Today, I’m pleased to introduce you to Cindy who’s sharing her unique journey through motherhood as part of our month-long guest post series, Special Mamas. Cindy and and her husband have three biological children and three adopted children. Their three adopted children originally joined the family as foster children, and their youngest biological child has Down syndrome. I love the way Cindy rolls with the punches. I love the way Cindy finds humor and beauty in the daily grind. I love the way Cindy tells her mothering journey in the context of real, everyday life. I don’t know Cindy personally, but I can say without a doubt that she is an amazing woman who deserves every bit of blessing this Mother’s Day has to offer. Enjoy, friends! This is one beautiful family.
About a month ago, I was asked to tell my story as a mom, a mom of six, an adoptive mom, a foster mom, a mom of a special needs child, a mom of a college student. I began to write, and write, and write, but the words didn’t seem to flow. So I took a break and just lived my life.
I spent a much needed breather from our brood, ages 19, 17, 14, 11, 8, and 6, with my husband. Well, from all of them except our number two child. Emily had a rowing competition in Southern California with her high school crew, so we decided to book a hotel and make it a couple’s weekend. Oh boy, did we enjoy our time alone, as well as the time with our soon-to-be high school graduate. As we watched her instruct her crew as the coxswain (a small person that tells rowers what to do), I thought about our time together.
Her brother was but ten months old when we found out about Emily. Her birth and childhood were relatively effortless, which was a relief as her older brother made up for the both of them. Fairly easy going, she has always been a person who does not place very much importance on popular opinion. At 17 years of age, my oldest daughter continually amazes me. She has never been a source of drama. Well, there was that season at three years old where she would pass out any time she cried. That was fun to cope with. Fortunately, after a couple of years, she grew out of it. Currently, she is growing into a young lady who is smart, funny, quirky, sweet, thoughtful, and many other wonderful adjectives. Her sense of humor and maturity has definitely emerged due to the life she has experienced with her younger siblings who were, at this time, hundreds of miles away.
Throughout our hiatus, I would receive the occasional text across state lines from our third child. In his own way, Angel was making sure life was as it should be at home, while his siblings were testing their fate and pushing the boundaries. Some would perceive this as interstate tattling. I, myself, was actually encouraged. The Hubster and I rejoiced in the knowledge that Angel finally understood that the rules still apply when parents aren’t there, something that, back a couple of years, would have been the farthest from his mind.
A little over eight years ago, after being in “the system” for two years, Angel and his little sister, Allie, were placed in our home at the ages of 5 ½ and 2 ½, as foster children. The deadline had been reached and their parents had been found unfit.
It had taken the Hubster and me half that time to complete all the requirements to become foster parents. We were adamant that we would love the children and cry when they left. Because we were happy with our little foursome, adoption was far from our thoughts. Our family was picture perfect, having a boy that looked like him and a girl that looked like me. Why would we mess with that?
I remember the excitement and anticipation, though. Eric and Emily remember being pulled out of their class to introduce their new siblings. I remember sitting with my newest (foster) daughter on my lap while she played with the strings on my hooded sweatshirt, as well as my (foster) son’s continuous singing. I remember the joy, hope and love we had. I remember when we offered to be their forever family. I remember hugging their birth mom and telling her (and myself) that in God’s eyes, her sins were no greater than mine. I remember talking to the biological father on the phone and telling him, “As long as you are someone they can be proud of, you will be allowed into their lives.” Along with, “We want our children to be proud of what they are made of.” I remember dressing my girls in pink and my boys in blue for National Adoption Day, venturing into the courtroom crowded with exuberant onlookers, and sitting before the judge. I remember that judge declaring our children’s names attached to our last name, and the relief I felt. I had been holding back emotions I had no idea were there. I remember the throngs of people who paraded through our home to celebrate our “New and Improved” family. And I remember doing it all over again when we got their five day old brother, Joe, just three months later.
I remember the emotions my children had to work through, the fight to let go of the past and cling to their future. I remember the disappointment, pain, and anger they felt when they realized their birth parent went right back to the same old behaviors. I remember the tears I shed because their hearts were broken. I remember their resistance to our hugs to help them heal, the lack of trust, and the fight just to hear what they were thinking. I remember the threats to run away, the piggy banks that were pilfered, and the piles and piles of candy wrappers unearthed from hidden places. I remember the pain I felt each time my child was honest and told me they belonged with their birth parent. I remember telling them that they were right, that is where God wanted them to be, but their birth parents did not keep them safe, so God protected them. I remember tears streaming down cheeks as I told them that Dad and I could not make an Angel or an Allie, only their birth parents could. But God knew the choices that would be made so He chose to protect them. He knew Kevin and Cindy would love them unconditionally and allow them no harm. So He arranged for us all to become family.
The process of bonding seemed to take ages. For a few years, we were afraid we were losing Angel. It was not easy, at all, but it was good. Upon returning from our weekend, we realized Angel had been the “good kid,” the “responsible one,” the “one to depend on.” We had reached a parenting summit.
The week following our little getaway was pretty standard with bedtimes, school, homework, chores, and playing. (Oh yes, and some pretty creative consequences for those who were not so obedient in our absence.) That Friday, I dropped Emily off at school for her senior trip, and Eric went to spend the weekend working the kitchen at a Young Life camp.
We are so proud of the young man our oldest is becoming. At the beginning of his life, we weren’t sure if WE would make it through to his adulthood. Those memories were in the forefront of my mind after I received a phone call at 10:30 that night. The first words I heard were, “Now don’t freak out Mom, I am OK.” There aren’t many words that make this mom fearful. Here I was, sitting on the couch listening to my firstborn explain the rollover accident he was just in as the passenger in the front seat of a minivan. Driving down a two-lane highway, where one would typically keep their eyes open for the occasional deer crossing, the driver heading toward them fell asleep at the wheel. His pickup hit the van at my son’s door. Eric walked away with only sore muscles and little lacerations across his arms, torso and face. That in itself was amazing, but the real gift was how my son handled the situation as an adult. He did not need his Dad and Mom there. After being discharged from the emergency room 90 minutes away from home, he returned to the camp, slept, and finished his weekend working in the kitchen. That is the young man we are proud of. That is the young man we strove so hard to raise.
After a late night full of emotions, I woke up late Saturday morning. We had 75 minutes to get the kids up, dressed, fed, and to the local high school because our youngest, Jillian, was scheduled to compete in Special Olympics. (Did I mention her brother, number five child, had vomited in bed?) Jillie was born with Down syndrome. Her competitions included the Tennis Ball Throw and the 25-Meter Dash. Watching everything she was achieving brought tears to my eyes. I absolutely love who my youngest daughter is, and have loved her from the moment we knew we were pregnant.
When we found out we were due to bring child number six into the world, we were surprised. Going from two to five children in thirteen months is quite the endeavor. We were approaching one year of embracing our seven-member household when we confirmed the future family of eight. (The story of our pregnancy is an amazing blog post on its own.) After nine months, many doctors appointments, cheers from my best friend (who had a 16 year old blessed with an extra chromosome), and a hot Arizona summer, Jillian was born. From her very beginnings, our daughter set out to amaze the world. By the time she was five months old, Jillian was displaying early signs of communication. Though she didn’t walk until after her second birthday, it didn’t take long for her to stand up in the middle of the room and go for it. Verbal communication is difficult for people with Down syndrome, so we taught her ASL, American Sign Language. Through the use of Signing Time DVDs, she had over 300 signs by the time she was three. Before she was four, I discovered she knew her written letters as we were walking down the halls at school. I had no idea. Jillie continues to amaze us academically. Currently, at six years of age, she is reading fairly fluently, definitely at grade level.
With all of that said, it is not Jillian’s academic anomalies that make her so special to us. It is Jillie who is the cherry on top of the crazy sundae we call a family. It is Jillie with whom Angel felt safest. She allowed him to let his guard down so he could be vulnerable. Angel cherished, cared for, and LOVED Jillie. It was Jillie who provided the first ray of light through the enormously thick wall he had to build to protect his heart from a beginning no child deserves.
It is Jillie who is allowing Allie to learn compassion and responsibility that comes with being a big sister. It is Jillie who has given Joe an opportunity to apply the protective nature God has given him. It is Jillie who gets to display the traits of her oldest two siblings. She is particular and strong willed just like her brother, Eric. She gets her love for the written word from her big sis, Emily. It is Jillie who softened her Daddy’s heart that had, for a long time, been focused on correcting behaviors resulting from the previous devastation that came to some of our children before they were a part of our family. It is Jillie who I could look forward to snuggling when, with her siblings, it felt like I was hugging broken glass. It is Jillie who has tied our family together.
While sitting on my couch, I realized that in this past week, I had lived a lifetime. These eight days had not only provided a snapshot into my life as a mother, but they also illustrated what being a mom means to me. Motherhood is all about sacrifice, encouragement, and knowing when to let go. Being a mom means being able to see our children’s strengths and help them overcome their weaknesses. It takes grace, strength, forgiveness, resilience, and flexibility. My experience with motherhood is just how I like it, Never Easy, Always Good.
“My Aunt is a PROFESSIONAL MOM.” Those words from my 23-year-old niece mean the world to me because I work hard at what I do. My career has spanned over 19 years with 24-hour, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year on-the-job training. This period of time has provided the experience with youth ages pre-birth to legal adulthood, specializing in bonding issues, chromosomal disorders, allergic reactions, illegal substance exposure, emotional challenges, as well as prolonged potty training and a myriad of other skills to pad my parenting resume. I had a limited amount of prior education including babysitting, Special Olympics volunteer, Early Childhood Education major, and preschool teacher. In May 2013, I was first asked to share my family story for a Mother’s Day blog series which gave me the penchant to begin blogging on my own. Join my family adventures on my blog “Never Easy – Always Good” at www.nevereasyalwaysgood.blogspot.com. While you’re at it, “like” my page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nevereasyalwaysgood.
Family Photo Credits: Brooke Photography in Prescott, Arizona
Special Olympics Photo Credits: Bradshaw Mountain Special Olympics
This post is part of a month-long guest post series titled Special Mamas. The series runs all May and is in honor of moms who have unique journeys to and through motherhood. To read all 13 posts in the Special Mamas series, CLICK HERE and you’ll be directed to the introductory post. At the bottom of the post, you’ll find all guest posts listed and linked for easy reading!