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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“See Ya”

He hugs me with his large hard arms and chiseled body, “See Ya.” I hold on just a second more, smile and watch him walk away.  I go back to my car that is still running, with Gus my dog now sitting in the front where John was. My stomach has nervous butterflies as  I slide into the driver’s seat.  I take a deep breath and say a quick prayer of safety for him.  I pull out of the departures drop off and weave my way back into the traffic flow.

My head is full of contrasting thoughts warring within my mind.  What kind of mother are you to leave him at the door of the airport? He is legally blind, what if he misses his flight? What if he gets lost?  Are you really letting him travel across the country without even a cell phone? He has always wanted to be independent.  He is very capable and if he cant do this how will he go to college in a year?  It’s John, he is proud and strong and will ask if he needs help. He has all he needs and he will text me, no worries, no worries.  What the hell was I thinking? What if he gets kidnapped, or off at the wrong place or … be serious Kari he is a sixteen year old, black male, who looks like an ox and has forearms the size of your thigh and thighs the size of a small horse, let it go.

John is off to Baltimore to join about fifty other blind and legally blind students from across the country for a program sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). STEMX which is:

Science, technology, engineering, and math to the extreme!

The following is an excerpt from the web site:

“The “X” in the program’s title draws inspiration from the aerospace community, where historically programs and missions have utilized the letter as an abbreviation for exploration, and as a statement that the effort seeks new solutions and new discoveries that surpass previously assumed barriers to scientific advancement. In this same way, the NFB STEM-X program challenges the notion that blind people are unable to pursue STEM fields, or on a larger scale, are predestined to a life of social welfare and government dependence.

Students will choose from one of five focus disciplines (chemistry, computer science, engineering, robotics, and space science) in which to specialize during NFB STEM-X. Students will spend half of each of the four instructional days engaged in their focus discipline, learning alongside fellow high school students with blind and sighted STEM professionals as their guides. All five focus disciplines will work collaboratively throughout the program, capitalizing on each other’s specialization to innovate creative solutions to complex problems.

Outside of their work in their focus discipline, students will have the opportunity to participate in enrichment activities that will provide them with authentic learning experiences in a wider variety of STEM disciplines. Evenings will be filled with activities that will help students develop their leadership skills and build their confidence while having fun and socializing with blind teens from across the country.”

This is an incredible culmination of twelve years of blood, sweat and tears for our family.  John has not been the poster child for adoption.  He has had a very difficult life and our journey with him has been far from easy.  His anger issues, post traumatic stress,  attachment disorder, stubbornness, on top of his vision issues are well documented, but his intelligence, sense of humor, determination, fearless attitude have made it possible for us to come to this point.

In choosing to apply for this opportunity he needed to admit he was legally blind, be willing to be with other blind students and acknowledge his need for help to make it happen. In a series of small miracles over the last five months everything fell into place.  In a rare moment of candid conversation before he left I heard words I never thought I would.  John called me “mom” for the first time in years and thanked me for all the work I had done to make this a possibility.

I drove over the mountains figuratively, and literally, with a renewed hope for our family and the world that is opening up to embrace our son John.



let me brag just a bit


I feel like it is a very interesting line to walk being a parent and a writer.  My kids have given me pretty much free rein to tell their stories from my point of view.  They have been gracious and tolerant and even helpful when I have asked for pictures or how they remember it.  I have shared some personal things about them and about our family.  When my husband, Scott, was preaching on a regular basis he would always ask their permission if he wanted to use a story about them in his sermons.  We have tried to keep the communication open and would never intentionally embarrass any of them with our renditions of our lives.

 

As teenagers this becomes even more tricky.  They love the attention they get.  It is fun to be written about, but because I am so honest in my portrayal of all of us, it is sometimes not easy to read, or hear about.  Sometimes, seeing it in black and white is a bit too clear to be comfortable with.  I have also not wanted this blog to become a brag fest about how great my kids are.  You know the Christmas letters you get every year, that give you the highlights of that family’s year, and the kids are amazing, the job is great, the household is beautiful and you want to throw up?

 

So tonight I am going against my own self imposed rules and bragging.  I am super proud of all of my kids.  The four of them have each made huge step towards maturity this year and in spite of their crazy mother may actually turn out okay.  In particular, I would like to shine the light on John and Jessica.  The two of them both pulled off a four point, or all A’s for the whole academic year.

 
John with his visual impairment, and perfectionist ways was often up till the wee hours of the morning getting a project or assignment done. It is hard to put into perspective just how difficult this is for him, but imagine the energy it takes you to get through a day at work or school. Now multiply that by ten, or even twenty times and you might get a glimpse of what it takes for him to navigate classrooms, hall ways, note taking, crowded spaces and social interactions.  Add to that he is a perfectionist and hates for any one to help him in any way. Then remember that he has kept a good attitude and actually been pleasant to be around.  It is truly a huge accomplishment.  Scott and I are in awe, and prouder than peacocks in heat.

 

Jessie as a freshman took chemistry, biology, advanced algebra 2, and the most rigorous History and English that sophomores are allowed to take.  She took Spanish 1 and added a leadership class when she was asked to be on Student Council.  Jessie then had to take a health class on-line because she had no other time in her day.  Now this alone would be pretty great for anyone to pull off but she also played three sports, was active in her youth group, and had an active social life as well.  Through it all she has maintained a great attitude, has been very helpful to both Scott and I, and rarely has any  girl, or boy, drama.

 

This week John finally spent the money he had been saving for two years of gift cards,  gift money, and other funds he had earned and bought himself a 32gb iPad.  Jessie who has been saving her earnings, and gift money got an iphone.  They both paid with their own money, and did not ask for us to contribute.   We honor their efforts in the classroom and as teenagers who are leaving a positive example for all to see.

 

 



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



A weighty experience

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I walked in the bedroom without knocking. Not good for a mom to do, Jessie was right behind me. John has just showered and was in his boxers with no shirt. I glanced at him but was intent on talking to Isaac. I stopped in my tracks. Jessie looks at John and says “holy s***, John!” “What?” he replies, “I have not even been working out” Jessie and I try to close our mouths but seriously his body is beautiful. It is sculpted and a deep ebony color and he is sheepishly smiling. Seriously? When and where did that happen? Isaac rolls his eyes and says “Ya, I know, and all he does it cover it up”

I knew he was strong but this just blew me away. For most of John’s time with us we had been looking for something John might excel at and his vision impairment would not matter. Rock climbing, wrestling, music, you name it we tried it. We knew that he did much better in school and life when he had some sort of physical outlet. Nothing seemed to fit. Then some one suggested weight lifting.

A little light went off in my head and I casually mentioned it to his weight lifting coach at a Friday night basketball game, in January. He said he did not know much, but he would look into it. On Saturday I received an email saying he had contacted a retired teacher who did “Power Lifting” and he was willing to take John on. I was not at all sure what that meant but I proposed it to John and he was interested.

From there I did nothing. Which is quite impressive for this mother. John met with Mr. Miller and the next thing I know John is working with him three days a week. I do not get much out of John except the normal grunts, but he keeps going. I ask questions but really have no idea what I am asking. I know he loves it, I know he is getting stronger and I gather bits and pieces from him.

Mr. Miller is a cool, funny guy. John is the only high school kid training, the rest are twenty-something young men. This kind of lifting is way different from what they do in the gym class. He really likes it and may even think about competing some day. For now he is just building strength. He tells me about the different lifts and uses terminology that is really a foreign language to me. I try to follow but…

On Monday he announced he would not be going to lifting that night because on Wednesday he was doing a “max out” session. John explained that this was a kind of test to see how far your body would allow you to push now that it had been training. Is this something I could come watch? To my immense surprise and joy he said yes. John has always been very against my involvement in any way, just leave me alone has been a nice way of putting his clear communication to me. I was thrilled that he said yes.

On Wednesday I went with him to the weight room. He introduced me to the four other young men, all who made comments about how strong John was and one even commented on the fact that John could lift more than him. “I wish I was as strong as he is, and he is just sixteen.” Coach Miller is a stout grey haired man with large hands and beaming smile. I was looking at some trophy’s when he came up and introduced himself to me. “That was a long time ago, and most of my trophy’s are at home, my wife tells me to get rid of them but I won’t, someone else will have to do that when I die” he says with a chuckle.

We then get down to business. Mr. Miller tells me about John and a note-book he keeps with all his stats for lifting. You can tell he is super proud of John and he makes sure I understand the different lifts. I still do not get it all but the numbers are pretty clear. When he started he could bench 175 pounds. At his max out yesterday he benched 280 pounds. Did I mention John is 5’2 and weighs 158. John then went onto box squat lifts where he lifted 215 pounds for 8 sets of three reps with thirty seconds in-between. He made it look really easy. Coach Miller said he could probably max out right now with one rep at 305 pounds!

Now this may not mean much to anyone else out side our family, but to our family this is a big deal. John found someplace he can be himself, he can excel without any help and without hindering anyone else’s progress. He is independent, successful and more important than anything else is willing to include us. I do not know where this will lead, but for now we are enjoying the chance to be a part of something that puts a smile on Johns face and lifts a weight off my heart. Pun intended.



Saturday Story Time: Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things “Beyond Winning”

Saturday Story Time: Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

“Beyond Winning”


Russ was just an ordinary dad. He worked a regular job, had a wife and two children. He volunteered as a basketball coach for the parks and recreation program in our town. Christian was a third grader, a year younger than his son Brian, but he played on his team. John was the same age as Brian, but because of his vision impairment had chosen not to play. John still went to the practices, hung out with the team and went to every game. Russ loved John. I do not know what it was, but they bonded in a way John has done with very few people.

It was hard for John not to play, his siblings were all on teams, we had a basketball court in our back yard. He could shoot the ball with the best of them but because of his field of vision he had difficulty catching the ball, finding the open player and keeping up with the speed of play. John was also very aware of his disability and was always wanting to fit in. He did not want to let a team down, or be given special treatment. We had tried other options, rock climbing, swimming, other individual sports but it never captured his heart like basketball.

The season went by and John was given an honorary team jersey. The next fall Russ and I ran into each other at a school event. He told me he wanted John to play on the team this year. It would now be a team of fifth graders, winning had become more important at this age, and kids can be so cruel. I said, Russ, his vision has not changed, he might get crushed out there, not just in the game but destroy him emotionally as well. This man I barely knew took me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes and said “Kari, I have thought about this all summer, I have made up plays just for him. I talked to Brian and he talked to the other kids and they want him to play.”

I was overwhelmed. I teared up and looked at Russ and said do you have any idea what a gift you are offering? Do you know what it means to Scott and me? Most coaches might grudgingly let him play out of obligation, but they sure as hell would not seek a visually impaired kid out to be on their team. You already have plays made up for him? Why? “I just really love Johnny (Russ is the only person who ever called him Johnny and the only one John never corrected or gave a dirty look to.) and I want him to play.

This may not seem like that big of a deal. To me and my family it was extraordinary. Someone outside of our family, outside of a teacher or a good friend had gone out of his way to make an unknown dream of a fifth grade boy come true. John has struggled with anger, attachment, post traumatic stress disorder, and many disappointments over things he has been denied because of being legally blind. Russ took John under his wing, and created an environment where he could succeed. As a coach he treated him no different from the other kids, and his expectations for the team were high. John got equal playing time, and had a cheering section larger than most.

The other boys on the team were amazing. They were willing to learn how to help John play. They learned they could not throw the ball to him without bouncing it. They learned to call his name. They learned that team work was more than winning a game. They embraced John, and every one of those young boys went out of their way to make sure John got to try to make a basket. It did not happen until the final game of the season, a foul at the end of the game put John on the line. I really do not think there was a dry eye in the whole place when he sunk that shot.

Russ and John are still very close. Russ denies his extraordinary role, saying anyone would have done the same. He is wrong. Yes, Russ is just an ordinary man, but he chose to embrace a challenge, and fight for a dream that was not his, nor his own child’s. He took extraordinary measures to make it possible for a legally blind boy to play basketball with a regular team. My family is forever grateful he did.

Next week: Ordinary people doing Extraordinary things “An Advocate for the voiceless”