barely get the words out. He told me, “We didn’t eat breakfast until 10:00, but I was so excited I didn’t even notice!” As I said in a FB post about this, when God gave me these older boys first, He was supplying for an eventual need that I didn’t even know I was going to have.
I went out to supper this week with my friend, Kerri. She is a pastor’s wife in W. Des Moines and we were in the same PSMAPP classes 4 ½ years ago. She and her husband were prayerfully considering adopting the girls and their brothers but, instead, they ended up adopting a different sibling group. We met for lunch about three months before Paul died and had a really nice time. We always meant to do it again, but then Paul died and things just ramped up for a really long time. But we’re FB friends, and, every so often, I run into her at Walmart and we talk. That happened last fall and we promised that after Christmas, we’d try to get together. It finally worked out and we spent more than 4 hours at Olive Garden Tues. night.

I was telling her of the puzzling, oh-so-naughty behaviors I’ve been experiencing with Ellie the past two years – her continued lying, her seeming lack of conscience, her unrepentant behaviors, and even her physical affections, which seem kind of “affected” rather than springing from a genuine desire to be physically close to me. I explained how, out in public she is so charming and adorable but at home she’s a little hellcat and I can’t let her out of my sight, even though she’s almost 5 years old. Kerri looked at me and said, “Sarah – that sounds exactly like Reactive Attention Disorder!”

See, I thought I knew about RAD. Lizzie was dx with that before her adoption, and as result, I get a little bit extra money every month in my stipend from the state. And, truly, she was awful for a long time. But as she’s matured and especially after she got saved, she changed. She still has her “sassy” moments and occasionally she challenges me, but it’s nothing like the first couple of years were when she was constantly “in my face,” demanding her way all the time, challenging every single statement and order I made, and showing obvious satisfaction when I would finally blow up at her. But it never occurred to me that Ellie could be affected, too, because I got her when she was still a baby. Unlike Lizzie, she never lived with her birth mom and, of course, she has zero memories of the visits with her and her older bio brothers. She bonded to Jenn and Paul, who were her foster parents for her first 10 months of life. I know they love her still and that she was very well cared for in her infancy. But then, she was moved to birth mom’s apartment and after that fell apart after only 3 days, she and Lizzie went to the terrible foster home that I took them from 7 weeks later. I recognized that she had internalized that trauma when I had had the girls for about 4 months. Ellie suddenly began to “come alive.” Prior to that, we just assumed she was a very quiet, laid-back personality. But that all began to change that fall and it dawned on me that she had been “shut down,” more than likely, from the trauma of those few weeks when she and Lizzie were bounced around before they came to us. But I figured that since she seemed to be blossoming, the worst was over - she finally knew she was in a safe place and would develop normally from then on.

I remember that Ellie was pretty destructive from the start, even as a toddler. I just assumed that was part of who she was – she’d break toys on purpose and try to tip over furniture. She’d smear food on the walls and was particularly attracted to writing on walls and furniture with writing utensils. It was always more than what you see in a typical toddler. And then she turned 3 and this demon child just erupted out of her. I don’t think it’s as bad as it used to be, but she’s still pretty awful most of the time. Just today she had gum and deliberately threw it on the floor of the van (whereupon it was promptly stepped on by a sibling and permanently smeared into the carpet fibers). When questioned, she shrugged and said, “I wanted to.” This is my life with her. We go places and she is the pretty little princess, getting compliments all the time. She feeds on that and is quick to compliment others on their clothing or hair. I’ve observed her simpering in the grocery cart, telling clerks, “You are SO special!” And then we get in the van and I don’t give her the cookie she wants and she is erupting, kicking her legs and screaming, “I hate you! You don’t love me!” The tantrums don’t happen that often and quite honestly, they’re not a bad as Lizzie’s were. But they are an occurrence from time to time. Ellie is more apt to quietly and sneakily do things like dump an entire bottle shampoo down the drain, use a permanent marker on the lid of the washing machine, or defecate outside (yes, that happened – only once that I know of, though).  I tell her not to do something, she repeats the instructions after me, and the second I turn my back, she's doing it again.

So, Kerrie suggested that to me (and she definitely knows RAD – she’s dealing with a pretty severe case with one of her adopted kiddos) and it just kind of “clicked” in my mind. The next day I began to do some on-line research and it was all quickly confirmed to me. Ellie’s behaviors are not normal and while some of them, I suppose, could be chalked up to the fact of her gender and age, there is more going on here than simply that. I joined a FB RAD group and the stories are absolutely heartbreaking – exhausted parents who are prisoners in their homes, parents who are begging and not receiving help for their kids, and even parents who’ve had to relinquish custody because the child is a full-blown danger to the family.

So where does that leave us? I know now what I’m dealing with. I realize that Ellie suffered some permanent damage in her infancy that is causing or at least contributing to the difficulty I’ve had with her the past two years, especially. Is there any hope? Does this change anything?

I believe there is hope. And, no, it doesn't change anything - not really.  Adopting the girls was 100% God-driven. I resisted doing this at first, remember?! But God made His will so crystal clear on this to Paul and me that there was no doubt we were supposed to adopt and that were supposed to adopt these girls. As I said in court on their adoption day, they were born to another woman, but they were created to be my children. As I was thinking this through this week I was reminded of a conversation Paul and I had in April 2011. It was 4 months after God had answered a very specific prayer of mine concerning adoption in a manner that was so clear that I could not have heard it any better if He had shouted it from Heaven. But, still, I resisted. I was scared of what attempting to adopt would cost me in terms of money, certainly, but my pride, my time,  and my energy, as well. I struggled with how I was going to make it all work. And that right there was my problem. I was not going to be able to do this. Without God, it wasn’t going to happen. I had a certainty that by opening this door, I was walking straight into pain. So, it was April and since that night in Dec, when Paul and I realized together that God was saying, “You need to do this!” we had not talked about it. I think we were waiting for another sign or, at least, waiting for the other to bring it up first. Paul said to me one Sunday, “So where are you on this adoption thing?” And I told him I was scared to death. I remember saying to him, “What if we take in a child and we pour all we have into this child – our money, our time, our love, our energy and someday that child walks away and goes back to her birth family?” But as the words left my mouth I immediately thought of Jesus dying on the cross, with his broken body held in place, his arms outstretched, and I realized that was the way God had loved me – wholly and without reservation, while knowing I would be unfaithful. He did it for the world, knowing that the majority would completely and wholly reject Him for eternity. He loved without expecting anything in return. How could I do less for one of his little children?

Even if they ultimately reject me?

So, that’s where I am today with Ellie. She is my daughter and I love her. I don’t like a whole lot of her behaviors and I have no idea what’s going to happen when she hits her teen years and her adult years and is free to seek out her birth family or when the possibility of really bad decisions with horrible life consequences are more available to her. She may walk away and never look back. And if that happens I will be crushed, of course. I don’t want that. But I can’t control her future choices any more than I can control any of my other kids’. She may have neurological components from infancy that hamper good decision making. She may have holes in her heart that I cannot fix for her. She may just be an exceptionally stubborn little girl.

This is what I do know: I will not be a successful parent only if my children turn out well – if they love the Lord, if they have good marriages someday, if they make wise decisions, and if they come around for every holiday because they love their old mother. I will be successful when I am faithful to do that which I am called. I was called to mother Ellie. And I will do that to the very best of my ability for as long as she is under my roof. And even then I will pray for her and love her until the day I die. She is mine, no matter what.

And there is always hope. I look at how far Lizzie has come and it gives me hope that Ellie may come around, too. Just the other morning, I was trying to get a few more minutes of sleep. I could tell Lizzie was in my room because I recognize her breathing patterns and her footsteps. I pretended to still sleep, hoping she’d take the hint and leave. She didn’t. Instead, she leaned over the bed and kissed my cheek. Sweet, but I still wasn’t going to wake up. Then, she crawled under the covers and asked, “Mom? What do you love most about me?” Gack! Why don’t they ever ask the easy stuff when I’m bleary eyed with sleep? Preferably questions like, “Would you like me to tiptoe quietly out of here so you can have a few more minutes of precious rest?” It’s never that. So, I switched my brain to “on” and came up with a reasonable answer. But that wasn’t enough. She began to list each member of our family, wanting to know what I loved most about them. This girl loves me. She craves physical affection and is always coming to me for hugs. She’s the one telling her siblings to “Quit asking for seconds – Mom hasn’t even eaten yet!” She leaves me love notes. Whenever she visits Jenn and her bio brother, Jenn tells me that Lizzie spends a good portion of her day talking about me. I am really, really important to her.    But it wasn’t always this way. She eyed me with a great deal of suspicion when she arrived. It took her a long time to shift her behaviors from atrocious to acceptable. It was nothing for her to tantrum for a good hour at a time, screaming at the top of her lungs the entire time. She used to try to run away from me. I could go on and on. She isn’t perfect, but she’s only 7, too. She’s experienced so much loss in her life. But, despite that, she’s gradually changed into this lovely, sweet, responsible girl. Ellie may very well do the same thing, too.

Or not. But it does me no good to borrow trouble that may or may not come. Sufficient today are the troubles thereof and all that

Well, after that book I just wrote, I had better wrap this post up! Let’s see…

Oh, Will bought himself a new car a couple of weeks ago. The guy from church couldn’t get his old one going , so they towed it to my car repair place where it was officially pronounced DOA. Now it’s sitting in my driveway. I told Will he’s not leaving for home for good until that thing is gone. So, anyway, a couple of weeks ago he and Arien pulled into the driveway and I realized there was a silver car sitting out there I had never seen before. I guess he’s old enough to do that (buy a car without asking my opinion). It sounds like he did quite a bit of research, before going to look at it. It’s a Honda something – a ’97. I would never buy a car that old, but it did have low miles. I don’t know. I guess the car bought David last fall is a ’98, which is only a year newer. We’ve never owned a Honda before. Paul is probably rolling over in his grave, complaining about “Jap crap.” Oh, well. When you die you lose the opportunity to insert your opinions into other people’s choices – which is not always a bad thing, I don’t think. I hope it’s a good little car for Will. I know he’s a careful decision maker so I’m not too worried.

Yesterday I spent the day in Cedar Rapids with the Littles. June 19th is the day that, 2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the last slave was freed. How they know this, I don’t know. But I guess it took awhile for the news to reach all the slaves, especially since most couldn’t read and some slave owners weren’t about to trot out to the slave cabins with the news. So, about 20 years ago they started having “Juneteenth” celebrations in larger communities to celebrate this event. Des Moines has one but it’s always held at a park that seems to have a higher than normal amount of drive by shootings. I’m all for teaching the girls about where they (probably) come from and letting them have experiences with people of the same race – but not at the expense of their safety or well being. So, I found out that Cedar Rapids has a Juneteeth celebration. In addition, they have an African American museum. I decided that we would do both. On the way there, I tried to explain to the kids what we would see and what relevance slavery has to their lives. I emphasized to them that the important thing is that they are Americans and I told them what I had heard Walter Williams (a black conservative – there are a few out there!) say years ago on the radio. He said, “Slavery was the worst thing that could have happened to your ancestors. But it was the best thing that ever happened to you.” That’s because, without slavery, a lot of black people would still be Africans instead of Americans. Not justifying it in any way – just pointing out a truth. I don’t think Ellie understood any of what I was saying but Lizzie seemed to a little bit, anyway.

We visited the museum and it was actually very well done. Unfortunately, about half of it was closed for remodeling or whatever. All they had open was the part about black people who had contributed to American society – inventors, entrepreneurs, scholars, etc. While the kids were busy coloring pictures of “inventions” they would like to make, I snuck over to the blocked off section to see what I could see. That part of the museum was devoted to the black struggle for freedom and equality and it was actually quite interesting. I would like to go back sometime when it’s actually open.

And then my kids were all over the gift shop, of course. They had a number of children’s books about civil rights and being accepting of differences, etc. They were actually very reasonably priced and we bought several. The lady working there was really nice. I think she was the one I talked to last week on the phone who told me to “Have a blessed day” before I hung up.

We eventually found the Juneteenth celebration in the park which wasn’t that big of a deal, unfortunately. They had a number of booths set up – advertising things like health care and job opportunities and colleges. There was a police presence there which was my first tip-off that maybe this park wasn’t in the safest neighborhood. I knew I was taking a risk by going to a city with which I was unfamiliar. For all I knew, the park where they were holding their Juneteenth could be just as dangerous as the one I was trying to avoid in Des Moines! It’s unfortunate the bulk of black families tend to be in a lower socio-economic bracket which means they tend to live in higher crime areas. I was encouraged that while this part of town where the park was definitely older, it  didn’t appear to be run down in any way. I didn’t think it looked dangerous at all.

We got out of the van and Lizzie began clinging to me. I realized that she was scared! She is not used to black people. It’s kind of funny because she readily identifies herself as black and she’s very attracted to black characters in books and on tv, but the reality of them was a different matter. She did loosen up a bit in the time we were there, though. Ellie didn’t appear bothered by anything. But then, she’s pretty fearless in general.

There just wasn’t that much to do. We wandered around a little bit. I had promised the kids lunch but it was pretty hot and I wasn’t sure how well preserved the food they were selling was. Plus, it was outrageously priced. And from what I could see, it looked like a lot of “black” food (lot of bbq sauce, coleslaw, etc). So, I told the kids we’d go to a restaurant when we got done and we did. In a white area of town.

They wanted to get their faces painted and we ended up standing in line for close to an hour for that. The woman doing it was a real artist, although I thought she was kind of unfriendly. I still put a chunk of money in her tip jar, though. She was good at what she did and she worked without resting.

After awhile a popping noise was heard. I immediately assumed it was balloons popping or firecrackers. But right away, everyone around me visibly tensed until a man announced loudly, “It’s ok, folks – it was just firecrackers.” I began to realize that apparently, the south side of Cedar Rapids is NOT as safe as one might wish it would be. This same scenario repeated itself two more times while we were waiting in line! That might have explained the police presence ,too…

They had live music going on and Lizzie eventually felt comfortable enough to wander over to the tent where it was happening. I kept a pretty sharp eye on her. The genre switched to gospel and as we were leaving I commented to Lizzie that if she was to visit a black church sometime, she would probably hear music a lot like that. Lizzie was puzzled as to why people were dancing if they were singing about God. Good question. She also said, “Mom, I was listening to the words. And they kept singing, ‘God makes my decisions’ (I’m wondering if she misheard that line) and that is not true! We make our decisions, but God can help us make them!” She is one sharp cookie. Ellie walked over there and joined her sister and as I picked them up a black woman commented to me on “how beautiful” the girls were. She was the only black person at the event who spoke to me.

I was a little worried about my girls’ hair since this was the first time I’d ever deliberately taken them into a predominantly black environment. But I thought it looked all right and really, it did. I was noticing the little girls’ hair while there and I was surprised at how fuzzy some of the girls’ heads were – I would never let my girls out of the house looking like some of the girls I saw at the celebration – and they have black mothers! Now, there was  this one little black girl. She and her mother came over to the face painting tent while we were there. Her mother was white and we fell into conversation – turns out they are homeschoolers. But this child’s hair was awful and the mother seemed completely oblivious to it. I could tell she had absolutely no product in her hair and it had been brushed with a regular hair brush. Oh, it was nasty. I did see one black woman looking at it and then turning to another woman and nodded her head in a “Do you see what I see?” motion. I wanted to  so badly  bring up the websites that have been such a font of information to me on caring for black hair to this mom, but I just didn’t see a polite way to do that.So, anyway – that was our foray into Black Land. I may do it again sometime. But I’m not going to feel like I have to do it, either. I know every January there’s an indoor event in Des Moines called, “Make Me a World” that is geared to the black community. We might try that. But, I think I’m going to try to relax on this whole thing. The girls are safe. They are loved. And that’s the most important thing.

I dropped my foster care license shortly before the girls were adopted. But I never got another phone call once they arrived for any more placements, either. I remember I did get a respite request that first summer they arrived but Paul said, “no way.” In talking to my friend last week she told me that in the last week she had received no fewer than FOUR calls for foster care placement. She also said an email went out state-wide begging all people with licenses and empty beds to consider taking placements because the shelters (which are overflow for kids they can’t place) are full. There are simply not enough foster homes in the state for the level of need that exists. A few years ago they had all these rules about how many children were allowed to be in one single home (a max of 6) but it sounds like they’re lifting a lot of that just to get homes for the kids. It's so sad. My girls have been relatively well-cared for for the bulk of their lives.  But they still struggle with the effects of not being cared for for a short period of time.  What will happen to all these other kids who never get end up in a permanent home at all and are forced to live in an institution type of setting because there aren't even temporary homes available to them?


Sam asked me to get him an alarm clock, so I did. He was pretty upset yesterday morning and informed me that his clock wasn’t “working right.” I questioned him and discovered that he was upset because he woke up before the alarm went off. Therefore, the clock was dysfunctional.


Well, it’s Monday now (I wrote most of this Sun. night). I’m hanging in there. It’s been kind of a stressful day. The kids started swimming lessons, which went fine. But I found cheese in the girls’ toybox. And one of my shirts. And Ben’s wallet (that we already bought a replacement for). That kind of stuff stresses me out. Plus, I’m trying to figure out today how to step gracefully aside while Will moves fully into adult life and I’m struggling with feelings of not being needed or wanted quite so much. I’m guessing that’s normal, but I’ve never done this before and I’m not liking it very much. I think this is one of those things that would be a lot easier to handle if I was still married and had someone to talk to about it. Sigh… And Ben dumped over a glass of water on the kitchen counter that soaked my steno book that has all my lists and reminders in it. Now all the pages are glued together. And I started taking down the wallpaper border in the upstairs bathroom. Four inches in, I’m realizing this is going to be a long, rough job. Why did we think that bathroom needed a border in the first place?

But as long as they’re stuffing cheese into toy boxes and dumping glasses of water, I’m going to be needed for some time – by some of them, anyway.

It will be better tomorrow.

I hope.


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