Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood

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Evan and Kate have now lived in our home for almost a year. Each of their days here has seen change—some days a droplet, others a downpour, but each and every day they move forward. When they first came to live with us, they loved to boast about all of their escapades growing up unparented. They dropped tidbits of their past like acorns falling from the oak. But as their roots deepen, they seem to want to forget, to move away from their difficult childhood, and pretend that their membership in our family has always been.

As we continue to show Evan and Kate consistent support and love, the walls protecting their fragile images begin to crumble and fall away. The children, initially reluctant to admit they needed our parenting, have started to realize they're not ready to be adults. After trying to do things their own way and facing the resulting struggles, they are beginning to allow us to raise them. They are learning what it's like to have parents, and they are coming to relish having someone else think about adult things while they get to be children again.

I have seen, too, a different side of my parenting. I've become the mother I need to be for these two children—strict, consistent, relentless, encouraging, patient. I'm getting used to the awkwardness of not knowing their history, of not having known them much longer than their teachers and friends have, of being called by their birth mother's name. They're getting used to the rhythms and flow of our family. Their edges melt into ours like snowflakes in the rain.

Even though Evan and Kate have lived with us for less than a year, they call our stuff their stuff. They call our biological children their brothers and sisters. And, they call us Mom and Dad. Some of this takes getting used to, and the pace at which things twist and turn from day-to-day can be disorienting. It's almost as if they arrived as patches of dry, cracked earth, ready to absorb the beliefs and practices of anyone who would show them enough trust and love. Already it seems as if we have proven that we know what's best for them and will lead them toward a happy future no matter how challenging the journey. The cracks fill in more quickly than I could have imagined.

But the struggles I was worried about—the misbehavior, the anger, and the failure to attach—none of that has happened. As it turns out, that is not what this is about. Instead, this is about starting right here, right now, to make these children's lives normal and happy. I no longer question what makes a mother and a father; I've come to believe that, in the eyes of children, a parent can be anyone who is willing to be there every morning and every night, who is willing to do the difficult work of raising them.

In the months since these children have found a home in our family, we've witnessed so many positive changes, big and small. We have seen Evan's grades rise with a lot of help from his teachers and us. While he still resists assuming the responsibility of school, he's now willing to take help, at least. We've seen Kate soften to those around her, no longer pushing everyone away thinking she can do better on her own. We've seen her take advice and suggestions and admit when she is wrong. They have made new friends and have given those friends second chances. They no longer need to be the center of attention and are learning that being part of a family sometimes means just listening to someone else or chipping in to help. Through these changes, I have come to believe that God takes care of his children. And what's more, God takes care of those who take care of his children. He is giving us all what we need to do his work.

When I was worried that their new school wouldn't accept them because Evan's grades were too low, his former school miraculously lost his transcript. His new school accepted him on the strength of his sister's As without ever seeing his grades. When I was looking for help driving them to their school—a long distance from our home—I met a trustworthy and generous woman who was also looking to arrange carpooling for her children, and she lived only down the road. When Evan resisted attending our church on Sundays because it was different from his former church, our pastor began to tell his own adoption story, and Evan was captivated. So many happenings have reinforced our belief that we are intended to parent these children.

But perhaps the clearest sign is this: Recently, my husband and I lost our beloved nephew in a terrible accident. He was only 13. When Evan and Kate first arrived in our home, his family was quick to open their hearts to them, inviting us over just to spend time. Evan and Kate had become close to our nephews through many hours of playing together.

In the days and weeks that followed his passing, Evan and Kate were there every day to provide comfort and friendship to our nephew's surviving brother. They are the playmates that he continues to ask for each day after school. And, in return, Evan and Kate absolutely adore this little boy they call their cousin.

One night after playing with my nephew, Evan came to me and said, "I now understand why God placed us in your home."

"Why is that?" I asked.

"Because our cousin needs us. He told me that I'm like a brother to him."

How God does work to put each piece of the puzzle in its place—to heal each of us through the love of each other.

As I write the final words of this column, the last in my nine-month series about our journey to adopt two children out of foster care in our middle age years, I am filled with much emotion. I am so grateful to the editorial staff of Literary Mama and in particular to my editor Denise Guibord for allowing me to tell this story, and I hope that my writing has done justice to the journey. I am also filled with some sadness as I leave you, my readers, mid-story because I will miss having your words of encouragement and enthusiasm along on this walk. Sharing this experience with you has allowed me to see more clearly that this isn't just about us helping these children, but that they are and will continue to be a blessing to our family.

Julianne Palumbo’s poems, short stories, and essays have been published widely. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks Into Your Light (Flutter Press, 2013) and Announcing the Thaw (Finishing Line Press, 2014) and the founder of Mothers Always Write, an online literary magazine about motherhood.

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Heather Vrattos is pursuing an interest in photography by taking courses at the International Center of Photography. She is the mother of three boys, and lives in New York City.

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