kariskhaos


I Felt Nothing

Every child is unique and different, and every rite of passage a unique experience for the parent and the child. This past weekend Scott and I dropped our second child off at college. John is now a freshman at Seattle University. It was not a tearful goodbye, there were no long hugs, or emotional anything really. He said his signature “See ya” and we left knowing we won’t see him again till November.

I felt nothing, which if you know me, is very unusual. I did not feel sad, I did not feel pulled, or torn for his youth, or wonder if he would be all-right. I left, and in a small part of my heart I felt relief. Mothers are not really supposed to feel this way, your child, whom you have raised in most cases since birth, and in my case since John was five, are supposed to feel torn, sad, like a part of them has moved on and though excited for them, there is this sense of loss- at least that is how I felt when I dropped off Isaac last year. With John it was a non emotional relief.

disc2 340The thirteen plus years that have led to this parting have been an emotional roller coaster to say the least. The joy of expanding our family by adoption, the thrill of meeting John and Christian for the first time that April day in the slums of Liberia. The elation of coming off the plane to be greeted by 50 of our family and friends welcoming this new beginning for them and for us. The adjustment for all six of us as we settled in Bend. The devastation of finding out John had glaucoma, the hundreds of dr. appointments, surgeries, research, and grief as we realized the world we had dreamed of giving our son would be altered drastically.

John’s amazing determination, stubbornness, never quit, never compromise, never let them know you are different attitude was admirable, and in many ways a true miracle. He was legally blind, he rode a bike, played basketball, football, and learned in both braille and print. He is an intelligent, sarcastic, quiet, young man. To many he is a poster child for facing adversity. At home, with Scott and me it has been a different story.

They say the safest people will be treated the worst and that has been truer than true in our family. As Scott and I tried our best to raise these four beautiful children,(none of them, or us being perfect) was not easy. John’s betrayal of being given away by his birth mother, his frustration and denial at his lack of vision, his post traumatic stress, his attachment disorder created a very angry, sullen, volatile child. The best way I can describe it was living with a volcano, never quite knowing when and where it would erupt, but knowing it would.

Counselors, friends, pastors, family supported us and comforted me each time. The heartbreak of knowing you could not change the situation, I could not give John my eyes, and I could not break through his wall guarding his heart from further pain, was at times debilitating. The tears I have cried for him, and because of him would fill a small lake. Bitter tears, angry tears, helpless tears, tears of joy, elation and pride for his many accomplishments despite the odds.

Finally this Spring, tears of release, tears of grief for a relationship that will never be what I had dreamed, and tears of resignation. I came to the point where I had to let go and move on. John has never said “I love you,” never calls me mom, speaks mostly when spoken to and tries to live his life in our home like a guest. I let go of my search to find the answers by reading the right book, finding the right language to love him, the right advice to reach him, a new way to approach his heart. I let go of the need for my self esteem and value as a person and a mother to be defined by his actions, and indifference. I came to the freeing conclusion that I have done everything I could possibly do. John has been raised in a loving home, had opportunities many kids dream of, was graduating from high school with honors and his life long dream of being independent from Scott and me has come true.

It has been a very long road. John is a terrific young man with a bright future. John is now a freshman at Seattle University. It was not a tearful goodbye, there were no long hugs, or emotional anything really. He said his signature “See ya” and we left knowing we won’t see him again till November. I left, and in a small part of my heart, I felt relief, and it was ok.

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A Twelve Year Winter

A Twelve Year WinterImage

The Rose

 

Some say love, it is a river

That drowns the tender reed

Some say love, it is a razor

That leaves your soul to bleed

Some say love, it is a hunger

An endless, aching need

I say love, it is a flower

And you it’s only seed

It’s the heart afraid of breaking

That never learns to dance

Its the dream afraid of waking

That never takes the chance

It’s the one who won’t be taken,

Who cannot seem to give

And the soul afraid of dying

That never learns to live

And the night has been too lonely

And the road has been too long

And you think that love is only

For the lucky and the strong

Just remember in the winter

Far beneath the bitter snow

Lies the seed that with the sun’s love,

In the spring, becomes a rose.

 

Writer(s): Amanda Mcbroom

Copyright: Third Story Music Inc., Warner-tamerlane Publishing Corp.

 

I have always loved the song “The Rose” with its sad melody and haunting lyrics.  I sang it for a talent show when I was much younger, I found solace in it after a tough breakup, but until we adopted our son John I do not think I really had a grasp on the truth these simple words brought. 

 

When we adopted John and Christian in 2001 adding them to our family of four, my idealism was at an all time high.  We had struggles leading up to the adoption as anyone who has been through the process can attest to, but the day we saw our two sons for the first time is etched in the memory of my soul.  The dreams and desires of my heart for these two children was palpable.  The joy of knowing we were making a tangible difference in two lives as well as enriching our own families global perspective was intoxicating. 

 

Reality hit hard within weeks of their arrival to the USA.  John was diagnosed with Glaucoma, and every year seemed to get harder with him.  His anger at the world was focused directly on Scott and me.  His times of happiness were rare and short lived.  A river of tears, angry shouting matches with God, Scott, John, questioning my ability to parent, heart break for my son who has so much potential, so much to offer, so much life to live.  Sleepless nights praying for a miracle, praying for sanity, praying to get through the next hour.

 

Glimpses of hope, a wonderful Summer, an emotional break through, the volcano dormant for a bit.  Perfect in school and public, stubborn and fiercely independent, beautiful man-child with a world to conquer.  This roller coaster of hope, anger, heart break, frustration, helplessness, counseling, flashes of potential, and resentment, riding strapped in with a love that has not wavered but at times has remained only by the seatbelt of faith, friends, family and red wine.

 

Its been twelve plus years since the wonderful day we chose to grow our family.  John turned eighteen this past weekend.  He had a party with friends, his laughter and deep voice still sing in my heart.  He played his African drum that we brought home on the plane with him so many years ago.  The twelve year winter is over, the hopes and dreams lying dormant are budding into an award winning rose.  

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Saturday Story Time: What’s For Dinner?

Saturday Story Time: What’s For Dinner?

“Mom, you know how people make fun of me because I eat so much?” Christian asked me. Well, I guess we do make fun of you a bit, you can eat a lot. “I know, I know, but you know how I always want to finish what other people do not eat? It’s because I hate to see waste, my friends may tease me, but they have never been starving. I remember not having food, I remember wondering when I was going to get to eat again, that’s why Mom, they don’t get it” I smile at my son and say you are right Christian, they do not get it, how could they?

In 2001 when we adopted Christian and John they were so skinny I thought they would break if squeezed too hard. Christian was just four, but he knew what hunger was, and he did not like the feeling. For the first five, maybe six years they had been with us Christian would wake up every morning and ask what was for dinner. He needed to know that there would be dinner. He needed to know he was going to get another meal. Even now he will ask me what is for dinner sometime during the day. It is a pleasure to be able to tell him food. You will always have enough food.

Christian loves hamburgers, I know he did not have any red meat before coming to be a part of our family, and chicken was a rarity in his diet. He has become quite the “foodie” willing to try different things, learning how to cook and coming up with interesting and inventive ways to make his favorite things. He has his own George Foreman Grill, a Quesadilla maker, a couple of cook books and real flare for spices. When he was in fourth grade he decided that after his NFL or NBA career he would open a restaurant. It would be called “OVER TIME” and would have burgers representing each of the franchise teams.

Now, he gets a bit embarrassed about his cooking dreams. Still, his love for burgers out weighs anything else. When his friends get dessert, he gets a hamburger. If we go out to breakfast at a diner, he always wants to know if he can get a burger instead of breakfast. Sweets he can live with out, but burgers, now that would just be cruel. For Christmas and birthdays he often asks for meat. Just some bacon or hamburger meat please.

Christian has always had a heart for the homeless and since he was just a kindergartener he has asked an incessant amount of questions about the people on the street, or what happened to that person, why are they begging for food. I am sure it is a constant reminder for him of the grace he is now living under. As a fifteen year old he is able to understand and have compassion for the hungry more than most kids in America. Christian gets it, because he remembers his own hunger very clearly. He does not remember very much about Africa, and that makes me sad. I can not give him memories of his birth mother and father. I can not tell him how tall he will be or if he looks more like his birth mother or his birth father. Thank God, I can tell him whats for dinner.



A Brothers Love

“Are John and Christian really close?” This is a common question as people think that because they are blood brothers they should somehow be closer than they would be to Isaac or Jessica. I am not really sure where this thinking comes from but, my answer is no. John and Christian have a typical brother relationship where they all get along fairly well, fight when upset and pick on each other non stop. It is Isaac and John who have a special relationship.

From the beginning Isaac and John bonded. I could not tell you what it was, they are so very different from each other. John is quiet and a perfectionist. Isaac is outgoing and the only thing he wants perfect is his sandwich. John has struggled with interpersonal relationships. John has rebelled against the life fate has thrown him. Isaac has pretty much been spoiled in every way possible. He has never known hunger or hardship. Yet, Isaac has accepted both his brothers with unconditional love and a fierce loyalty that surprised even me.

When John would be having problems at home and would not talk to anyone, he talked to Isaac. When John was mad at the world because of his eyes and not able to connect emotionally with anyone, Isaac would be there. After a particularly heated argument which included him reacting violently to Scott and lots of language being thrown about he broke down, crawled up on his bunk bed and cried. Isaac just climbed up and laid next to him, saying nothing, but saying everything by being there.

Isaac does not coddle John, he teases him relentlessly like the rest of the family. He calls him out on his crappy attitude and they do piss each other off. Isaac has only said once he wished we had not adopted the boys and that was when he wanted his own room and figured he would probably have had it if we had not adopted John and Christian. He got over it pretty quick and moved on to more important things like begging for a PS3.

John has Reactive Attachment Disorder. John is legally blind. John has Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. John is brilliant. John is incredible strong physically, and mentally. John has never told me he loves me. He has told Isaac, and that has been a very dim light that keeps me thinking we will get through the tunnel. Isaac tells me he loves me all the time, offers hugs and love freely. Isaac loves me, and through his love for John, he has given me hope for John’s future attachment.

I will end with a poem Isaac wrote this year about his brother. I know for John there is no better gift than being accepted, and understood. That’s family. That’s a brothers love. That bond is not about who shares whose blood, but about what God created our family to be.

Boulder

He waits
Strong and bulky
At the top of the
Hill he will stay

He blends in to
His surroundings
But as you get closer
His features stand out

He is darker than
Most of the world
Around him and
You will often find
Him by himself

But that is how
He prefers to be
Independent to the end



Sunday Blessing: Adoption Day, Eleven Years

Sunday Blessing: Adoption Day, Eleven Years

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“Mom are you going to make a big deal out of it?” Christian asked me last night. You mean am I going to look at pictures, tell stories, have a family dinner of your favorite things, post it on Facebook, and tell you how blessed we are to have become a family of six rather than four? Yes, it is what I do. “I know mom, but does it have to be such a big deal?” Yes, Christian it has to be such a big deal because it was a one of the very best days in my life and It will be celebrated until the day I die. Got it? Christian rolls his eyes, shrugs in defeat and then gives me a small smile, “okay mom, I get it.”

Eleven years ago today, my husband and I doubled our family. We arrived in Liberia, Africa, and came straight to meet our boys. They were hiding behind a small wall when we arrived. There are no words to describe the love that was so immediate, and so strong. It was just like holding Isaac or Jessica directly after birth, totally unconditional love. It was not a choice, or a wait and see, it just was. Christian was four and John five. Now they were forever Johnson’s.

Every year on this date we do something as a family to acknowledge this life changing event. It has been having a party, going bowling, a special meal, and just like birthdays I get out the photo album, and we tell stories about our first encounters as a family. We laugh and try to talk Liberian. We give John and Christian gifts of some kind and we celebrate what a great gift from God it is that we are a family of six instead of a family of four.

Not flesh of my flesh
Nor bone of my bone,
But still miraculously my own.
Never forget for a single minute,
You didn’t grow under my heart,
But in it.

The years have gone by quickly, and every year brings new adventures, some good some bad and always a ton of humor. Today is indeed a blessing for all who have had the joy and honor of knowing John and Christian. God Blessed us on that day and continues to carry us when we would surely have fallen off the edge by now. Thank you God for adoption, your adoption of me and the chance to adopt these incredible boys.



Saturday Story Time: A Country of Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

Saturday Story Time: A Country of Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

My life was forever changed eleven years ago when my husband and I went to Liberia, Africa to adopt two boys. We arrived in Monrovia at the end of the civil war that had been raging for ten years. Under Charles Taylor, this beautiful country had been destroyed, children drugged and told to kill their families, women raped and left to die. No one was safe unless you were part of his select regime. The war had left thousands of orphans, malaria rampant, and poverty greater than I had ever seen before.

We were told not to go. It was not a safe place. They could not guarantee our safety and it was not worth the risk. We got off the airplane and were met by soldiers with AK-47 semi automatic machine guns. It had been a long series of days and hours that had led up to this point. I was mentally and physically exhausted already. I looked at Scott and he grabbed my hand, we were where we were supposed to be.

Tomorrow’s blog is about our blessing of Adoption day. This story, is about the people of LIberia, and their incredible resilience. People who travel to third world countries often talk about their surprise, in the joy that fills the children who are in such desperate states. They literally have nothing, and do not know if they will have food or water the next day, and yet they laugh. They have joy, they sing, and dance. As a country they have seen more death, cruelty, and unspeakable crimes done against their own, by their own, than most Americans could imagine in their worst nightmares. Yet, they find ways to celebrate. The Liberian people found ways while survival was questionable, to choose joy.

When we had been there for about three days, and had just come back from visiting the boy’s mother in her “home” I completely lost it. I could not reconcile myself to the fact that I had been given so much, and could do so little for the immensity of this country in crisis. I could give every last penny I had and it would be a drop in the ocean of need. I was sitting out on a camp stool next to the woman who was doing our cooking and cleaning while we were at the orphanage complex.

Her name was Ma Mary, she was a small robust woman with a strong hand and loving ways. I was sobbing uncontrollably. The injustice of the world and the goodness of God had come to a visual reality in front of my eyes and my heart was torn to shreds. This is not a world that makes sense, this is not the way it is supposed to be. Ma Mary held me in her large bosom and stroked my hair. “You gosta stop crying miss Kari, you gosta, everyone in Liberia have a sad story, if we all cried for the pain we suffered, the ocean would take over the world. You gosta stop.” I tried to stop the flood and the hyperventilating. She went on all the while rocking me and holding me in her arms. “The world is an unfair, hard place, and no body cares about Africa. Your heart breaking is good, but you gosta stop crying and choose joy. Help us all to choose joy.”

As I write this eleven years later, I still cry. I am reminded of my wealth, and my incredible random gift of being born in the United States. I am reminded of a country of war ravaged people who found a way to choose joy. I can hear the laughter of the children on a dirt field. I can hear them singing and praising God in the chapel. I can see Ma Mary’s face and I know this is a country of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I will dry my tears, stand with my brothers and sisters of Liberia and choose joy.



Was My biological Dad Tall?

I knew the questions would come. When you adopt the questions are always there, just waiting for the right time to be asked. For our boys who were adopted at the ages of four and five from Liberia, Africa the questions have come sooner and more often. They vary in intensity, and importance, and they often correlate with something that is happening in their lives at the time. We have always been very open about the adoption, when you have caucasian parents and two caucasian siblings it is not something you can avoid.

Everywhere you go you tend to stick out, and so not only do you have questions about your history, but everyone else wants to know too. Christian has a very shy personality with a strong desire to blend. This is next to impossible in the very white town we live in. Christian would like to fly under the radar but his athletic talents make this a pipe dream as well. Christian’s biggest desire right now is to grow taller. If he could change one thing about himself it would be his height. Christian is fifteen and five seven, maybe five eight if he had an afro.

“How tall was my birth mom?” he implores over and over wanting my answer to change. Christian, she was not very tall, but you know your whole family was so malnutritioned and they never had a chance to reach their genetic potential. “Well what about my biological dad?” Oh honey, I have no idea. He was already dead when we were in Liberia to get you, and this was not a question I thought to ask about. I am sorry, I just don’t know. “It’s not fair, do you think I will still grow? Do you think I am done?” he desperately asks.

I want to wrap him in my arms and hold him tightly until the pain of this growing up thing ends. I want to tell him I think he is going to have another growth spurt, I want to tell him we can put him on a stretching rack or give him a magic pill. I want to tell him it will be okay. He knows all the right answers, ‘you need to work with what you have been given’ ‘If you focus on what you do not have you will never fully become what you can be’ ‘There are professional football and basketball players that are small’ ‘You just have to work harder and be better in other ways’ ‘God made you this way, and I think you are pretty great’. These things he has been told for years. These are not the answers he wants.

I knew the questions would come. Life as an adopted child is not easy and the teenage years are especially hard. Still, I find it ironic, comforting, sad, and even a bit humorous that the question that lays on his heart, is not one that is unique to be adopted. It is not about being black in a white family, why his mom gave him up, who he is as a black man in this white world. Those will come, I know. Today though, he wants to know why he is not taller, if he will get taller, if by some miracle he will still grow. It is a typical adolescent issue with a typical mom answer, “ I don’t know, but I love you!” Christian rolls his eyes, avoids my hug and hustles outside to practice his shot.

post script: This picture was taken last night after he was the only freshman to get a varsity letter in Basketball