The Progress of Motherhood

My reader friends who have followed my blog for years know that I haven’t written nearly as much in the last year as I did before.  Mostly this was because of working two jobs and only having four hours a night to sleep, and partly it was the simple sacrifice of not being able to parent well and write for many hours a day if Nathan was ever going to get a turn for his writing.  All of that is better balanced again, with me working evenings and having the days with the children, and journaling is always important, and mostly something about being back in the yellow house has opened up that space for me again.

I have stretched some as a writer, shifting from only the blog to also the articles for Deseret which pay just enough to get gas money for our family, to actually publishing Keeping Kyrie last summer.  That was an experience in itself:  how much Amazon takes out of the profits, how people want cheap packaging over recycled-better-for-the-environment-and-way-cuter boxes, and the bad reviews – not just people who didn’t like the book, but reviews that were badly written!  One was a mormon hater, and one had terrible grammar, and all of these are permanent things online that everyone sees.  There were also those who were so kind to encourage us by getting the first edition of the book, even though there were still three editing mistakes we fixed later, and others who borrowed the book from someone else instead of buying it, which knocks down the sales and ratings by default.  There was even drama over the ebook, which we can’t do right now because Amazon pirates give it away for free when there is an audiobook, so until that lawsuit settles we could only offer one or the other.  We chose to go with the audiobook so that it would be accessible to our blind friends in Tulsa and Nathan’s parents who have many blind friends as well.  Turns out, though, that it really made some people cranky because they wanted the ebook because it’s cheaper.

Tell that to my children while we are at the hospital where I work, eating cereal for dinner because it’s free with chaplain coupon.

I’m kidding, right?  Except not.  Seriously, what a learning curve when you decide to be vulnerable and open and share your story.  The people who know you appreciate it, even if you write in feminine narrative structure so the circles go round and round with chiasms thrown in until the easy reader is lost and confused.

Also, it’s hard to write when you are lost and confused yourself.  Here are some of the big things I battled through in the last year:

1.)  Learning I don’t still need (bad) mothers like I thought I did.  I mean, wise women who mentor or mutual edification kinds of spirit guides who can see your rawest moments and still be your friends?  That’s something special.  But those who just add on more bad mothering for me to untangle myself from later, after having already worked through my own mom issues?  Yeah, I’m over that.  I seek out friends who are good and healthy for me, but am more confident about setting boundaries with those who are not healthy for me.  I am also less apologetic for things like protecting the sleep schedule of my children, limits I set as the mother, and not being able to participate in extra activities when it is time we need to be together at home or when I have to work so that I can be home with my children while they are awake.  But I am also not bitter, and so don’t want to just whine all the time.  That’s part of growing up, I guess, being able to be confident and competent in all those things but without it just being a big ole public baby fit.  I don’t know when sassy transforms into forth-telling.

2.)  Mother-in-laws.  That’s hard.  Nathan had it hardest, because he inherited my mom.  Except he was a genius with her, and I so appreciated how well he interacted with her.  He always said it was easier for him because he didn’t have the baggage she carried for everyone else.  I’m so grateful that our final months with my mom were so healing and beautiful, even though moms can just be hard (I wrote about that here once).  I was the lucky one to get Nathan’s mom, who is so very generous and kind, but that got harder when my own mother was killed and I didn’t want her replaced.  We also don’t share the children very well, as it’s my first time to be a mother and Nathan’s mom’s first time to be the grandmother instead of the mother, and so in the last year we have just taken turns instead, which works out way better.  I love that my children have Nathan’s parents for grandparents, and don’t think anyone could love them so well.  Nathan is my favorite person on the entire planet, and if they grew him into the amazing person he is today, then that’s got to be good for my children, right?  When Nathan told me this morning his parents weren’t coming today because what we are good at sharing is all the germs from the children and the colds they get, I was so disappointed to miss out on them.  It seemed funny that on a holiday where it would have been busy trying to make schedules work for everyone, we ended up missing both mother-in-laws – and even me, because I had to work tonight!  My mom would have been such a pill about equal time, and I have to admit I am relieved that has been one battle we haven’t had to endure!  But not being able to write about things doesn’t feel good, or transparent, or real, and so I need practice still at finding respectful but authentic ways to do so because it’s not healthy to just leave it in me.

3.)  Schools.  We really had very high hopes for having all the children in Deaf schools.  It has been so hard!  When a child is adopted, there are such concerns for attachment that in this case sending Mary away to residential Deaf school for an ongoing thing year after year is just not healthy for her.  They also wouldn’t let her journal or read her Book of Mormon, both of which are huge pieces of our faith practice.  The local school was excellent, and one of the reasons we moved to Tulsa, but she was not being challenged academically and the two boys were just lost – literally, neither of them in a classroom all year!  The younger ones had such a positive experience, but we were not allowed to be in the classroom to help because of our faith tradition being in conflict with their version of evangelical Christianity.  The whole mess has been heartbreaking, because we loved the people and the culture and the teachers and the language so much, and it really was so good for our children, except for also being mixed in with Kyrie being hospitalized so many times or on precautions so we all had to stay home anyway.  That’s how we landed back in homeschool by default, except I wouldn’t surrender a moment with them for anything.  It’s so good for us in that way!  Our children also need so many physical and occupational and speech and feeding and sensory therapies, that we can get more approved on our own than we can in the school, so it seems this is our season and it is better for us to just settle with it and be consistent than keep trying other things, at least for now.  This piece and its layers were hard to write about because we felt so wounded, and because it had to do with very personal issues – adoption and our faith tradition – and so we felt protective and didn’t want it to just be name-calling or political, because that’s not it.  It’s our hearts, and these children, and their hearts.  That’s what matters.

4.)  Group homes.  We are moving forward with opening the group homes, and even have the support of a tribe now.  Except because of that support, they might move us to their land to have an entire continuum of care there, instead of having to find properties all over Oklahoma.  I don’t know how that is going to unfold, or if the whole plan will really get licensed, or what is happening next.  I am keeping up best I can, and it is all still happening, but I don’t know the exact shape it will be when it is “finished” – or what that means about where we will live, ultimately.  We do know from a blessing that we will be in the yellow house for a “season of rest and replenishment”, which sounds like a fine thing, before the next round of battles begin.  I am grateful for that, no matter what happens with the group homes.  But not knowing many pieces, except for one at a time, makes it hard to give updates (and makes me anxious as we are down to five months until some alleged doors allegedly open).

5.)  The children.  The older the children get, the more in control they are of what we share as a family or not.  Sometimes they tell me specific things they want me to share, and sometimes there are things they ask me not to share.  We don’t share anything without permission, but what that looks like shifts as they get older.  We have new pre-pre-teens with all kinds of new emotions and developmental things happening, and that just takes extra sensitivity.  We are exploring some fun new ways we can continue the benefits of them expressing themselves and their stories the way they want to share them, but more and more in their own way from their own perspective.  The younger two are just all the sudden not babies anymore, and becoming their own mature people with preferences and requests.  The youngest isn’t a baby anymore, and woke up on her second day a full blown person, apparently, with opinions and demands like never before, so we are just getting to know her!  We also want to continue being sensitive to the biological families, some of whom have the blog and social media info and follow along as one more positive way to stay connected.  At the same time, contact with their biological families is a greater challenge for the younger three because they don’t remember anything before us.  It is so tempting to just pretend we are the only parents, and give in to the adoption illusion and assume none of the rest matters, but none of that is true, and none of that is fair to the children or their families.  So we have to work extra hard to talk about adoption, and foster care, and the biological families, even though it seems so foreign to the younger three… it will make life easier and better later, when it matters.

All of that, in list form, naturally, is what’s in my head on Mother’s Day.

Oh, yeah, and the whole Dead Mom thing.

It’s easier, of course, than it was, but obviously this time of year is harder.  It’s when the accident happened.  It’s when her birthday is.  It’s when Mother’s Day happens.

And, of course, we just moved back to the house I shared with her.  But even that’s been okay, really.  I had one cry on the first day, and that seemed to take care of it for now.  I haven’t even looked up the driver of the jeep in ages, and until now hadn’t thought of him sitting at the Sunday dinner table with his mom, wondering if he is remembering that I don’t get to sit with mine today.

I tell the children stories of her.  They know how she cheated at board games, even her first night of meeting Nathan.  They know the funny things she said, and the funny things she did.  They know which foods were her favorite, and what she did to me when I got in trouble, and which kind of trouble she herself got into as a preschooler.  They know which clothes she made me that they now wear, and they know which winter coat that I wear was hers, and they know that they held her favorite puppy (whom she loved even more than me) who finally passed away to go home to my Mama where she belonged.

My children may be adopted, but I still hear her wit in their voices and see the looks of mischief in their eyes, because I put it there.  Because she put it in me.  Because that’s what we do when we are mothers.  We pass it on.

I want my children to have the generosity of Nathan’s mother, and the humor of my mother, and the kindness of Nathan to balance it all out.  I will give them the boundaries to not be intrusive, or mean, or a pushover with those gifts.  I want them to know how to endure the way I have had to learn, but also to know how to play the way they have taught me.  I want them to have a voice in the world, to learn how to think with their minds and discern with their spirits, to see the invisible, and to serve those everyone else has rejected.

I want them to feel my testimony even more than they hear it.

That’s hard work, though.  It means modeling in every moment.  It means admitting mistakes.  It means asking forgiveness.  It means praying for guidance, for help, for promptings.  It means coming out to do scripture study and prayer time at the table instead of in my closet where it’s easier and more quiet, so they can see it happening.  It means using a quiet voice when I want to scream, but sharing in words when I am overwhelmed, or overstimulated, or frustrated.  It means negotiating one on one time in a crowd, and it means letting them grow up and celebrating their individuality no matter the shape that it takes.

It means spending rare free time making presents for the mothers who brought them into the world, and it means fighting back stinging tears when they run into their arms as if mine have been holding them back.

It means acknowledging their grief at being separated from their families, even while we celebrate the joy we share together.

It means loving them with everything, even when sharing about the babies we have lost.

It means all of it is true: the pain, and the struggle, and the tears, as much as the laughter and songs and snuggles.

I guess being a mother is a lot like being a writer, and maybe over time I will get better at both.

When we wrote Keeping Kyrie, all the material from the book was already out there, but now it’s an actual legit book, whether people like the format or price or structure or story or not.  I learned so much from that, but it was also the very best I had to give and I am okay with that.

Now more books are coming:  our first volume of my Book of Mormon commentary is coming out very soon (ebook only for now), and I am halfway finished with the next book (Making Marriage).

Except also like in parenting, I still make plenty of mistakes – but most of my mistakes are just learning – like when Nathan tells me that my next book is really two books, so which one do we want to publish first?

I don’t know, because I’ve never done this before.

And it’s exhausting.

Like parenting.

But none of it’s failure.

It just… progress.

So we celebrate all of it.

Today, my Deaf daughter sang and voiced and signed when the primary went up to sing for Mother’s Day at the front of the church.  And she smiled.  That’s progress.

Today, my Autistic son was overwhelmed and overstimulated by that same primary program, but he held on to his sister’s hand and made it back to the pew after, only hitting himself in the face five times before taking a deep breath and being okay again.  That’s progress.

Today, my son with Cerebral Palsy hugged me with both arms, which may be huge for a physical accomplishment, but he’s been really angry with his other mom and taking it out on me, so it brought attachment tears to my eyes because I knew it meant something.  That’s progress.

Today, my five year old son who has been the King of Tantrums for five years got mad at his baby sister (who is undoubtedly a brat), initiated a time out on his own, sat on his bed and cried until he was done, self-soothed and calmed himself, and then rejoined the family activity – all without any prompting at all.  That’s progress.

Today, my four year old daughter with attachment issues and selective mutism clung to her brother and made it up on the stage for the primary song, stayed there, actually sang (even though she hid behind her brother), came back to me without any kind of meltdown, and then gave me a high five because she was so proud of herself.   That’s progress.

Today, my two year old daughter who sometimes can’t breathe and often can’t swallow, ate all of her food and every meal and snack for the fourth day in a row – for the first time ever, and has been three days without a feeding tube at all.   That’s progress.

This is what is critical to remember, even on days like today, where maybe it’s Mother’s Day but you have a Dead Mom, or your sweet baby has passed away, or your body is swollen and fatigued from attempts to have a baby, or you have other people’s babies, or you never had a chance at all yet, or your baby is a very old but beautiful furry creature.

Being people of progress matters because now is not the final moment.

Our stories are not over, and there are more chapters to write.  This chapter might not even be the ugliest, which is maybe hard to imagine.  Others will be beautiful and sweet, even if the one before was monstrously scary or sucker-punch sad.

We have a Savior, and the power of that atonement, that helps us become more than who we could be on our own.

And we are worthy of it – we really are – not because of what we have done, but because of who our Father is.

To deny that we are worthy is to deny God, to deny the atonement, to deny the Parents from which we come.

He is our Father and our God.

And that is enough.

Because He is enough.

And so we are enough.

Together, we are making progress, even on days like today, whether you laid in bed and cried, or whether you went to the woods to avoid people, or whether your children made a hilarious music video with you as the star.

It’s progress.

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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