Hello Joy!

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Last Saturday morning began like all others.  Every kid had a event between 830 and 2, and Jon and I were going to spend the day driving them around.  But when I got just a brief moment alone in the car after the first drop off, I realized that there was something new inside me, something I hadn’t experienced in a long time.  I felt joy.  Not happiness.  Joy.  Just a complete sense of peace within my soul.  It was overwhelming.

Joy has been elusive this year.

Last January my daughter almost died.  It was the most traumatic experience I have ever been through.  It was surreal and the memories of giving her mouth to mouth and then watching a grown man on top of her in the ER doing chest compressions have haunted me like a demon.

When most people consider the word trauma they think of it as an event, a moment in time.  And where this is maybe how it begins, trauma is actually a noun.  It’s a thing, born out of an event, that lives, breathes, changes, and sometimes even consumes the person it settles into.

I can feel my trauma like I used to be aware of my babies inside me.  It is rooted down in there and holding on for life.  Most of the time I get to control it.  But sometimes it finds the power to rise up and shake me to the core.  Trauma puts you on the floor of aisle 2 in Trader Joe’s with your head between your knees or in the fetal position in a parking lot because you just can’t keep driving.  Trauma has power.

But here’s the thing about me.  I’m stubborn and a natural optimist.  And so when we finally got home after 89 days in the hospital, I made a commitment to myself that I was going to find joy in life again.

Because joy is worth fighting for.

I admit I was afraid.  I wondered if I would ever be able to move aside the fear of losing a child and live in the present moment.

And then there was this glaring question: Could Jesus restore my joy in the midst of the worst thing that has ever happened to me?

My faith wasn’t shaken and I never doubted God was still all good, however the only thing that overpowers trauma completely is JOY.  Crazy, no good reason, joy.  It’s different than happiness.  I can be happy for a day or a reason, but joy is about the soul feeling hope and amazement and fulfillment for no reason other than God is on our side.  And I just didn’t know if I could accept God’s sovereignty and find joy again.

It hasn’t come easy. I’ve had to fight for it.

I started by getting Xanax for those massive panic attacks. I needed a backup to help me get through them. And it worked.

I picked up my bible again. It was so hard. But once I got back into the word, God was able to speak to me again through it.

I did usual things like flying to Portland to visit a friend.  I was so afraid to leave my daughter, but I was even more afraid to never live life again.

And most importantly, I stopped praying for things to change and I started to just say thanks for the day.  As it turns out, we are all dying.  Not a day is ever guaranteed.  I almost did not get a single day of 2015 with my daughter so I refuse to not live them all with gratitude.

Gratitude brings about joy in the most amazing way.

And so does serving others.  So today I find myself boarding a British Airways plane to Kenya to help in a school for special needs kids. Yep, I’m a little scared. There could be a major catastrophe at home. But as I mentioned, we are all dying and deciding to live every day in the present, serving others is where my joy is.

How I Manage the Last Week of Summer (or not)

I do not even know myself during the last week of summer.  I am literally a crazy women with so many personalities that even my dog can’t recognize me sometimes.

I am down to 10 days until school starts.  10.

How do I feel about that?  Well, it depends on the minute.

Every summer we make a list of all the stuff we want to do.  It’s called the Super Summer Challenge.  It’s actually really helpful for me.  Kids are bored?  Find something to check off on the super summer challenge.  Make a blanket fort, play pictionary, whatever.  It’s all in fun and we never accomplish the entire thing.

Makes me seem amazing, doesn't it?

Makes me seem amazing, doesn’t it?

However with only 10 days left I begin to wonder Did I do enough fun stuff?  On the other hand, with 10 days left, I’m out of cash.  So, like the crazy woman I am, I found a school playground with a zip line and we did it yesterday.  It was so small all my kids had to scrunch up their legs super high to make it work.

Check that off the list.  See kids, I freaking rock as a mother.  You went ZIP LINING this summer.  That’s right.  Last weekend the pool is open?  We are there.  And I actually get in the water for the first time all summer instead of read a book.

I am present.  Living in the moment.  Savoring Each. Last. Little. Bit. of time with my precious babies.

*Sigh*

With that being said, I can not stand these little life suckers.  I will NOT survive 10 more days.  It’s like the Walking Dead around here.  My skin is hanging off and if they make too much noise I might just run them down and eat their brains.  Or whatever it takes to SHUT THEM UP AND STOP THE COMPLAINING!

I was running errands this week.  Yes, tasks designed to keep them alive and happy, such as going to the grocery store and fixing my leaking tire.  Here are the texts I received.

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Oh cry eye – what in the world do I do with that but assume we are raising incompetent human beings?  Seriously.  All I could think was Well goodness gracious girl!  You just found yourself a legal way out of this parenting thing.  Just take a week-long road trip and they will apparently STARVE to death while in a house filled with food.

That text was from my oldest and nearly 16-year-old.  They don’t get all that smarter as you go down the line.

I”m a walking piece of insanity.  And doesn’t that just about sum up parenting?

So friends, this is my message.  It is ok to cry on the first day of school.  I will be right there with you thinking about how much I will miss them over the next 9 months and how our lovely family evenings will now be filled with homework, sports, and exhaustion.

It is also ok to make a celebratory lunch date with your girlfriends on the second day of school and drink wine by 11:30 am.  My plans are already on the calendar.  Then I will come home, take a nap, a savor the silence.

Well, at least until 3:20 when my precious babies return.

And clearly need me to feed them.

The Sweet Spot

For me there is always an ebb and flow sensation to life.  Like with money….sometimes it flows in and other times it flows out.  Mostly out around here.

Relationships have a sort of motion to them as well.  There are times I’ve overwhelmed by the beauty of my family.  Last weekend we were in the city and everyone was being so gracious and kind.  I imagined being on the outside, seeing us with our uniquely created family unit, full of beautiful children with smiling faces.  It was lovely.

Today I cried at 2pm and told the universe “There are just too many of them and they have too many needs!”  There might have been more ebbing than flowing today.

I find the same flow in my marriage, although I don’t cry at 2 in the afternoon about it.  Life gets busy and we can’t seem to find the time to connect or talk.  Then we get the chance to spend some time together and remember why we love each other so much.  Last month we spent 4 days in Colorado together – just us in our most favorite place on earth.  We hit the sweet spot.

That place of connectedness in any relationship is the best.  It’s the thing that keeps me going.

This sweet spot is where I’ve been with God for years.  There has been mostly flowing and very little ebbing.  Even in difficult times I’ve seen where God is growing me and refining me, so although it’s difficult, I still feel Him, therefore I remain in the sweet spot.

Not so much this year.  This year I’ve spent a lot of time feeling angry.  Or sad.  Or confused.  Or I’m my closet ranting and swearing and thrashing about on the floor like a two-year old.

I”m not handling my difficulties with grace at all.  Nope.

My sister’s roommate from college lost her 15-year-old son from cancer about three months ago.  Although she’s sad and misses him, she feels God sending her signs that her boy is ok.  Today she posted on Facebook that it makes her feel blessed.

I seem to now drop F-bombs like candy falling from a piñata.  I’m sensing sort of a different zen coming from each of us.

Through all my sadness this year, I haven’t been able to draw close to God.  I just couldn’t.  It felt vulnerable.  And my feelings were hurt.  Bad stuff doesn’t HAVE to happen.  Right?  So why does it?  And we are constantly at the doctor.  He’s had multiple opportunities for a miracle healing.  Come on, dude.  I know it’s not hard for you.  I’ll find some dirt, you spit in it, rub it all over her, done.

But I can’t stay angry and hurt forever.  I do love him after all.  And lately, my wall of anger has been falling.  I’m being reminded of God’s character and his crazy love for me.  And as I turn around, looking towards him instead of away, I guess I’m sort of amazed at where he is.

He’s in the sweet spot.

I don’t know why I’m surprised.  Of course he is.  Because he never left.  That’s just not how he rolls.

It’s me.  It’s you.  We are the ones pulling away.  Or never showing up.  He is constant and steadfast.  Never moving and always sitting in the sweet spot waiting for that sort of relationship with all of us.

In high school my girlfriend and I used to crawl out on the roof and sunbathe (read cover my pale, freckled skin with baby oil until I burned) for hours and just hang out.  I loved it.  So does my dermatologist whom I’ve paid to have sun spots removed from my face.  But I digress.

It reminds me of the story of the prodigal son where the father is on the roof, searching the distant for his son that wandered away.  He will never move – no matter how pale and sunburnt he is – until his best friend returns to hang with him.  He just won’t.  And Jesus does not look away when I angry rant in the closet (it’s a big closet so I am there a lot) or cry during worship music or ask for answers that he just isn’t ready to give.  He will not leave.  Ever.

Sort of stalkerish.  Like Jon when he uses the stupid Find Friends app and texts me things like “What are you buying at Target?”  or “Having fun on the corner of 171st and Harlem?”

But unlike the Find Friends app, I like Jesus’s stalking.  It’s alright by me.  It does give me the luxury of taking my own sweet time in resolving my issues.  But that’s ok too.  Impatient isn’t one of Jesus’s qualities.  Mine, yes.  His, no.

I know where this is going.  I will be back in the sweet spot with Jesus.  He’s not just passively sitting there.  Nope.  He’s pulling me back in.  It’s just going to take a little time for me.  It’s like sitting down with someone whom you think has hurt you deeply (even though I know he hasn’t – there is a bigger answer and reason for all of this) and trying to be like we used to be.

But for right now, I’m just glad to know, he’s still there.  Always.  Forever.  No matter how long my stubborn self takes.  And for that I do feel blessed.

A Little Fantasy Never Hurt – Right?

island_holiday-normalLet’s try to keep this on the down low everyone, but I need to tell someone…..I’ve been having some rather scandalous thoughts lately.

Shhhh…don’t tell my husband or kids, but I just can’t stop the fantasy.

It all started about a month ago when I decided to clean out a box in storage.  It turned out to be full of sentimental things ranging from my high school year book to my first anniversary card from Jon.  And that’s when I found the letters.  Just a few.  But enough to get me thinking.

One letter was from Christina and it started something like this:

Dear Mrs. Zabrocki – 

You are the best teacher ever!  I have no idea what I”m going to do next year without you here!

Yep.  I’m having fantasies about the time I used to be a teacher.  *Sigh*

Why that?  It isn’t just because I loved the job.  Nope.  It was the idea that there was a beginning of the year and then an end to the year.  Student growth was not only measured, but seen.  Among moans I could pull out Romeo and Juliet, and then laugh as students joyfully acted out the sword fight between Mercurio, Romeo, and Tybalt.  I was given the honor of introducing the best book ever written  – To Kill a Mockingbird.  And at the end of 50 minutes do you know what some of the kids would say to me?  “Thank you Mrs Zabrocki.”

Say what?

Where’s your whiny voice proclaiming “I don’t like what you made for dinner.”?

Your roll of the eyes?!?  No where to be found!

Sure, I got called a bitch once or twice.  But you know what happened?  They were sent to the office and I DIDN’T HAVE TO DEAL WITH IT!

Oh the joy.

Now I’m knee-deep in dealing with it.

My children have their wonderful moments for sure.  But when the crap starts flying, I’m cleaning it up.  Where in the world is my assistant principal?  No, it’s not Jon because he’s busy knee-deep in another kid’s crap.  We do have 5 children.  Can’t my assistant principal come over and suspend some of these kids?  (And by suspend I literally mean remove them for 3-5 days until they’ve learned something useful about being a butthead)

Here’s the worst part of my current job.  Growth is measured in years.  YEARS people!!  I have no freaking idea if I’m getting this even remotely right until they turn, what, 32?

I like immediate gratification.  Raising children is devoid of that.  Sometimes it’s utter maddening.

I know you feel my pain.  Sometimes your kids are amazing (pretend that was said in a super high sing song voice) and you’re like BAM!  I did that!  Yep, me too.

Then other times you see your child’s room and think Oh dear God, pleeeeeeese don’t let them ever be on Hoarders.  Or they say something like “I don’t feel comfortable crossing busy streets.” when they are around, oh let’s say 14, and you think I’m so sorry. I’ve completely failed you.  Completely.

My friend told me she was filling out a job application with her son when he was 18 and he said to her “What’s my DOB?”  No, not What’s my date of birth?  He thought it was a word.  He asked What’s my dob? as in rhymes with job.

After laughing so hard I was crying, I literally RAN home to ask my 15-year-old if she knew what DOB stood for on application.  She didn’t.  But I managed to explain it so at least I know I covered that for her in the life skills department.  Check.

Parenting is hard.  Especially in the middle years when they consist mostly of hormones, annoyance, and appetite.

So I guess I’ll just keep this small fantasy going.  Deep down I know that’s what it really is.  No fantasy is accurately full of the glamour a person makes it out to be.  That’s why they call it fantasy people.

Real life is right here.  Failing sometimes and succeeding others.  Never really knowing how the story is going to end until, well, the actual end.  It’s where the real beauty is for sure.

But on days they pick their noses, fight about taking a shower because it hurts, ask me what a dob is, throw tomatoes into the neighbor’s yard, or tie a Nerf target on their 8-year-old sister….I’m spending some time in the fantasy.

Stuck in the Middle

When I tell people how many kids I have, the next question is always “What are their ages?”  As I rattle off 8,10,11,12, and 15, it’s comical to watch the listener’s eyes expand until they are wide-eyed and can only respond with a “Wow.”

For some reason, at this point I feel the need to respond with something like Well, we adopted some older children along the way so they weren’t all babies at the same time.  I’m not sure why, but I think I’m somehow trying to vet off the notion that I’m mentally unstable from so much child rearing.

The irony is, I liked little better.  I could have pulled off all those little stinkers in one fell swoop.  Those days were exhausting and frustrating for sure.  I’m not one of those moms with selective memory.  But it was also exciting, unpredictable, and lively.  I”m also not a mom full of regret over what I missed.  Nope. I was there and I had fun in the moment. I just sort of miss the moment.

Take a look at this picture.

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I remember that day.  I dragged those kids over to our small town parade.  We caught candy and ate every last piece.  There was no holding back.  We had ice cream too.  We took the long way home, past their neighborhood preschool, saw friends, and arrived back to do something like play in the sandbox or roll in dirt.  Either would have been fun.

What I think was the best about that time, as a mom, was that I controlled the events.  I could wake up on any given day and decide to go to the water park, a museum, or stay home all day.  It was up to me.  And I like to have fun, so we did it all.  Picked strawberries in a field, sat on a beach, had water balloon fights, and some days just did nothing.  It didn’t matter, because it was up to me and we were together.  Being impulsive is one of my favorite things.

And now I’m in the middle years.  And I hate to say it, but sometimes it sucks.  What I do every day is determined by my kids’ activities.  There is no blowing off soccer, voice lessons, and youth group all in one night just to take a walk and get ice cream.  Nope.  These kids have obligations.  And let me inform you that my kids are limited to one church, one sport only.  But one soccer season has me at the field 3 times a week!  I don’t have one single second of impulsive behavior.  It’s all scheduled.

And they have homework.  So. much. freaking. homework.  If I’m not driving a carpool I’m assisting in the writing of a research paper or doing spelling word sentences (ok, I’ll admit the word “assist” can sometimes be an exaggeration and i just end up doing the whole damn thing, because people, I can make it happen in under 4 minutes instead of 30 and did I mention how much freaking homework they have?!)  Maybe I should homeschool.  Wait, I did that.  Then they are home all day and I have to do school work with them.  Bad idea.  Remember, I’m in this for the fun.

The middle years bring doctor appointments like a mad dog too.  Orthodontists that work about 20 hours a week.  Physicals – can’t I just be done with those?  How many times do they really need to get their teeth cleaned?  Add in a girl that needs highlights and one that thinks a manicure is a monthly obligation, and it’s cray cray around here.

And finally, to top it all off, I have 4 kids feeling the pains of those middle years too.  They have hormones, they cry for no reason (yes, even the boys), they want to tell me about every last move their friends made on clash of clans or the most recent girl fight at school, and they want me to solve it all.  Which I can’t.  Well, between you and me I’m extremely wise and I could solve everything, but when you reside in the middle years, your mother knows nothing. She is also a constant disappointment to you and whenever you get the slightest chance (and are far enough away not get grabbed) you let her know your feelings about her parenting.  And what she made for dinner.  And what she’s wearing.  And….well, you get the picture.

Luckily I have an 8 year old that just smiles and still thinks I’m fantastic.  Last night as I watched her dance around the yard, play with dog, attempt a cartwheel, and just laugh at the small joys in life, my heart was so full.  I thought, I could do 8 forever.  I could adopt 10 more kids and do it all over again just for moments like this.  It’s the middle years that are sucking me dry.  I should note that as I sat there watching her, I had a son on each side of me pouting because they were in trouble for fighting over a video game.  Yep, x-box FIFA took out an entire afternoon of happiness for my boys.  Ah, the middle years.  Perfecting the art of holding a grudge for hours.  Even days.

I do love these little boogers.  So stinking much.  They are going to be fantastic adults.  Not only that, at some point it all goes back to fun.  I’ll be off the hook for car rides and homework.  Now when they call to recant their friend drama they will find my wisdom helpful.  Maybe.  Or at least they will appreciate what a good listener I am.  Perhaps.  But until then I will begin this summer listening to the sound of their eyes rolling and pained by their bickering.  Ah, the middle years.  Somehow we all end up surviving it.

A Mother’s Day Letter to Myself

Dear Jenny – Happy Mother’s Day.  No, really, I mean it.  Happy Mother’s Day.  I’m guessing this Sunday you’re going to get some cards celebrating how wonderful and great you are as a mom (and if you don’t, it’s only because your husband dropped the ball – not because your children don’t think you’re worth it), however I decided to write you this letter because let’s face it, you think you know the truth about your mothering.

And what you think is that you’re not very good at it.

I’ve laid awake with you at night recalling all the mistakes you’ve made, praying back all the mean words you’ve uttered, and just plain wishing it was easier or you were better made to handle this group of kids.  Or any kids for that matter.  I know how many times you’ve thought If only I could have the chance to do it all over again, I would do it better.  I promise.

And maybe you would do it better.  You’ve learned a lot about yourself and parenting and you are a different mother now then you were 15 years ago, right?  But that doesn’t really matter, because I know you and sometimes you still don’t think you’re quite good enough.

So here’s a mother’s day letter from your biggest critic.  Can you just take a minute you see yourself through my heart?

Let’s start with Emily.  Your oldest.  Hands down your most difficult.  She makes you so angry and your anger is one of the things you like least about yourself.  How is it that her actions can make you regress 25 years and fire you up to the point of explosion?  You spend a lot of time wishing you had been wiser and more educated about how she needed to be parented.  Although you can acknowledge that you are a better mom for her now, we both know that you think it’s not enough.  And she loves your mistakes!  So she repeats them herself or brings them up in a fight so that you can be reminded of your failures. Sometimes being with her is like looking in a mirror at your worst self.  Painful.  But why, when she invites every kid she passes in the hall at school to church, do you not see yourself in that?  Or when she’s a great friend?  How about when other adults tell you what a lovely babysitter she is?  Do you realize that the conversations you have about sex, love, Jesus, drugs, friends and all else in this world are deeper and more thoughtful than what most parents have with their children?  That’s you.  Don’t underestimate how much you are teaching her in these moments.  She’s 15 and pretending to not listen, but she is.  And she loves you for all that time you spend speaking into her and listening to the nonstop drone of teenage life.

Then there’s Faye.  The stakes are way too high with her.  I know that.  The decisions and medical intervention all these doctors expect from you are hard.  And I know you feel like you’re barely getting it right.  Ever.  Especially this year.  You’ve made some mistakes.  I’ll acknowledge that if you need to hear it.  But come on Jenny, you’re doing the best you can.  Now I need you to stop drowning under the weight of her medical care and take a few minutes to look at the amazing, strong, loving, joyful daughter that she has become.  You played a role in that.  All the times you’ve walked her to the surgery room doors with a smile on your face and the words I know you can do this have made her strong.  When she says her life sucks you say Well today sucks for sure, but let’s talk about all the beauty in your life.  That has made her positive.  Those are gifts beyond measure that you are passing along to her.  You’re forming an amazing woman Jenny.  From now on you need to let the past go and just watch her blossom into something that you can’t even fathom at this point.

Which brings me to Mesfin.  He’s so amazing.  Yes, his first year you were a mess.  You both had trouble attaching and yes, you were sometimes insensitive to his trauma.  But you’ve learned a lot and been able to speak into the lives of other adoptive parents.  And Mesfin doesn’t remember most of that year anyway.  That’s God’s gift to you.  Sometimes you feel that he’s so unteachable and stubborn so you can’t influence his life at all.  It’s not true.  It’s not through words that he learns.  He watches you.  And let me tell you something…..you handle your mistakes with grace.  Yep, you blow up, are impatient, and occasionally drop an f-bomb, but you always say I’m sorry.  Modeling those few powerful words are a gift beyond measure.  In addition, he will be a remarkable spouse because he watches you and Jon all the time.  He copies you in simple ways of thoughtfulness by asking Jon how his day was when he gets home and offering to help you both with chores around the house.  He copies the best of you because it is of more frequency than the worst.

Number four came out the visual carbon copy of Jon, but Will’s personality is all you.  Oh my goodness are you two hilarious!  However you are always on edge for the train wreck you think is coming.  Yes, it took your forever to learn when to shut up.  Yes, you were a bad listener in your youth.  Oh yes, you got over excited around your friends and maybe overdrank a day (or two) in your life.  Yep, a bad boyfriend here and there.  So what Jenny?  You learned lessons.  You grew.  He will have to do it all too.  You can not stop it and just because he inherited his impulsivity from you, doesn’t make it your journey.  It just is.  Continue to try and teach him what you know about life from your lessons and then leave it up to him.  Focus on what else you passed down.  Remember the first Christmas that you no longer believed in Santa?  Your heart hurt because you realized that not every kid got presents.  You cried.  It changed your life, that knowledge that pain was out in the world.  Will does the same thing.  He’s the most unbearable when a foster kid lives with us because, let’s face it, sharing is hard.  But he cries the most when they go home because he is worried about them.  And last week when he said Mom, let’s adopt again.  My bottom bunk is empty.  How beautiful was that?  Although I wouldn’t suggest another kid Jenny, look at how you’ve opened his eyes to seeing others in need.

And finally, Iris.  She’s like the cheater child.  So easy to please and loves you so much. Even when you let her down she forgives instantly.  Unlike you who can’t seem to forgive herself for any mistakes.  Stop looking for adoption issues.  She’s attached to you perfectly.  Every child is in your life to teach you something about yourself and this one is here to remind you that Jesus keeps filling your house with children so remember that He obviously thinks you’re doing something right!

Happy mother’s day Jenny!  I really want you to know that you’ve got this.  You’re doing a great job. Stop being your own worst critic.  Let’s celebrate the beautiful, funny, lovely, unique, messy mother that you are. Live in the moment because there are only 10 years left until you have an empty nest.  Well, unless you do decide to fill that bottom bunk.

What’s in a name?

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Names are funny things.  We don’t get to pick them, but yet we become so attached to them.  Sometimes we are even bothered if people don’t get the exact version of our name correct.  I can relate to this one.  My name is Jenny.  I hate it when people call me Jennifer.  Unless you are about to take blood or file my taxes, you need not ever refer to me as Jennifer.  Jen is ok, but unlike my friend Jenn, I only spell it with one n.  Why I have a specific spelling isn’t clear to me.  Nor is how I decided that there was just one N.  But there is.  I know this.

I’ve struggled with my children’s names too.  Jon picked our first child’s name and as I acquiesced, I clearly stated that I own all additional naming rights to any and all living things that entered our home.  So when daughter number two was cooking, I gave her the name Faye – the name i had wanted for a girl forever – but Jon wanted to put Faith on the birth certificate.  In a weak moment I caved.  However I don’t even acknowledge that name.  Ever.  I actually registered her for school as Faye.  I win.

And now I am at another naming crossroads.  But this one holds much more weight and struggle than the others.

When Iris came home from China she was automatically a US citizen.  However, the state of Illinois requires us to readopt her here and this is how we will come to possess a record of foreign birth, or essentially a birth certificate for her.  Other states don’t require this – but Illinois is exceptional at finding ways to get money out of people.  I digress.

Iris’s name was chosen because our son from Ethiopia has a little sister named Iris.  Giving that name to his new little sister was all his choice.  We left it up to him if he wanted to do this to honor her.  It took him months to decide.  Had he chosen not to, we would have picked another name.  We decided to leave her middle name Chaojuan which is both her middle and first name in China.  As a young child she went by juan.  (pronounced Jew-en)

Here is how her name came to be.  She was abandoned. She became a ward of the state essentially.  They gave her the last name Ma, as they did with all children abandoned in 2006.  This is like us naming all foster kids with the last name Foster.  Or Ward.  Depressing.  They gave her a middle name of Chao because that is the area she was discovered in, as they did with all children found in this area.  That is like giving your child the middle name Cook or Will for the county they were found in.  Then a government official picked Juan.  No reason why.  Just randomly choose it.

There is no family history or mother’s dreams to put behind that name.  None at all.

And now I have a second grader who for months has in earnest asked me to change her middle name.  I try to tell her that I kept Chaojuan to honor her Chinese history.  She says “But I’m an American now and I want an American name.”

And since we haven’t completed the readoption, we actually are at a moment where we can make her middle name anything.

I want her to love China, but her story makes her feel powerless.  She remembers everything clearly but understands little.  She has no idea why she had to leave her foster parents and at one point she asked me if she came out of that mom’s belly.  When I told her no, there was a mom that she grew inside of and then the mom she remembers was a foster mom, she cried and said “That’s just too many moms to miss.”

When she got to the orphanage they cut her hair off.  She says it was the worse thing that ever happened to her.  Last week she was eating a hard-boiled egg and said “Every morning in the orphanage you had to eat a hard-boiled eggs”  I replied “What if you didn’t like eggs?”  Without a pause she answered “You ate the egg.”

I believe Iris was well taken care of and treated kindly in the orphanages.  I know her foster parents loved her dearly.  However, once she left their home at the age of 5, her life felt very out of control.  No one felt the need to inform her why anything was happening to her.  Her hair was cut.  She switched orphanages.  She ate the egg every morning.  She got adopted.  All without choice.

I want her to love the fact that she’s Chinese.  But part of me thinks that should be on her terms.  Not defined by the fact that I kept a Chinese name for her.  And honestly, there’s a thousand other reasons I want her to love herself that have nothing to do with being Chinese.  Such as being a good friend, being honest, loving jokes and magic tricks, not being afraid of worms and bugs.  All things that make her who she is.

I am a good listener.  I hear what she is telling me.  I want to honor that.

However, will there come a day when she delights in that name?  When she loves that it is original, unique, specific to her?  I don’t know.  My best childhood friend Nancy didn’t tell me her middle name until high school.  Now she loves it.  (It’s Nell by the way.  Our friends call her Nancy Nell sometimes just for fun because even we love it.)

And it’s so hard for me to let go of that little piece of her history since I have so few pieces of it.

All this debate is because she is an adopted kid with a history she can remember.  I could care less if my biological son Will likes any part of his name.  Change it when you’re of legal age I would tell him.  But his name was chosen not by a government, but by a mother.  Which is why Mesfin still has his Ethiopian name.  It was given to him by his mother.

I have no answers.  I don’t know what we are going to do.  Or why it matters so much to her, but it does.  I hear about it constantly.  She likes words and names.  She thinks about them a lot.  At least once a week she tells me what she wants to name her kids or what Bible names mean.  It fascinates her.

I’m taking opinions.  Debating and weighing the choices.  Feel free to add your comments and give your opinion on what I should do.  This is one time when I really am interested in what people think I should do!