Pulling her close

Elise loves her baby brother Jack. It was love at first sight.

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She quickly noticed his dark hair, and said, “I hope it stays dark like mine.”

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Now school has started, and whether it’s the fact that Jack’s hair is lightening or that Elise has seen so many homogenous families at her school, she sadly said to me, “Jack is going to look like you. I am the only one who looks like me.” And I remembered the wise words of a counselor (who noted how we good we are at talking but not always just sitting with Elise in her emotions), and I just said, “Yeah,” and put my arm around her and pulled her close and she snuggled in.

I’m sure the topic will resurface but for now that’s what she needed – to be pulled close by the ones that love her. So as someone who likes to fill silence with words, it is good for me to remember to pause and show my love because all my kids to feel my love as much as they need to hear it.


Making Sense of the Past

In February 2014, I started subbing and my husband and I switched cars. He took the SUV, and since I had a longer commute, I took the sedan. It took some getting used to, but when you drive it almost everyday you acclimate quickly yet I had reservations.

I worried often about getting in a wreck in the smaller car. I would envision tragic scenarios. It didn’t matter whether I was going to work or meeting friends; I was fearful of not returning home – all because we switched cars?

For months, I felt this fear. But where did it come from? I had my share of fender benders but never anything major.

In September, we met with a counselor to talk about some things we heard from one of our daughters. In that session, we talked about grief. We talked about our own experiences with grief and how we learned to grieve. And I recalled a time in my life when I experienced grief (while thinking this wasn’t supposed to be about me, but that’s how those things go).

As I got ready to leave for work the next day, my oldest daughter hugged me goodbye, said she loved me, and told me to be careful. Immediately I flashed back to around 24 years ago, when one of my best friend’s mom died in a car wreck, and the pieces finally connected

About twenty-four years ago, I got the news that my friend’s mom died in a car wreck and I was immediately devastated. I remember my hand me down orange shorts with orange polka dot top stained with pink paint. I remember throwing myself on my bed in my room and just sobbing. I remember walking down the street to find my friend at a neighbor’s house. I remember walking down the aisle to pay my last respects. I remember going to school in my funeral clothes – floral top, black pants, and red flats with a shiny bow. And that’s all I thought I remembered.

As I drove to work that day I remembered some of the words I heard about the event: “She was in her husband’s company car…She wasn’t in her suburban.” And that’s when I realized what I had internalized – bad things happen to you when you drive your husband’s car instead of your giant, safe SUV. That’s what I was doing – driving my husband’s car instead of my SUV. And I felt relief; relieved to know where the fear was coming from, relieved to let that fear go, relieved to relax about my commute to work, just relieved.

I was 9 or 10 when that event happened, and it took me over 20 twenty years to make sense of my thoughts around this event. But my daughter, whose own questions prompted this journey, was an infant when she first experienced grief – the loss of her birth family. My daughter is 6 and is processing her story and might be for some time. My job (and my husband’s) is to support her, to be with her in her grief – not fix her or rush her. While it won’t always make sense to us neither did my fear about driving my husband’s car but it was still real to me. And my daughter’s thoughts and feelings will always be real for her, so they should be real for me as well.


You never know when a wave a grief will hit you. You could be moving about your day when suddenly things are not right – at least that’s how it is with our 6 year old.

I always feel blind sided. I always feel like I don’t have the right words because I haven’t suffered the loss she has. I didn’t lose my birth parents and my birth country.

But finally today, I remembered what a counselor said to me. She said, “You guys do a great job of talking, but maybe that’s not what your daughter needs. Maybe she just needs you to be present during her grief.”

So today, after 6 years, I slowed down. Instead of worrying about saying the right thing and moving forward; instead of continuing with the schedule, we sat in the chapel. We just sat.


Not Wanted

We adopted our oldest daughter, Elise, from Vietnam in 2008 when she was 6 months old. As a family, we are always talking about adoption. Elise asks a lot of deep questions and has since she was very young.

Last year in kindergarten, we encountered inquisitive stares, or a couple girls asking if I was Elise’s mom. Now, she is in first grade, and she is starting to encounter other peoples’ thoughts on adoption while still working out her own story.

Recently Elise told us that a fellow classmate said, “I know a lot about adoption and your parents didn’t want you.” I know that it broke my heart to hear Elise repeat those words. I asked her, “Do you know that you can tell someone that’s not true. That’s not my story. That a child who has not been adopted does not know a lot about adoption.” She didn’t know.

It took about a week of us daily rehearsing Elise’s story. Scott would get asked about it every morning on the way to school, and I would get asked when I got home from work. She repeatedly asked things that we had already answered and we kept answering them. We wanted her to feel empowered to tell her story and to correct peoples’ misconceptions.

Another week past, before I overheard Elise say, “I wish ‘Pebble Go’ knew why these kids got adopted. One thing I know is that my [birth] parents loved me ….” I love that she was able to voice that. She still has questions. She still wonders. But she also knows. (Pebble Go is a research website Elise uses at school.)

You don’t know someone else’s story. They know it. They are living it. How tragic is it that we think we know someone better than they know themselves? How arrogant?

And if you start to think you have someone figured out, consider Elise and all the work we had to do (and will continue to do) to help her undo those careless words spoken to her. We, including me, need to talk less and listen more.

Tet, Vietnamese New Year

After being up with my youngest at midnight last Thursday, I realized it was the Lunar New Year (Friday, January 31) and I had completely forgot. I started poking around online and found a website that finally explained Tet, Vietnamese New Year, in a way I understood. So I planned to at least try to make sticky rice with peanuts and a version of boiled chicken – both traditional Tet foods. When it came time to serve dinner my rice still wasn’t cooked (5 minutes in the microwave fixed that) and I wasn’t impressed with my seasoning of the chicken, but I served it. And Elise was over the moon with her Vietnamese food on Vietnam day.

I only managed to get a picture of my precooked food. I promise I didn’t serve raw chicken. I seasoned it with lime peel, ginger, salt and pepper and I baked it instead of boiling it. And the rice I think needed an hour instead of 30 minutes to steam. It was a learning experience. 🙂

Elise said things like, “This Vietnamese food makes me think of Vietnam …. I used to eat this is Vietnam.” Now I am no expert in Tet celebrations or Vietnamese cooking, but I was amazed at Elise’s response to my meager efforts. It showed me that she needs me to try to figure this stuff out; it is meaningful for her. And I am happy to get it wrong and make mistakes while trying to help her identify with her country of origin. Because as she channeled Elsa from Frozen, she said, “The perfect girl is gone (from Vietnam) because I am not there.”


And here’s my nod at the tradition of wearing the color red. It’s the wrong country but it’s all I had. 🙂


Pushing Down a Wall

This post originally appeared on tapestryministry.org March 5, 2013.

Since January my family has implemented more changes than I can count and has been living in transition ever since. We get to each Friday and celebrate that we have survived another week. And we are thankful for all these changes and the ones that we still haven’t gone through, but we are looking forward to when we can start saying goodbye to transition.

That being said, I don’t think we would be doing as well as we are (don’t worry we have bad, ugly days) if we hadn’t been through Empowered to Connect (ETC) training. When my oldest is headed towards spiraling out of control at bedtime and I can look over and snap a picture of her “pushing down a wall” and see my youngest daughter copying her – that is a gratifying moment.

We went through our first ETC parent training when our oldest daughter was 18 months old, and now after 3 years of teaching and implementing the strategies we are seeing more regularly the fruits of our labor. She is initiating the use of the strategies – at least at bedtime.

So if you are new to Tapestry and/or ETC, let me tell you that the time spent learning the strategies and teaching the strategies is worth it; it does take hard work by both the parents and the children but especially the parents. And if you have been using the strategies for awhile, I hope that you too are having gratifying moments, maybe they’re rare or maybe they’re everyday, either way, let them be the encouragement you need to face another day.

If you have any examples of gratifying moments with your children, I would love for you to share your stories in the comments.



Don’t Tell Anyone

This originally appeared on tapestryministry.org February 26, 2013.

At the beginning of the month, my oldest daughter asked me to tell her the story of her adoption. When I got to the end, she said:

“Don’t tell anyone my adoption name. You can call me that at home but I don’t want anyone to know that name.”

I could try to infer why she’s focusing on her name, but all I need to do is honor her words. She would like her “adoption name” to be kept private. Her need to keep things private is not new to us; she is often telling us stories and then exhorting us to not tell anyone.

My daughter’s comment is a good reminder for me to honor her need for privacy  — even if she is only four. Tapestry posted three articles about privacy and over-sharing recently, so I guess the subject has been on my mind. If you didn’t get a chance to read them, I recommend you take some time and dig in: Before You Share, Make Sure It’s Yours to ShareProtecting What is SacredOh No, I’ve Said Too Much.

If you have already read the articles, I hope you are taking notes on the parts of your child’s story that need to be kept private, whether your child verbalizes that or not.  If you’ve made mistakes in this area, or if you’re just struggling to make sense of what to share, don’t worry — you’re not alone! Most of us are parents to children with circumstances and stories that are different from our own, so guarding their stories is a skill we have to develop intentionally as we go.

Thankfully, my daughter was very specific about one detail she wanted kept private, so I got one right this time.

Describe vs Define

This post orginally appeared on tapestryministry.org.

I still think about things Carissa Woodwyk said during the Tapestry Women’s Event in January. She brought up the difference between describing and defining. Carissa encouraged us to be careful in how we describe our children because those words can come to define them. She said, “When you keep hearing the same things over and over, whether good or bad, you come to believe it.”

As I thought about that, I thought about Carissa first and then my daughter. Carissa came to the event as an adopted person, but that’s not all she is. She and I talked about decorating and children’s clothes and the age-old “pop” vs. “Coke” debate. But Carissa is more than her interests. I don’t know all that she is. I do know that being an adopted person is a significant piece—but only a piece—of her story.

Then I thought about my daughter and how I would describe her to someone. My daughter is beautiful, and her face lights up when she smiles. She is a girlie girl, meaning she loves dresses, skirts, dreaming about weddings, princesses, princes, and fairies. She loves pink and purple and everything that sparkles. She loves sprinkles on her pancakes and sour candy (not chocolate) and drawing and dancing and gymnastics. She is who she is, and we love who she is. But even all her interests and passions are not all that’s to her. There’s more.

There will always be more. Most of what we see on the outside is just a way to describe each other, while what defines us takes more time to see.

My oldest daughter is an adopted person, but that doesn’t need to be part of her introduction like she’s at an Adopted Person’s Anonymous meeting, or even like it’s part of her name. Being an adopted person is a piece of her story, but so is being a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a granddaughter and a friend. Our oldest daughter became a part of our family through adoption, and we will treasure that and honor that part of her story. But her story is still going and we hope to guide her to believe and define herself as loved, cherished, appreciated … and I could go on.

Carissa helped me see that I need to be more mindful of the words I’m saying and how I’m saying them. I mean, maybe I’m creating the popstar diva that I live with (hopefully not), but maybe I can learn to describe my diva as a creative, enthusiastic lover of dance and music. I can describe her as a kind and thoughtful big sister.

As you go about your week, listen to what you are saying about your children and to your children. Would you be comfortable with your children turning your descriptions into definitions? The truth is we can all grow in this area as we learn to see our children for who they were made to be, and in turn, teach them to see themselves that way too.


This post originally appeared on tapestryministry.org

I took some notes while listening to Amy Monroe interview Carissa Woodwyk at the Tapestry Women’s Event a couple weeks ago, and I keep coming back to two quotes from Carissa.

As Carissa reflected on her childhood she said, “I promised that no one and nothing is going to make me feel afraid again because if I feel afraid that might come true.”

Later she said, “I wish my parents had modeled how to deal with anger, disappointment, forgiveness and mercy.”

Her words both made me feel compassion for my daughter and convicted about the role I play in how she learns to process her emotions.

I felt compassion for the child who is scared to go to bed, scared of the monsters, scared to be alone. I could see how though I saw no logical, tangible reason for being scared, my child could not want to “feel afraid again because if [she] feels afraid that might come true.” So what do you? Keep convincing her that she’s safe and telling her not to be scared – doesn’t work. We have to support her and model how to deal with feeling afraid.

One day she told me something puzzling. After much prompting she finally said, “I had a nightmare and a big blue hairy monster told me that you don’t love me anymore.” First, a big blue hairy monster is scary, second, someone telling you that your parents don’t love you anymore is scary, too. It doesn’t make sense to me; it was a dream; it wasn’t real. But it’s what she’s feeling and she needs my help and she told me. I want her to keep telling me, talking to me.

And then Carissa’s second quote, her desire for her parents to have modeled how to handle feelings, leads to some self-reflection. Anger, disappointment, forgiveness, mercy -those are tough things to model. (I do know that my girls tolerance of each other depends on me figuring out how best to teach and model mercy.) While I work on recognizing my own feelings, so I can teach my children how to recognize and process their own, I have found some books by Cornelia Maude Spelman that we are already using in our home:

When I Feel Scared

When I Feel Jealous

When I Feel Angry

When I Feel Sad

When I Miss You

When I Care About Others

When I Feel Good About Myself

I found some of these titles at my local library, and by the time we made it home from the library, we already had the perfect opportunity to read When I Feel Jealous. It will always blow my mind that when a little bear talks to the momma bear about her feelings that makes more sense than when I try to get my own daughter to talk about her feelings. But progress is progress, I will take it as we continue to navigate all our feelings.