Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
Practicing Gratitude Amidst a Hard Fall
By Carrie Goldman
It is the second week of November. I glance outside. In the backyard, my children and their neighborhood friends are crunching across the frozen snow, leaving no smooth patch of ground untouched.
My husband is milling about the kitchen, stirring sugar into a homemade pot of hot cocoa. He has left a trail of powdery cocoa along the counter, and fat drops of dribbled whipping cream dot the surface of the stove. I slide my finger through the gritty bits of chocolate and taste the sweetness.
The thermometer read nine degrees this morning when the puppy scratched at the door to go out for a walk. Gusts of wind cut across my cheeks and ripped at a crack in my lip while the puppy’s paws churned through the snow. Breathe in, breathe out. I am here in this moment. The cold felt good, grounding. It is only November. It is fall. Some falls are harder than others – treacherous, even.
When the children are falling, a parent’s job is to be the soft landing.
It’s a curious thing to be a writer. When my children were infants and toddlers, it was an easy outlet to write about the hard days and gather support from my tribe. Most of our family’s struggles were not unique. I could share the nightmare of a diaper explosion on a crowded plane or the embarrassment of a toddler’s screeching meltdown in the cereal aisle of the grocery store.
You are not alone, readers would say. That happened to us, too, they would type.
It brought me comfort and relief to write about the sheer insanity of trying to keep my small humans alive and safe, like the time a child attempted a backward dive into the community swimming pool but failed to clear the ledge and needed a jagged row of stitches to hold torn flesh together, or the god-awful time that the baby developed a 106 fever in Jamaica, stopped breathing, and began seizing in my arms. I wrote about our evacuation and subsequent stay at Miami Children’s, and friends and strangers read my words and came to help, lending us a car and bringing us meals as the baby recovered.
In the early years, my writings chronicled the ludicrous and the hilarious. The four-year-old child who carved a perfect pig snout into the dining room table where we eat our Shabbat dinners. The six-year-old child who poured out a brand-new bottle of my most expensive hair product onto the bathroom floor to create a slick surface for sliding around naked.
The two-year-old child who decided to carry the clean, folded laundry into the bathroom to rewash it in the toilet. The three-year-old child who performed a handstand/backflip into the tub. The grinning children proudly displaying their hard-won colorful collection of casts. The child who took my entire supply of organic food dye to splatter rainbow-colored droplets in the snow, creating what my friend Melissa said looked like “a unicorn crime scene.”
Our family’s stories of mishaps and chaos began to change and evolve as the kids grew older. Truth: when the children grow up, they gain agency. They have their own stories to tell in their own words. It is their right to be their own narrators.
As our oldest child moved into fourth and fifth grades, I realized that what might seem like a funny story to me could feel like a complete crisis to her, and what might feel like a poignant anecdote to me could feel too vulnerable to her. Making the wrong call about what to write wasn’t a risk I was willing to take, so I closed my laptop to regular blog posts and safeguarded the pages of my handwritten journals.
In the absence of blogging, I’ve found less personal ways to write and transfer hard-won knowledge about subjects such as adoptive parenting, anxiety and mental health, ADHD, food allergies and sensory issues, bullying prevention and restorative practices.
I’ve been grateful for opportunities to publish through professional and clinical spaces, such as authoring research-based articles and creating school curricula for the Pop Culture Hero Coalition, and my passion project has been partnering with children’s book author and superhero social worker Juliet Bond to create the Jazzy’s Quest fictional book series for adoptees.
But, to be honest, I miss the joy of casual blogging, the camaraderie of laughing and crying with readers over the impossible task of raising our kiddos. As Ann Womack has said, “Friendship doubles our joys and divides our cares.” Through the keyboard, I have made true and enduring friends who champion my children and nourish my soul. Without a doubt, my online network of adoptees and adoptive parents and birthparents and Star Wars fans has been a lifeline more than once.
And then there is the sheer happiness that comes from writing with abandon, the feeling of getting lost in a whir of words, hours slipping by as light and shadows move quietly across a room, the satisfying taps and clicks of fingers flying across a keyboard comprising a gently soothing soundtrack.
Spewing out words is a relief, an antidote to all that ails the soul. When my insides feel like shaken-up soda trapped in a can, I let a little of the fizz off the top by typing out my feelings. I’m trying to teach my kids to find healthy ways to let off their inner fizz, too, so that they don’t erupt in giant messy explosions. Whether adoptees or biological kids, these are the most important life skills needed for survival in today’s world.
Feelings bombs have been known to go off in our house when we fail to crack the top of the bottle to let the built-up pressure out. Rage drips from the walls and sorrow seeps across the hardwood floors. Despair boils over in the kitchen and leaks into the bathroom. Shame, that most toxic of emotions, can fog the glass of our mirrors and trick us into seeing murky reflections of our true selves. Everything dark and rotting is vomited up, the bitter acid of anxiety eating away at the polished veneer of our glossy surfaces.
Words make it better, every single time. Words mop up the tears and bring mirth and laughter back into the house. Words allow grace and beauty to burst forth in the dining room and overflow into the office. Words usher in waves of joy that cradle the children in comfort while they cuddle on the couch.
And the courage! The courage of a child leaving the sanctity of our home and entering a crowded room, alone and uninvited, and claiming a space at the table of equality. The miracle of witnessing a child fall down and find the strength and bravery to get back up, time and time and time again. I am your parent, your soft landing. I will cushion you. I will bathe you in soothing words and lend you my calm. I will cocoon you in my arms and fight for you when you are too weary to fight for yourself.
“Use your distress tolerance skills.” “Take a deep breath.” “Practice mindfulness.” “Try radical acceptance.” “Engage in cognitive reframing.” “Let’s do something to distract from your discomfort.” These are the phrases that flow like running water in our family, alongside “I love you” and “I will always believe in you” and “Each day is a new beginning” and “How can I help support you?”
After the explosion, we go back to the business of self-expression, of opening our mouths to sing our own anthems, of drawing and writing and painting, of expelling bundles of words to ease the burdens of the heart and organize the muddle in the head.
It is November, and we are here. The nights are growing longer, darker. The flashes of sky-drenching sunlight are remarkable for their infrequency. I see the fractured rays of light playing amidst the dying leaves, and I am grateful for the lit-up moments.
What I choose to focus on during this National Adoption Awareness Month are the bright spots, the gratitude. Amidst the loneliness of fall, there is so much for which I am grateful, so many things that make me happy. In the latest hours of the night, and in the pre-dawn silence of the morning, I feel grateful.
Grateful for raising an adoptee in a day and age where the Internet means that adoptee voices are increasingly heard and validated. For those of you who have traveled before us and are taking on the hard work of sharing your experiences to educate others and to shift the conversations about what adoption means. For your endless efforts to advocate for social change and adoptee rights and ethical adoption practices.
Grateful for the puppy, the little fluffernutter. For his helicopter happy tail and impossibly soft, thick fur. For the high-pitched sounds he makes when we rub his freckled tummy and the unconditional love he gives to everyone in the family. For greeting me with astonished delight every time I enter into the house, somehow marveling that I came back again, when all hope had been lost of me ever returning from the abyss of where I go when I leave him.
Grateful for the privileges that allow our family to have steady work and the ability to pay our bills. For the space to focus on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness because we’re not trying to choose between the rent and the heat.
We know that so many others don’t have the benefit of these privileges, and we are doing what we can to make a more equitable and sustainable society for your children and ours – ideally leading to a world where there are fewer children placed for adoption, because more supports will be available for vulnerable populations. We sit with this goal as well as the truth that our beloved family wouldn’t exist without adoption. A conflicting reality, a conundrum.
Grateful for fall leaves in brilliant hues peeking out under the too-early snow. For shiny red apples and opaque orange pumpkins and obscenely-shaped warty gourds that make us giggle like middle schoolers.
Grateful for discovering a Stan’s Donuts shop tucked two blocks away from Lurie Children’s, a warm haven filled with the heady scents of sugar and cinnamon, freshly roasted coffee and soft, gluten-free blueberry frosted donuts.
Grateful for the repairs recently made in our basement after sustaining extensive water damage, for the kids to have their favorite hangout space restored.
Grateful for open adoption and the loving reunion we had with my daughter’s birth family over the summer. For my teenager’s poise and grace upon meeting her biological grandparents for the first time in her life. For the moment when her grandmother took my hand as we were leaving and whispered in my ear, “You did a good job, Mama.”
Grateful for babies. Bring me all the babies. Scrawny, chicken-legged newborns and fat crawling nine-month-olds. Babies with a wild fluff of hair and bald-headed babies. Grateful for their gummy smiles and their milk-drunk expressions. I want to hold babies all the time, especially my newest nephew.
Grateful for EpiPens and steroids, for allergy shots and medicines, for caring doctors and nurses, for access to health insurance and doctors and coordinated medical care including mental health care.
Grateful for the friends who show up again and again. For the cards that appear in the mail and the groceries that are dropped off at the front door. For the meals and flowers, desserts and treats. For the walks and the texts and the hugs. For watching my youngest when I have a childcare crunch. My dearest friends, my affection and loyalty are yours. You are sustaining us.
Grateful for weighted blankets, fuzzy pajamas, and treasured hardcover books with taped-together spines and yellowed, dog-eared pages. Re-reading an old book is a comfort akin to slipping on a pair of worn, soft leather shoes.
Grateful for my synagogue, JRC, and the growing community our family is finding there. For new friends and allies, for acceptance and love, for living in Evanston, where my nonconforming kids are more welcomed and valued than they might be somewhere else.
Grateful for my sisters. How did I have the exquisite good fortune to be born into our tribe of four? My hearts, my loves. You are the net beneath the tightrope that I walk each day. Thank you for catching me.
Grateful for my parents, who know that you are never too old to want to call home and hear your mom and dad’s voices, especially on a hard day. For my husband’s parents, who brighten and calm our Shabbat table with their love and presence. For the immeasurable love that all four grandparents give to my children, every single day.
Grateful above all for my children and my extraordinary husband Andrew, for your collective passions and your humor, for your brilliance and your edginess. We can laugh together, and our laughter is the healing in every hurt. You are there in all the beautiful and miraculous moments. I hear you in the sounds of the winter snow melting into the dew that nourishes the spring grass. I am witnessing your infinitesimal and painful transition from bud to blossom. We will get you there.
Grateful for the guest writers who so bravely share their stories year after year in my series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days. Next year will be the tenth and final year of the series, a ten-year retrospective. Three hundred stories will have been written and shared, all in the goal of opening and broadening the discussions around adoption.
It is the second week of November, and we are here. Breathe in, breathe out. I am here in this moment.
The cocoa is ready; my husband is carefully pouring it into cups. My children, the puppy, and their friends come clomping into the house, ushering in a mound of snow and wet boots and sodden gloves. The puppy spins in circles, spraying bits of ice and dirt in every direction. Excited voices and the good kind of chaos replace the quiet.
For this moment, I am grateful.
Carrie Goldman is the author of this piece as well as the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter