Family Matters

Recently, we had S — N’s sister — stay with us for the weekend.

We’re trying to get them to spend as much time together as possible before we leave on a jet plane to the foreign country known as Tex-As. 

We don’t know exactly why, but S was placed in a home first when they were taken by CPS. And that home could only take in one child. So, N spent 3 weeks in a group home until they found us. When we finalize the adoption, we’ll get the full story and history. Just this part still gets me a bit emotional when I think about it. I do not think I’m prepared for the whole story…

We received N fully expecting he’d be with us for about 18 months. But that wasn’t the case. Less than a year in their placements, the County was looking for a permanent home for the siblings.
Their first priority (obviously) was finding a home for them to be placed in together.
But they had difficulty finding a family who was willing to take them both in.

N is on the autism spectrum.
S is not on the spectrum, but is (has?) special needs.
And, honestly, it’s a difficult task to take in two kids with special needs.

When we were discerning the adoption of N, we discussed the possibility of adopting S as well. But we both agreed that we might be taking on too much; biting more than we can chew. It’s awful to talk about children that way. But we had to be realistic and eliminate any savior complex that may rise up in us, er… in me.

This was the second visit with S since N was officially on the adoption track and his biological parents’ parental rights were terminated.
And throughout the weekend, every moment of silence I had to myself to hear my thoughts — and those moments were far and few in between because if it wasn’t S’s incessant and endless series of questions, it was N’s never ending amount of energy — I wondered if we’re doing the right thing. I caught myself asking, “What am I doing to this family?” Or, more accurately, what are we doing to these kids?

Look, I don’t feel bad in regards to the parents. The parents had all the time and chances to get things in order for their kids to be returned to them.

But S and N… they’ve done nothing. All of this was thrusted upon them. They’re the innocent victims. And now, they’re going to be separated by however many miles is between the Golden State and the Lone Star State.

This past Sunday, I was really short with her on Sunday morning. Really short. I still feel a pang of guilt of how I reacted to her.
But, for whatever reason, that’s seemingly the norm with my relationship with S.
Outside of jr highers, I never been so short with kids on a consistent basis.

I was setting up for everything worship related that Sunday when M, a church member with cerebral palsy bound to a wheel chair, came at his expected time. I had forgotten that she had a fear of wheelchairs. At the same time, I didn’t know it was that bad. She was afraid of the wheelchair and not the person in it, but she kept referring to the chair as it. “I’m scared of it.” “I don’t want it to come near me.” “It’s coming this way.”
M loves taking out the trash and there was a trash bin full from the Work Day the day before. He wanted to take out the trash. N was excited to see M and was squealing and flapping and following M to take the trash out. I was setting up the powerpoint and getting everything else ready for worship. We were about 10 ft away from the main entrance, S and I. But as M was rolling his way to the front door, she started crying bawling, yelling, “It’s coming this way!”

I didn’t want, not even for a split second, for M to think that the it was him.

I said yelled, “Stop it!” so loud that the entire world froze for a split second.
M froze.
N froze.
S was already frozen in fear from the wheelchair.
Time froze.
I froze.

All I could think about was a car ride to church — to St. Mark, actually,  when we used to live in Santa Barbara, years ago
My brother was being an ass — his usual MO (to this day).
And we got into an argument in the back of the car. My dad yelled at us, “IT’S SUNDAY MORNING! DO NOT FIGHT! WE’RE ABOUT TO HEAD TO WORSHIP! IT’S SUNDAY!”

I remember thinking, “You’re yelling louder than the both of us combined.”

It was Sunday morning.
Poor thing was just scared out of her mind of the wheelchair.
She’s apparently scared of crutches too.
She was afraid of the train ride at the zoo.
She was afraid of walking on the pier when we first took her there two years ago.

And probably, a lot of her fears stem from never being exposed to… the world. Who knows what life was like for her first six years? (She was placed in her home at 6).
I know that before she was taken away, they jumped from rescue missions to rescue missions.
I know that she often took other kids coats hanging from the coat rack at school. I think it’s because a lot of rescue missions have coats on racks for the guests to take. I figured even more for kids… so she was accustomed to taking things that were hanging and didn’t seem to have owners.

I just can’t understand why I have little to no patience when it comes to her.

Knowing this, I resolved to be more patient with her over the weekend, but there she was sitting outside on the church bench alone crying because she didn’t want to be inside with the wheelchair and I didn’t want to deal with any of it. I had things to do.

Of course, I couldn’t go on checking things off on my to-do list.
After all, people are always far more important than things and morning routines and to-do lists that we pastors have on Sunday mornings.

I walked over to S to apologize. Of course, both M and N decided to follow me which freaked S out more. At that moment, I really felt like God was messing with me…

I was able to redirect M and N back inside the church and S and I sat on the bench outside trying to enjoy the beautiful Santa Barbara morning and redeem whatever I could of all that went south in the morning. It was an hour until worship and I was already exhausted.

Sitting there with S, I begin to really understand the difference between babysitting and parenting.
With N because we’re his parents, we are committed to him. We want to ensure that he is guided to the most fulfilling life possible. We have the enormous task of nurturing him, caring for him, disciplining him, loving him and helping him be the best person he can be.
But with S, for the most part, we operate as her babysitter. She’s with us for a limited, fixed time. I just have to make sure she’s returned to her foster family, at worst, alive.
We’re not committed to her the way we are to N, whether that’s right or not.
N’s coming home with us. S has another set of people to care for her.

And the temporariness of our relationship mostly likely figures into my lack of patience with S. But that’s not fair to her.

That’s not to say that the whole time with her is stressful.
Sure — there’s the normal annoyance that accompanies all kids.
There are her endless questions.
Then there are questions about N’s adoption, her foster family, her biological family, where she fits in all this…
But there are fun, funny, wonderful, and beautiful moments with her — particularly the interactions between the siblings.

She’s a smart, joy-filled, curious kid.

I know that she’ll always be on my heart. I’ll always wonder where she is and how she is doing.
I also know that once in a while, I’ll wrestle with the questions: what if we had adopted her, too? did we make the right choice of only bringing one of the siblings with us? would it have been better for N if he grew up with S? I’ll be reminded of that stupid “Hawaiian” movie of Lilo & Stitch and their declaration of what ‘ohana’ means. (Btw, I’m so looking forward to Moana and hoping that it’ll reflect the Hawaiian culture far better than Lilo & Stitch). 

In the mean time, we should make the best and most with the time that we have together.
We are a family. A weird, untraditional, and not bound by bloodlines, laws, or boundaries. We are connected. And always will be.
And all the beautiful, wonderful, funny, and intimate moments we share as a makeshift family of four — those will always outweigh whatever fleeting moments of difficulties I may have to deal with.

So here’s to family… and how kids are the sweetest and best when they’re sleeping.

Version 2

One thought on “Family Matters

  1. Dear Jo, After reading your ‘family experience’ I am filled with compassion for you all with the challenge and love that you are sharing with these children who are so much in need. The best of love and happiness to you as you take on the new experience of moving to a new place. You and Rachel are very special and wonderful and will always be in our thoughts and prayers. Hugs, to all of you!!!
    Dori Mammano

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