Raising Readers

By: Crissie Kirby

Let’s face it . . . we ALL have one or two (or more) guilty pleasures in which we indulge.  Some of these might not be good for us (smoking, excessive alcohol intake, overeating, etc.), but some might not be terrible (working out, writing, crafting, etc.). For me, my number one guilty pleasure is reading . . . few things excite me as much as beginning a new book and delving in to the world created by the author. I don’t know when my obsession with books began, though I do vividly remember reading issue after issue of Reader’s Digest as a child and any other book that even remotely piqued my curiosity.  Reading isn’t a terrible habit to have, other than I could easily while away any number of hours in a land where dirty laundry and dirty dishes and messy floors don’t exist. I fully believe that being a voracious reader has allowed me to become a semi-decent writer.  When I had children, I just KNEW that I would have children who would LOVE books as much I did, so to ensure that, I bought a small library of children’s books. We had Goodnight Moon and Rainbow Fish and lots of Dr. Seuss and many other not so famous children’s books.  Then the unthinkable happened . . .

I had two very busy little boys.

Little boys who wouldn’t sit still for books.  Little boys who exhausted me to the point that I could often not finish a book we started before bedtime because I would, myself, fall asleep before they even blinked one tiny eyelid. I was failing as a reading parent.

As the boys got older, I would try to tempt them by buying books that I (again) just KNEW they would love. Captain Underpants and The Magic Treehouse and other not so famous short chapter books adorned the bookshelves above the aforementioned little kids books that were ever so subtly gathering dust from years of not being touched, much less read.

Unfortunately, most of these books, too, met with the same dust-encrusted fate as the earlier ones.

I was crushed. I was heartbroken. The one habit I had that I had literally waited years to share with my offspring was falling quickly by the wayside. In many ways, I resigned myself that my children were going to be like so many other boys who just didn’t like to read.

But, I kept on reading when I could. Vacations. Late nights. When I should have been folding laundry. I read. I read because it was my one little guilty pleasure that I couldn’t give up. Sometimes it would be with actual paper in my hands; other times it might be with my Kindle or on the Kindle app on my phone, but read I did. I continued encouraging the boys to read. I accompanied them to book fairs where I bought books that I silently prayed wouldn’t just become more dust magnets in our house.

Then, the tide began to shift. As surely as the sun rises slowly each morning, I would catch the boys reading books or magazines (mostly the Lego magazine, but, hey, whatever works, right?) when they weren’t required to by school. For my eldest, the reading bug sort of hit him after watching Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief and he began to read one of the Heroes of Olympus books. I was dumbfounded. I had tried buying the short little chapter books in an effort to ease them into reading and he picks up a 500+ page book and starts reading it willingly? His recreational reading has taken an even more dramatic turn in the last few weeks and he has been quickly devouring more than more than one book at a time. At bedtime, he reads. On the way to and from school, he reads.  The other night, I found him reading at 1 a.m. How could I fuss at him? As my mom replied when I relayed the story to her, it sounded like something I probably did as a child too. My previously devastated reading heart swells each time I look around and notice my son with a book in his hands sitting in the car or sprawled on the couch or nestled under his covers.

Study after study has shown that reading improves vocabulary and general knowledge and helps teach patience.  As with learning to walk and talk, developing a love of reading, it would appear, is just something that develops when the time and conditions are right.  And I’m so grateful to finally be sharing my guilty pleasure with my sons.

Adoption Can Be Funny

By: Jordan Tate

Jordan Tate

We all know that adoption is a joyous occasion, and also a heavy one with many challenges. It’s a true rollercoaster with peaks and valleys and slow turns and fast hills, but I think we can all agree that, for the most part, Hollywood has shaped many an opinion about adoption for those who don’t have a real connection to it. And it can be stinking funny. So today I thought I’d invite you over to have a silly little chat about some funny things we’ve experienced in the world of adoption in hopes that you’ll laugh a little. If nothing else, you’ll quickly learn what not to say to your friends who have adopted or will adopt in the future.

That said, I’m curious, how many of these have happened to you?

We get asked frequently if we’re going to tell Shepherd he’s adopted. You guys…we get asked frequently. To be fair, it always seems to come out rapidly and clumsily and without much forethought, which is very good news. Usually I’m like, “No, we planned on turning his life into an actual Lifetime movie where the ‘big reveal’ happens on his wedding day or something.” Or wait until the day someone else, who is not us, tells him that his parents are white and he is not. How fun does that sound!? Not fun at all. Not fun at all.

One of my favorite things ever is when people ask me, when out and about, if I’m his “real” mom. I respond by telling them I’m actually a robot, so no, I am not real, and if they do not back away slowly, the laser beams will commence and then I’ll be forced to self-destruct. Okay, I know, I know, it’s just semantics. We try really hard over here to encourage others to use terms like “Biological mother” and “Adoptive Mom,” but I’ll be the first to tell you that if I’m feeling especially feisty I’ll just stick with the robot scenario. That, or scream loudly as I stomp away,  “What would it even mean to be a fake mom?!”

Oh, man! I said the previous situation was one of my favorites, but now I’m remembering another favorite, and that’s when everyone and their brother asks me if I’m the babysitter. I mean, okay, fair. I look insanely young and fresh and like my life has been nothing but rainbows and butterflies and look at me, I’m just babysitting to kill the time before my next semester of college begins, why thank you. While I daydream about actually traveling to Europe, I blubber something like, “Do you see the bags under my eyes!? Two of my children died and this is my son who I adopted just 4 months after burying my second daughter. So no, I am not the babysitter unless you want to offer me extra money because you feel bad for me.”

Ha…haha…sigh.

On a lighter note, how about when strangers ask very, very personal questions about the nature of his adoption? I’m over here like, “Umm, how about we start by you telling me your entire life history, including the moments you’d only share with family and close friends?” It’s weird, though. I usually don’t get a response when I say that…

Trust me, I could go on. But let’s end on this one:

“So, is it hard to choose which baby you want?”

And then it starts.

“First…adoptive parents don’t choose their babies.”

“What!? How does it work then!?”

“Well, after a family is licensed to adopt, they make some sort of profile that highlights various traits about their story and their family. Ultimately, the biological parents choose, from a group of licensed families, who will raise their child.”

“So then the families all go and meet her and she chooses one of them?”

“No, that would be so weird and so not okay. The birth parents usually look through profiles. Like books. About the families.”

“Whoa, no way! So you aren’t choosing the child at all.”

*silence*

“No. I don’t walk up to a precious birth parent during one of the hardest moments of their lives and decide that I like their baby best and that I believe that I would raise them in a way that would make the birth parent most comforted, and then take them without input from the person/people who made/birthed them. Make sense?”

How about we end there? I suppose if you don’t learn to laugh you just end up crying, amiright?

All in all, I think these comments and questions truly are an amazing way to education more effectively on the process of adoption. But having a good laugh at the end of the day doesn’t hurt, either. 😉

It Takes a Village

By: Ashley Whisonant
it takes a village to raise a child

Most of us have heard the saying, “It takes a village.” I never really understood the full ramifications until the last year or so.

Raising kids in today’s world really does take a village. Surrounding yourself with people that love your kids and want to help is the only way I could make it through motherhood.

Take for instance, the girlfriends in my neighborhood. We are there to help watch each other’s little ones while someone else finishes dinner or homework with an older sibling. We are each other’s sounding board for aliments and aches, husband rants, and work success stories. We laugh, cheer each other on, and work to help each other’s littles.

What about my boys’ preschool teachers? Thankfully they can stand to be with twelve 2 year olds because this momma certainly can’t. They help me and help my boys to be independent. From potty training to letter sounds, we are allies in this kid raising thing.

Maybe your village is an online community of women that encourage and help you. That is awesome. Wherever you can find it, get yourself a village. Without one, it is a lonely road.

A Letter to Infant Loss Mothers

By: Jordan Tate

Mothers

Just like you, before a healthy baby happened, my heart, mind, and physical body were already transformed fully to those of a mother. My body is scarred by pregnancy, cesarean section, and natural birth. My “mother’s heart” was forever awakened the moment I held my first little girl. She did not go from womb to some mystical place in the atmosphere… her physical body came into the world and I held her when she died and I carried her sister and held her as she died and they were taken from me, but my badge of a mother was not. I would argue that it was more fully earned.

Further, I would argue without a doubt in my mind that carrying those incredible girls to term and delivering them and watching them die will always always always be harder than doing this thing I’m doing now- it’s harder than these fleeting sleepless nights that I get to wake up and feed my sweet child who breathes and cries and wants to be held. Wait- so you mean I get to wake up and hold a snuggly baby!? Still blows my mind. This term “mother,” that you and I are just now being stamped with (or have yet to be stamped with if you’re still waiting) by most of society is being used in a way that doesn’t do justice to the word mother.

One of the meanings behind the word “grief,” is “the heart of a mother.” Why? Because mothers feel so deeply and love so deeply and the meaning of that hits my heart way more intensely in regards to Ellie and Elsie than it does with Shepherd. Our children who are gone are still very much a part of daily life..but that doesn’t always make sense if you haven’t felt it.

Waking up to care for Shepherd, my very alive son, is literally a piece of cake in comparison to the cumulative months of sleepless nights I cried through with a heart that ached, both during my pregnancies and, of course, after they died. Does that mean parenting my son is easy? No. It means the other stuff was so very hard. The hardest.

Does it mean I’m not a sleepy mom? No, I could nap at any point of time…anywhere. But sleepy is not equivalent to bad. It’s equivalent to blessing. It is equivalent to redemption.

So, my friends. I see you. I feel your heart when people ask how many children you have. You have permission (not that you needed it from me) to include your sweet babies that died much too early. I see the tears and the nights of heartache that nobody really knows about. I understand that you can’t turn off the mama part of your heart even though your babies aren’t with you and that is simply not fair, and wouldn’t it be easier if we could? You are a mom, because you did the hardest thing a mom could ever do, and that is saying goodbye to her sweet baby.

If you haven’t yet had your “rainbow baby,” I’m here to tell you this: it’s a joy. It’s all a gift. Few will have the privilege of seeing parenthood the way you will…some do get it – you know who I mean. But loss makes the gift of your healthy baby inconceivable to most who have never had to say goodbye. I would never wish our loss on anyone..but don’t you wish your heart and feelings could be felt for just a moment by anyone who wished it? It’s a devastating experienced that now gets to be your greatest weapon as you parent your alive baby with a deep understanding of purpose and a deep gratitude for health. It will forever make you a different brand of mom. The best kind.

You’ve seen the very worst side of motherhood and none of the best sides. You don’t get to pull up to baby play dates with a baby in your arms and you can’t talk about how often your kid dirties diapers or his latching abilities or his nightly routine, but you can talk about planning baby funerals and how much your heart aches and how you hate baby aisles in stores right now and so it’s not fair, my friend, that you’ve seen only the worst and none of the best and yet you may not be labeled a mother until you see the good.

So, if your heart allows, when people ask you how many kids you have: tell them. We say we have three and two aren’t here with us. It may be alarming to the average person, but it opens the doors, if they want, for tough conversations about life but great conversations about healing and hope.

Are moms who haven’t experienced loss a lesser kind of mom? No way. Never. But you are a different breed. Your journey to motherhood was not the kind you asked for–but if you let it, it will be the source of the greatest moments of gratitude and amazingly miraculous perspective on the very beautiful gift of life.

A Much Needed Special Day

By: Ashley Whisonant

Gray

Shortly after we became pregnant with my youngest, Gray, my husband and I decided we would complete our family with two. For whatever reason, I never imagined myself with more than two or even a little girl. Even looking at a family picture now, I feel we are complete.

I frequently find myself feeling guilty for my second born. With my oldest, Weston, we were mentality present for all his firsts. He had our full attention, all of the time. I remember the excitement of watching him roll over and crawl. The moments of him running to meet me at the door when I pulled in the driveway from work. He was our whole world.

Gray

Gray will never know the feeling of being the only one. He adores his older brother and thinks he hung the moon. I remind myself to take mental pictures of Gray’s firsts- crawling, walking, waving. I work hard to not let life get in the way and give him the same experience as his brother, but it is different.

I needed to do something special for my second. While Weston was camping with my husband, I planned a special day for just Gray and myself. One of his favorite places is the beach. He could run up and down, racing towards the waves for hours. I was determined to have a special weekend with him. 

Gray

When he got up, we painted and shared a breakfast laughing together. Our drive down to Sullivan’s Island was not filled with screen time, but real conversations with my two year old. He pointed out all the things he saw, colors he liked, and we sang Disney songs. We arrived to an almost empty beach-in July! It was as though someone knew how much we needed the time together. I truly lived in the moment with my second born. The laughing, playing, running, and swimming was just what we both needed.

After our day together I realized he is not missing out. My guilt is internal, not with him. He feels my love and knows how much I care about him. I need to let go of my guilt and enjoy the moments with him.

An Aerial View of Childhood

By: Angie Sloan

As a parent, you spend most of your time “in the weeds,” tending to the daily grind of raising happy, responsible, well-adjusted little people. Your ultimate goal is that they turn out to be great adults. You hope they will find themselves in a life they love, surrounded by people who love them as much as you. You do all you can to guide them to this path. You help steer them in the right direction.

Looking back at my childhood, there were a lot of people in my corner. My cheering section was full and I always received the encouragement I needed to succeed. But there were pivotal moments and conversations that I recall that made a tremendous difference in the paths I chose.

There was the English teacher who encouraged me to write. She loved my work and always made time to read my imaginative short stories. I look back and realize that she was a major influence in my love of writing. She told me, “Write from your heart. Keep it genuine.” Even now, when I write something, I have to feel it, or I scrap it before I ever click ‘save’.

At different periods in my life, I worked at a radio station. I remember talking with the program director about various career paths. His words to me, “Never confuse a hobby with a career.” I was almost offended at the time, but hindsight provided clarity. He was saying, love what you do, but don’t lose your love of what you do because you “have to do it” for your livelihood. Great advice!

Jack and Ila coloring at Flight Deck

Jack and Ila coloring at Flight Deck

There were so many other conversations that stick out in my mind. But this post is not about me. It is about having the privilege to witness one of these conversations, as a parent.

Jack, my 8-year-old, is consumed with WWII. Over the course of a year, he has read about 40 books on the subject. He retains everything he reads and loves nothing more than to talk about it. I know more about the war than I ever have, as Jack educates me on a daily basis. He seems to have an understanding of it that reaches far beyond his years. This weekend we went to Flight Deck Restaurant for lunch. Being new to the area, it was his first time going there. He was in awe of all of the memorabilia. He pointed out different planes…that’s a spitfire…that’s a B-17…and so on.

After our meal (which was delicious) the owner made his rounds through the restaurant. He stopped by our table to check on us. I introduced him to Jack and told him how much he loved the place and about his deep interest in WWII. The owner was impressed. It’s not every day you meet an 8-year-old with such knowledge about WWII. As busy as he was, he stood there and talked to my sweet boy for a long time. Jack was thrilled to talk with him about the different planes and battles of years past.

Before he left our table, he extended his hand to Jack. I will never forget what he said to my son. I don’t think Jack will forget either. With absolute sincerity, he shook Jack’s hand and said, “I am so impressed with your knowledge. Tell me your full name so I can remember you, because you will do great things and I want to say I met you when you were a kid.”

Jack smiled and said, “I am Jack Sloan.”

He said, “I am Ted. I hope you come back and visit us again. Remember, Jack Sloan. You will do great things in this world.”

Jack was quiet as he walked away. I could see what an impact those words had on him. I know there will be times in Jack’s life when things are hard. There will be times when he loses his way. My hope is when his path is dimly lit, he will reflect on those words and remember that he is destined for bigger things.  That greatness is a choice. I hope he strives to be like all those WWII soldiers he looks up to.

And I hope that Ted knows that he is now a part of that destiny. Such a simple gesture with such a big impact. Jack will never forget that conversation. And neither will I.

Adoption

By: Jordan Tate

jordan tate

The day we picked you up felt like a dream. I wondered if what everyone else said would be true. I already loved you but I wondered what it would feel like to see your face. The day we picked you up I stared at all of the pictures your caregiver had sent me throughout the week. I was so jealous of her. I was so jealous that she was caring for my son, and that week–it felt like a year. All of the pictures of you looked different, so the day we picked you up I wasn’t exactly sure what you would look like.

But, oh, my son. You were even more perfect than I could have imaged.

The day we picked you up we passed the time during the 4 hour car ride by revealing one letter of your name at a time to my parents and brother, who were riding in the car alongside us on the interstate. I was messaging back and forth with them and with my friends, who were jumping out of their seats with excitement for this day. These friends- you know them now. They are the friends that wept with us when we laid to rest your sisters. They are the friends that pleaded each day for a fast and smooth adoption. They were among the first to know when we matched with you. They had a blast guessing your name.

The day we picked you up my heart beat faster than it ever has before. I had a hard time catching my breath as we walked into the tiny little agency in Alabama where your caregiver was holding you.

jordan tate

They were right. They all were right. Meeting you was just like what everyone said. It was like I had known you forever. I cried and cried and cried and I only fought back the tears when they started to block my view from your perfect face. I cried as I held you. I cried as I remembered your sisters and how holding you felt just the same as holding them except this time it was better. This time there was no pain. It wasn’t hello and goodbye, it was just hello. Hello and I love you.

It was so worth the wait. We didn’t wait long. But if we had it still would have been worth it. I would have waited decades just to meet you and know you and call you my son. You were so worth every part of this crazy journey.

We put you in your car seat and I was shocked at how normal it felt. I was shocked by the normalcy! You see, we met our other children and they didn’t come home with us. Those times were the times I was shocked by how abnormal it was to leave the hospital empty handed. It felt eerie and wrong and terrible. Leaving with you was the best part. Leaving with you was the start of our life together as a family. I sat in the backseat with you and stared at your face. You looked tiny in that carseat. And then it was mother’s day and I was stuck in a foreign state and we barely had any baby gear but it didn’t matter because you didn’t leave my chest except for when your daddy stole you to lay on his.

I don’t understand why it all felt so normal. I can’t express why it all felt so right. But everyone should know this. Everyone should know because there are many ways to grow a family and growing ours this way was a dream I wish everyone could live. There was no hospital. No labor and no delivery. There was just the deep and miraculous understanding that babies grow in hearts, not just in bellies.