Impossible and Conquerable

This has been a rough handful of days.

I found out last week that Kirk has been rudely mocking his teacher in class, consistently during math time.

I called him out on it, and talked with him about his math concerns and the fact that not having his glasses (which he broke while wrestling with Alex) makes it harder.  But we had a good discussion about using his words to ask for help in math, instead of just avoiding it by behaviors.  I also know math is right after lunch and recess, and so reminded him that if he cannot come back from recess and focus on math, that I would be glad to escort him to lunch and directly to the math room myself without stressing him out by any break for recess.  I was proud of him as he worked to improve, even earning back his favorite pair of shoes that he gave up as consequence.

It was hard work to parent that well, but we did and he did, and it all turned out for the better, improving his behavior and interactions without squashing his spirit.

Then I found out Alex got in a scuffle after being bullied this school year, even getting thrown into a locker.  My heart broke for him, and then I tried not to snort when I found out he retaliated by calling the boy a “sly little fox”.  This got a note home to me, so we had to process how to use his words and how to ask for help rather than getting caught in trouble that wasn’t his.  It’s so tricksy, because I do want him to be able to defend himself, but there are many things he can do before also choosing aggression or becoming part of the problem.

But he did it, and he is taking care of business.  Not only did he get Student of the Month last month, but he is the only one of our kids who got straight A’s on the last report card!  I was so proud of him!

Then Barrett got himself suspended by default from preschool, for being so aggressive when he was angry that they had to clear out the classroom.  The counselor says he is repeating things he heard before he was verbal, domestic violence things he remembers that were yelled around him when he was a baby before we adopted him.  He was so little, though!  But it makes sense, when you hear the things he says, and that wouldn’t be the first one we fostered that had some pretty shocking auditory memories from very early pre-verbal memories.  He really has been trying, though, and the incidents of anger outbursts are happening less often and he is able to use self-soothing and other coping skills to calm down more quickly… but when he explodes, the actual behaviors are escalating.  This culminated last week when he hit and kicked and bit his teacher, which he has never ever done before, and then two days later was breaking toys and throwing things so that they had to clear the classroom.

We decided it would be best to pull him from school and increase his one on one time.  They all get one on one time as best we can, and we have a pretty good rotation with it, but it’s true everyone has been extra anxious for and extra occupied with the baby while she was scary sick the last few weeks.

We also realized that Kirk and Barrett are the only two kids who came as a pair.  We had thought about them being the only two we adopted without fostering, but they are also the only two who came together as a pair.  I think maybe we were so focused on learning about cerebral palsy for Kirk, and then distracted by Kyrie being born and all her medical drama, that Barrett just missed out on that individual relationship being developed quite as deeply.  Regardless, it is his season to get to stay home by himself with Papa and Mama during the day, and it is already helping.

Except then today I got called back to the school today because Anber had hit and kicked her teacher!  What the what?!  She has not had her old school reactive fits for over a year!  But her teacher was gone last week, off to get married (how dare she), and a substitute was there when Anber was dropped off this morning.  She was not impressed, and I think when her teacher showed back up, she took all that frustration out on her!

So we talked about using our words and expressing our feelings directly.  We talked about how it is okay to be angry or upset or sad or scared, but to use her words in telling people so they can help rather than acting out and hurting others.

Then we found out she also wanted to get in trouble to get to stay home from school like Barrett does, so we let her choose that consequence: staying home grounded for the rest of the school day.

And, as it turns out, that’s not as fun as just a Saturday at home with the family!  She had to stay on her bed, and couldn’t play outside, missed out on singing time, and was very relieved to finally be invited to the table for dinner and scripture time before bed.

It’s been a hard week of parenting.  That’s all I have to say.

And we kept our cool, even when it was really hard.

Until tonight.

Tonight, while supper was cooking, Mary was finished with homework and chores, and we sent her out to practice riding her bike.  She got it for her birthday in July, and it has been a real challenge for her because of the way her balance is also impacted like her deafness.  But she has been trying for all these months, and we live on the perfect quiet street for this stage of their development.  So we are able now to send her out front to play or practice on her own, while I keep an eye on her out of the window, or while Nathan and I take turns with her while the other one is in the back with the younger children.

Except tonight we saw her just sitting on the curb.

She wasn’t even trying.

Nathan went to check on her, and watched her fake-try riding her bike.

He came back in, telling me there was nothing he could do to help her practice because she wouldn’t even try.

“Why is she not trying?” I asked.

“She said it’s too hard because she’s Deaf,” he said.

And I lost it.

I mean LOST IT.

The rest of my awesome parenting all week long went down the drain, just like that.

He brought her inside, and I yelled at her with my voice and my hands.

Don’t you ever, ever, EVER say that again!
Don’t you ever, ever, EVER let anyone else ever tell you that!
It is not true!  It is a lie!
Knowing a challenge, like how deafness and balance problems go together, is INFORMATION.  That’s all.  It’s just information.
It tells you where to fight, what to work on, and where you will conquer life.
Don’t you ever give up!  Don’t you ever quit!  Don’t you ever let anything stop you.
Deaf is proud, not weakness.  It means nothing, but language and community
And that is everything!  And you can do anything!
Deaf does not take anything away from you!
That bike is yours, and you can ride it!
Now get back out there and TRY AGAIN!  Try for real!  YOU GOT THIS!

And then I stood there, with my finger pointing to the door, as she slunk away with quiet tears rolling down her cheeks.

I felt terrible.

Except I didn’t.

Because she cannot think like that.

She cannot let that kind of message win.

She needs to know it’s a trick.

There are times for gentle-Mama-ing, and there are times for intervention-confrontation.

As she stepped off the curb down to her bike, I shouted again, “That’s your bike, Mary!  You can ride it!  You’ve got this!”

And because she was trying again, for real, Nathan went back to help her again.

Because that’s how Heavenly Father is: as soon as we are really ready for help, He is already there.

And she did it!  SHE DID IT!  I cried!  I was so proud of her!

This was not just about a bike.

This was about Mary believing in Mary.


And I shouted and screamed and cheered her on, and none of us could believe that she was doing it!

Even she couldn’t believe it!

But she did!

Because that’s how life works.

Sometimes it’s really hard.

Sometimes you give up what you thought was your whole life just to do what has been the hardest thing of your life, but it turns out to be the best thing of your life.

Sometimes you promise in court you can care for six kids with special needs, but then medicaid gets wishy washy and you spend your life savings while they sort it out.

Sometimes you and your husband both work two or three jobs while keeping one of you home at all times, because you believe that’s really important for the children.

Sometimes you leave your modest but very-spread-out-with-lots-of-square-feet home and squeeze into a tiny home where the dryer and dishwasher don’t work just because your kids need a school in their language.

Sometimes you pretend it doesn’t sting that you can’t buy school pictures for second graders because new glasses and new cochlear implant batteries and new feeding tube supplies are more important.

Sometimes you can’t send your kids to the PumpkinTown field trip because you don’t even have two sets of six dollars, or gas to get them all the way across town to preschool even though you moved a whole hour closer just to make it happen.

Sometimes you eat gum for supper because your kids are growing so fast that they needed seconds, and how can you turn down such shiny eyes?

Sometimes you are really glad for the Charlie Brown Christmas tree that your husband’s sister made once, because that’s all there is for this year.

Sometimes you don’t care how tight the budget is for a small season, because all your children are still alive, and that’s what matters.

Sometimes you think it is really hard, but then you watch your deaf daughter conquer her bicycle.

Sometimes you choose autism therapy over your family Y membership, and know it was right when your son makes friends with a boy across the street.

Makes friends!  He made a friend!

Sometimes you give up your own health insurance and fancy treatments in favor of some really good cerebral palsy therapists, and then your son starts opening doors and putting on his own brace and doing some rock climbing.

Rock climbing!

Sometimes you give up much needed work hours to snuggle with a little boy who needs reminding he is precious, or cancel a speaking engagement that would sell books because your little girl needs to sit in your lap and cry for an hour.

Sometimes you don’t sleep for almost a year and a half, taking turns as parents trying to keep your baby alive against all odds, and then suddenly you get a dose of normal, as if nothing has ever been wrong, as if everything will always be okay, as if every anxious night was for this simple moment, as if it were any other child for any other parent:


Sometimes you ask for help, but have asked for so much help that your community is tapped out.  But you ask them to share anyway, so that others can help, and you know their hearts are enormous because your family wouldn’t be a family without the community that has raised us together.

You know because everyone says your baby is a miracle, when you know that the real miracle are all the people who have loved her to life.  Literally.

Here’s the link we need you to share, this GoFundMe page we were asked to post with a list of specific things we need and have been paying for – getting these covered would keep us in our budget and the children out of crisis.

We are doing our best as a family, all of us learning together.

And we are working hard, honest.

And we live within our means and stick to our budget and utilize our resources.

(A fun example: Panera bread donates their weekend leftovers to Happy Hands, and so we get sacks and sacks of bread and bagels every Monday morning that last the kids all week!)

But the medical needs are almost impossible.

But it’s working!  Look how well she is doing!

We are trying so hard.

Nathan is writing every afternoon while the children sleep, and working in the evenings on catalogue copy jobs.  He has fundraisers in the works, and works as a consultant and editor on other people’s musicals as well.  I am working as a chaplain resident, and have interviews coming up for weekend jobs to try and help with these extra medical expenses.

We are trying to sell books, but lots of people are sharing books instead of buying them, and the ones on Amazon we only make $1.  Keeping Kyrie will release the ebook version at full price very soon, with two other church-ey ebooks coming soon after.  We also have two other books in the works, but it’s hard to work on them when we are doing other jobs and missing work already for so many doctor appointments.  These will be seeds, over time, self-sustaining already finished projects that help cover some of these medical needs our family will have over time… but they are new seeds, just starting, and it takes time to grow them.

I think it’s all a good plan, but in the meantime, we are growing little children who are bigger every day.

People tell us every day that they don’t know how we do it.

We do it one shoe lace at a time.

The real miracles are the people around us: caseworkers that really cared; doctors who get their vacations interrupted; nurses that work overtime; ward members who acted like friends even though I never once got to really be one; primary teachers who are like grandparents; therapists who have safe guarded the bodies of my children while pushing them beyond what anyone thought was possible; school teachers not even paid for what they are required to do, much less the kind of service they give my children; people we don’t even know who have supported us and prayed for us and who have wrought miracles through fasting and giving and sharing.

The real miracle is community, in a world that too easily could feel hopeless or dark.

That’s what changes the world.

You know how my world was changed today?

A friend who texted me.

A teacher who gave me a hug.

A colleague who made me laugh until I cried.

Those are really small miracles, but that’s how, since you ask, that’s how we do it every day.

Because of you.

Because of the children.

Because we are all in this together.

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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