Misfit Island

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For most of my life, I have often felt like I didn’t fit in.  As a teenager, I felt like I was meant to live in a different time. I felt like I started to find myself towards the end of high school and in college, I developed an excellent group of friends who I felt “got me”.  Then, when I got married, I thought “this is it, I finally found someone who loves me, and all will be good”.  Then, came the infertility…as I watched other couples and friends start to build families, I again felt left out.  Suddenly, my friends were busy raising kids and even being around them was a painful reminder.  When we adopted the boys, I again thought “this is it”, but I quickly found that in a small community, many families already had their “groups”.  As Bolt began to really struggle, it felt further isolating.  Why couldn’t I have the American Dream?  We then picked up and moved across the country right when I was just starting to feel like I might have found a community.  As I have said before, the move was the right decision, but also reactivated that feeling of isolation.  Then, well, you know the rest.

Interestingly, in the past few months, I have really connected with the adoptive families group at church.  It was feeling so alone that really allowed me to step outside my comfort zone for new friendships.  However, with that, the feeling of not belonging has been emerged its ugly head again.  While I now feel like I found a group of women who understand what parenting a kid from a “hard place” looks like, I look around the room and still feel so very much like a misfit watching couples mingle with other couples.

The other challenge I find, that churches are designed around families.  You look around a service on a Sunday morning and are surrounded by families.  I stand there in worship and often find myself overwhelmed by how alone I feel.  I have one son who sits who his hands over his ears and both regularly excuse themselves for a bathroom run.  I worry that people are judging me for the behavior of my sons.  Part of me wants to shout from the rooftops, “I am doing the best I can”.  Then, as I joined the sparsely attended singles group I hear that the church has so many groups that it can’t “publicize” groups that don’t feed a majority…

All while these thoughts are going through my head, I can’t help wondering if these experiences are teaching me empathy for the lonely…the left out…the misfits.  I must take hold of the truth that we all have our own stories and those stories can either make us or break us. I don’t know the future, but I also believe that God can make beauty from ashes.

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To protect the privacy of my sons, I will be using nicknames.  My oldest I have nicknamed Bolt after the runner Usain Bolt and they actually have a little bit of a resemblance.

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Bolt is 13 years old later this summer.  I often joke that he must come out of the womb with his middle finger up at the world…and this isn’t a terrible thing.  He lives life on his own terms and has a bit of an edge to him, carefully honed living for years at an orphanage in Ethiopia.  I spent many years wanting to soften his little heart, but I think I have reconciled myself this being part of who he is and not trying to change it, but rather to use it to his advantage.  Bolt struggles with some of the issues many adoptees face, trauma and attachment issues, and is also autistic.  He can argue about everything and nothing.  He doesn’t really like to be touched, but it happy to get into your personal bubble (a common characteristic of autism).  He doesn’t always know how to get positive attention so he spends a lot of time irritating and annoying people just to get them to notice him.  These are all issues he is working on, but they are deeply imbedded.

Why do I call him Bolt?  Well, he is insanely fast.  Flying home from Ethiopia nearly 8 years ago, he and his brother got loose in the Washington D.C. airport and, even then, I couldn’t catch them.  They got as far as the service dog entrance before security caught them.  I was meeting a friend for coffee in between flights and her first introduction to them was watching them bolt across the airport.  At age nine, he began running 5Ks and even a 10K.  His first 10K time was 42 minutes, exactly double his 5K time.  He then took a break from running and did most of his running in soccer, but this spring he joined the middle school track team and is finding his stride again.

Bolt is also a bit of a comedian with a more mature sense of humor.  He loves The Simpsons and can often be heard snorting at the computer as he watches the antics of Homer.  He tells jokes and laughs at himself.  The past few weeks, he has been exploring, what I have called, his “gangsta” humor with lots of “yo mama”.  I am not sure where he got it, but it makes me smile.

Bolt also has his own perspective on many things.  A few years ago, he walked into the hospital to bring me coffee with his dad and brother.  He had been told to wear a coat seeing as it was February and below freezing.  He, of course, refused said coat.  On the way out of the hospital, he began shivering and this was pointed out to him.  He responded with “that isn’t shivering, it is my chin dancing to its own rhythm”.  His observations on the world are entirely his own, and as he is maturing it is interesting to see him think and question and engage the world in the way that God created him.  A few weeks after our life was flipped on its head, he was sitting in the car (his favorite place for deep conversations) and he started talking, “Mom, I know you talk a lot about making choices.  You know, the choices Dad is making don’t just affect him, they effect all of us.”.  I could only respond with a “yes” and tell him that personal choices have the power to help and hurt people we love.  As I begin this journey as a single mom, ushering Bolt into his teenage years, I find myself listening more, not just to his words, but to his actions.  I also have taken his quote from many years ago to heart and have begun to embrace him dancing to his own rhythm.

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Who Am I?

He would get these far-off looks in his eyes and he would say ‘Life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan’. I just wish I’d realized at the time, he was talking about MY life.” – Lucy, referencing a conversation with her father, in While You Were Sleeping

This has been a recurring theme in my life.  I am a planner and, yes, a little bit of a control freak.  I think God has a sense of humor about this character trait in me and has allowed my life to live in a perpetual state of detour.  The last time I remember anything go according to MY plan was when my then husband and I bought our first house in 2004.  You see, grew up a “typical” white, middle class, Christian girl.  I graduated from high school, went to a Christian university, met the man who would become my husband, got married just before my senior year, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, got my “dream job” as an ICU nurse right out of school, bought a house, and got a yellow lab.

A few years into our marriage is when my life on detour began.  For us, the next natural step was children, and we started trying, with the plan that 9 months or so later a baby would emerge at the beginning of the summer and we could spend that summer learning to be parents.  Instead, what transpired was one of the darkest periods of my life as not only did I not get pregnant, but a year later found out that our only option to conceive was through in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which we did, hopefully, three times, without success.  It was a brutal two years and we emerged broken and hurting and angry with God.

In 2008, about 6 weeks after our last failed IVF, in a moment of clarity, we felt God lead us to international adoption.  I did the research and found an agency to work with and chose to adopt from Ethiopia.  Initially, the plan was for a “waiting” infant and toddler (waiting, as in a child already in an orphanage in need of a home).  Oddly, our agency had recently place a lot of children, and only had two children under the age of 5 (which is what we were approved for due to our age) available.  We looked at their profiles, talked to people who had met them, and soon accepted the referral of the two boys who would become our sons, then aged 3 and 4.  We foolishly believed the process would be smooth sailing and would have the boys home around Christmas.  By the following January, we still had no date in sight, so for my birthday in February, I made my first international trip, solo, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  I spent a week getting to know my sons and it broke my heart to say goodbye, not knowing when they could come home.  It wouldn’t be until September of 2009, one year after we accepted the referral, that we would travel to Ethiopia to bring the boys home.

Many would think that bringing the boys home would be the beginning our “happy ever after”, but adoption is messy and hard.  We brought into our home two boys (nicknames used), then aged 4 (Messi) and 5 (Bolt), who spoke no English, and had spent years living in an orphanage.  The first few months were exhausting, but we were hopeful that with a lot of love, we would all settle quickly.  That didn’t happen and we began the journey of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and reactive attachment disorder (RAD) with Bolt.  Years into therapy, I was sitting talking to his therapist as we both began to question that we might be dealing with something else as well, autism.  Sure enough, about 18 months after that conversation, Bolt was given the official diagnosis of autism.  We then spent the next year trying to find therapists and providers to work with him and hit road block after road block.  I remember asking his psychiatrist what he would do in our situation and he told us he would relocate to another state with better services for those on the spectrum.  I spent the next month doing research and talking to people who are experts in autism and was basically told some of the best states for services, most of which were on the East Coast.  A month later, we put our house on the market and travelled to Pennsylvania to interview for jobs.  We both accepted jobs on that trip and found a house to rent the school district we had already chosen.  We returned home, our house quickly sold, we packed up everything, and began the cross-country journey in January of 2015.

As far as the move went, it was absolutely the right decision for my sons.  Both have flourished in Pennsylvania.  The school autism support has made a night and day difference in Bolt’s coping skills and social skills.  For Messi, he has developed friends and found an awesome soccer club.  I, on the other hand, really struggled with the move and found my introvert tendencies fully blossom in an area where I knew no one.  My job as an emergency room nurse was no longer fulfilling and I found myself angry and withdrawn and almost paralyzed by fear in social situations.  By October of 2016, I realized that I needed to do something for myself and began seriously thinking and praying about going back to school.  In early December, I was accepted into a master of public health (MPH) program and found the fog I had experienced since the move begin to lift.  Little did I know that while I was busy finding myself again, my husband was finding himself…with another woman.

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