Cousins, Siblings, Frenemies

These two. They are cousins and, after 3 years and intention, brother and sister. It’s of interest to me that out of the 6, they are the only two without Asian blood in them. My ‘Little Photo-Negatives’ I call them. When summer rolls around again their biological similarities will be even more outstanding as they, like their mother, will fry and burn at the first moment of forgotten sunscreen. All their other siblings will grow darker and darker and darker over the duration of the season, standing in stark contrast to these two.

Their physical similarities seem so highlighted in this photo above and often I wonder at their individual fates. I wonder where their journey will take them. I wonder where will they go from where they started and how much of it will be spent together. I wonder things like this a lot, but such is the case when you are fighting to weld together a family to outlast your own lifetime from such a widely diverse biological field.

He is 2 years older than her and for those first two years he didn’t say anything. At all. And he wasn’t frustrated by it (or anything else). A more easy going baby you’ve never seen. But beneath that easy going nature you began to sense that something wasn’t quite right. While he was very engaged with his father and I, he didn’t interact with anyone else. He was unflappably happy to play by himself. But you began to notice that play consisted primarily of finding bowls and plates and any other circular object and spinning it, like a performer in a Chinese circus. He could make them do things I couldn’t begin to and would watch them with endless fascination. He also liked to play relentlessly with the little toddler size basketball hoop that we had. And all the while he didn’t say a word or make the slightest sound, other than crying on occasion, at which times he was as impossibly loud as he was silent. And content with it. His lack of frustration actually worked against him and the tutors who worked with him 5 to 6 days a week from the age of two in an attempt to push through the peacefully anti-social bubble that enclosed him.

And then, when he was 5 years old we threw a grenade into his life in the form of his 18-month-old cousin. She was his polar opposite in almost in every way possible. Highly verbal at an early age, hyper-competent, controlling and frustrated by everything, content with nothing. This child who had been so traumatized for her 18 months of life was a fighter who was at odds with all of life was throwing at her and provoking in every way. She was a storm of trauma into his placid pool of contentment.

She spent the first year either ignoring him (and forcing me to do the same) by utterly dominating all my attention 24 hours a day, or teaching him how to have tantrums by demonstration and alternately finding every available button on him to push and manipulate for reaction. I tell no lie when I say we used to be grateful that for the sake of the older kids that they got a break from her by leaving for their fathers every weekend. He got no such break. And while it wasn’t enjoyable, I can say that the way she pushed him increased his emotional range for sure, although at first in the most unpleasant of ways as he learned to imitate her tantrums. We can never know what road he might have gone if she had not come into our family. We can be certain of only one thing. She had an unmistakable effect on him.

The next 18 months they spent arguing, fighting and screaming at each other. Gone was our peaceful, gentle, pliable child and mostly it was awful. There were certainly times that we worried about the level of stress that she was putting on him. But later, one has to wonder if somehow his under-developed-for-his-age skills and her pseudo-maturity didn’t cause them meet somewhere in the middle and give them both a unique balance which only they can share.

I can see this now because about 2 weeks ago, something changed. Something that has ended up with whispered confidences and shared giggles, with hugs and casual endearments and heads often touching unconsciously while they watch a show together. Suddenly, they manifest a consideration for each other at moments that I wasn’t sure I would ever see.

Recently, they spent the entire afternoon inseparably in each others company, playing together, sharing confidences and calling each other “Honey”. What might sound normal for two children living together was remarkable when I reflect on where their journey started.

And suddenly, they were magic together. It is wonderful for them, but it is even bigger for her and what it means on her road to just being a child again. It is big and huge, a victory of near exhaustive efforts on the part of everyone in this household that she will now turn to the children in the house for social companionship and attention. And it only took three years…

Heard Today: 5 Year Old “Um Honey? oh sorry, sorry, I mean Jack…”
7 Year Old “Oh, that’s alright. You can call me Honey. I don’t mind.”
And so she did…all night.

The First Year Meant…

Learning to surrender your vulnerable first born to strangers when you couldn’t be at home with one and at the hospital with the other two at the same time.

Learning to feed 3 babies at once.

Following an ambulance back to the hospital and praying that the lights won’t go on.

Getting less sleep than a Navy Seal during Hell Week (granted, however, I didn’t have to carry “Ole Misery”).

Living with strangers.

Knowing how to do CPR on a baby for real.

Driving 45+ minutes each way back and forth to the hospital every day.

Living with the sounds of alarms meant to warn you that your child had stopped breathing randomly going off.

Measuring out and monitoring careful daily doses of medicine for 2 out of three children.

A complete and total loss of privacy because I kept the bassinets in my bedroom.

Living off of take out Chinese, Teddy Bear grahams and pink vanilla frosting.

Learning that Girlfriends are the best things God created.

Calling 911.  More than once.

Driving through a 5am downpour on the phone with the hospital desperately trying to locate them while the monitor on your child keeps going off to tell you her heart rate has plummeted again.

Totally hyperventilating the one time you go out to lunch with a friend and realize you’ve left your phone at home.

Loving firemen, nurses and EMT’s.

Learning the true meaning of desperation every weekend when you know you will be alone till Monday morning.

Saying hello to high blood pressure.

Learning the nightmare of 5pm colic.

Making midnight phone calls hoping to hear that they have gained grams rather than lost them.

Sometimes already feeding two babies and just having to listen to the one who just woke up cry until you are done.

Being mobbed at malls and answering questions about them, like “Are they natural?”

Never going anywhere without two fully loaded diaper bags and two strollers.

Memorizing medical records until Doctors ask if you’re one of them.

Never, ever really sleeping no matter who offers you time to rest because you’re a first time mother, and they don’t do that.

Becoming a better person the moment they were born.


A symbol of change and transformation

Within Hinduism and Buddhism the lotus flower has become a symbol for awakening to the spiritual reality of life.

Could you change an entire life in a year?  The answer is almost certainly yes.  My whole life changed in a day once. Actually, it changed in a moment. It changed in the hallway of the Orleans Convention Center in Las Vegas on a payphone when I said “Yes.”  Yes to the idea of having a baby (or three) with a family friend through IVF. It changed that fast – Forever.

It changed again in one night during a moment of intimacy. And it changed again one morning when my mother answered an email. And then it changed one final time during another moment of intimacy between two people set on a course of decisions that I knew nothing about at the time they were being made.  Those are the moments that I can trace back to the beginnings of the 6 children I call mine, and nothing is ever more life changing than children. It’s a lesson that changes that big can come from seemingly mundane decisions.

My journey into motherhood began on a steep curve from the beginning. First, triplets, then a miracle 4th baby and then another child through family tragedy and then one more through the same. From infertility to 6 kids in about 8 years – is it any wonder then that I have long felt that I am more managing my life than I am inhabiting it?  I want to spend 12 months exploring how to be more present in my life and feel less like I’m clinging wide-eyed to the back of a wild, runaway horse.

So, I need to change my life again. And if it can happen in an instant, then one supposes it can happen in a year.  I’ve never, ever been one to go in for resolutions and such. I am not a creature of regiment or structure, and such make-or-break resolutions have always seemed like a recipe for failure to me. But this year, a decade after my life made the most significant evolution of all by beginning the journey of motherhood, I find myself kind of racing towards the idea of a new year, a fresh beginning, the chance to recreate…to create a life that I feel much more in touch with.  The strong desire to grow skin I can feel comfortable in.

A dearly loved cousin recently helped to put it into perspective for me when he reminded me of the John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans. “  I feel as if I am always making other plans while my life rushes by. Enough. I don’t want to miss the most important things in my life because of its frantic, often disorganized pace.  I want less.  A lot less. Less stuff, less stress, just less.

The first steps to take are to make some admissions to myself. To admit that our circumstances are special and that 6 kids and blended families aren’t easy. That triplets aren’t easy. That neither is autism or attachment disorder or open adoption.  To admit finally that what I’m doing here isn’t commonplace. It’s huge and hard and wide. It requires me to be able to live in ambiguity in a way many, many people can’t. It involves skills and flexibility and a refusal to fail. And it is being done with less than optimal support or recognition, even from myself. I want to say out loud that it’s hard so that I can stop sabotaging myself by expecting to be just like the families with 2.5 carefully tended and organized children. So that I can stop focusing on the idea that I’m never getting this right. I do that a lot. The real truth is that I am getting this more right than I realize. I have 6 examples of it in front of me every day. Refocus!

The second step I’m going to take is to write down the shortest possible list of what I want my life to look like. I’m going to try and distill the essence of what I want my life to be about down to as few words as possible.

Simplify – Children, Health, Create, De-Clutter, Breathe More Deeply.

And after that, I want to start by the simplest possible steps to achieve that.  Simplify? How about saying “no” to a lot more stuff? No to cheap plastic toys. No to too many clothes. No to other people’s expectations. Health? Maybe I’ll drink a little more green tea and remember to take my vitamins. I can do things like this. Small things. Manageable things. Mindful things. And I can remind myself to stop and breathe, deeply and often.

That’s it, just 2 steps on the road to being kinder to myself by not saying yes to all the things that clutter up my house, my life, my time – time that I would rather be spending with my kids and good friends. So that’s my intention for the New Year…just being kinder to myself in general. That’s my gift to my children and to myself for the coming year and I’m giving myself the whole 12 months to get it right

I hope you do the same…