Friday, December 18, 2015

A Different View

Life with Jack means seeing things through his eyes. It is sometimes easy for John and I to forget that he has gone through so much in his life, many things we will probably never know about. That means that Jack sees things differently than a lot of other children his age. John and I were confronted with that about two weeks ago. He loves music and so I decided to take my old iPhone and fill it up with music so he can have it in his room. John and I asked him to go upstairs to play or read and he didn’t want to. There is a bit of a landing/walkway at the top of the stairs and he looked over and started to protest and ask why he had to be upstairs. I finally told him I was working on a surprise. My nephews love when I use that word because they know something really cool is coming. It is also a tactic I used in case my original plans didn’t work out, we could go to Plan B without anyone being disappointed or having a clue about what was going on.

Instead of the excited reaction I get from my nephews, Jack got all upset. We had him come down and asked what was going on. He asked why everything had to be a surprise and I told him the truth. I told him I wanted to do something nice for him and I wanted to see him happy and excited. He then said something along the lines of “Oh, like the surprise I got when they took me away from my family.” It had not occurred to us that a word we thought meant all sorts of great things was not a good word for him. Now, when we have an idea, we ask him if he wants to know or if he wants a surprise and we let it be his choice. So far, he hasn’t chosen for the surprise, but I feel that he is getting there.

We were also shocked by his lack of wanting a Christmas tree or lights in the house. We were going to get a small one and decorate, but he wanted nothing to do with it. He likes them in other places, and at other houses, but not in his home. Instead, he picked out a few small sticky window gels that he put up and a tiny green tree with a bit of snow he wanted in his room and that has been the extent of our holiday decorations. He also doesn’t seem all that excited about Christmas other than saying “I want that” every time a cool toy comes on TV.

We can only speculate about what he is feeling. When we ask him what he really wants for Christmas, he only says he wants a family and it makes me both super happy that we are on that track and it breaks my heart that any child should have to have that as their Christmas wish.

We are now one month into the six months we need to foster before we can adopt him. I really wasn’t sure how it would be to have a new person come into our lives. I look at him and I don’t see someone else’s child, I see my son. He calls us “dad” here and there, but not with any regularity. He mentioned yesterday that he was almost adopted before and I can imagine he is keeping is guard up just in case. The only thing that scares me about the whole adoption process is that fact that so much happens that is out of our control. There are so many people looking at him, at us, at everything. It’s all going well and we anticipate it staying that way. He is more relaxed and confident as time goes on, I think he will be relieved, as will we, when the day comes to sign the papers and make our family official.

I really hope it all happens before next Christmas, so he can use his Christmas wish for something other than a family. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Three Weeks With Jack

Three weeks ago today, we met Jack and brought him home. I can’t think of a time I have been more nervous, scared, excited and happy. So many questions. What type of personality did he have? Would we like him? Would he like us? Would we get along? Would our lives fill up with drama and fights and power-struggles? Would he be mean to the dogs? Would he throw things and break them? Would he bond with us?

A week or so before we met, we had been given a three or four paragraph write-up on him. Every child in need of placement has one and they are very generic, talking about if they like movies, comic books, have siblings and there is always a cute picture of them attached.  Minutes before meeting him, we were given a bit more information which we have since decided to disregard.

All children in the foster system have a file that follows them wherever they go. We had been told that he has huge meltdowns when it comes time to get ready for school or take a bath. A few days in, I noticed his socks didn’t really fit his feet. We looked into it further and discovered that a lot of his clothes were too small. We went to Old Navy and while we guided him, we let him pick out all his own clothes. We think it was probably the first time in his life he has been able to have a say in what he wears. We have not had a single issue with him getting ready other than the fact that he looks outside, sees the sun shining and wants to wear shorts even though the temperature is in the thirties and forties. But still, not a single getting ready for school meltdown.

Bath time is also a non-issue. He wanted to toys to play with and we said yes. The only issue is his lack of affection for soap, but we get around that with a bubble bath.

A few days ago, I took him for a haircut and he started to get upset until I told him he could get whatever haircut he wanted. He immediately cheered up and decided he wanted a Mohawk (really, a faux-hawk) and when he was done getting his hair cut, he was beaming his toothless smile and you would have thought he just discovered he had super hero powers.

He has lived in places where he couldn’t just go in the kitchen or get a drink of water when he wanted. We have rules of what he can have, but he can pretty much help himself. As he feels safer and his confidence grows, he is opening up more and is more relaxed and willing to play on his own.
John and I decided early on to give Jack a clean slate. We don’t care about his earlier behavior. In the situations he has lived in, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t act out. We didn’t tell him we had given him a clean slate, but we never bring up past events the way some of his previous caregivers have. It was great for John and I to let his past go so that we could let go of the expectation of something “bad” happening and not have that energy around him or in the family.  Yes, there are little issues, like not wanting to do homework, but everything we see is average seven year-old behavior. My nephews did the same thing. Friends of mine with children the same age have all the same issues.  

When John and I were going through the process of getting licensed and talking about being parents, one of our main priorities was to create an environment where our child would feel safe and have the confidence to become whoever they were meant to be and wanted to be. We have been giving him back control over parts of his life. We listen to his opinion. Sometimes he gets what he wants, sometimes he doesn’t. We constantly reiterate that we are a team and everyone has to do their part, and while we can’t always get what we want, we can all get what we want sometimes. Watching the changes in Jack, some subtle and some not so subtle, has been amazing. The energy and love Jack has brought to our lives is beyond anything I ever imagined. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

And Then There Was Jack

It has been a week since we met Jack and our lives have been turned upside-down, inside-out, pushed sideways and ties into knots, all in the best possible way. He has filled up an emptiness I didn’t realize was there. Yes, I wanted to be a dad, but I really didn’t expect it to be like this. It’s one of those things that now that I am in it, I don’t even remember what I expected. The house is filled with laugher, tickles, Legos, Lincoln Logs, books, batman socks and the occasional whines of “Why do I have to eat THAT?”

We have three boxers and the youngest one, Mia, adopted him the moment he walked in the door. Even when my nephews would stay the night, Mia never slept upstairs with them the entire night. That all changed when Hack came home. Mia sleeps with him, cuddles with him and spends her day playing with him and making him laugh. She has always been the dog that most takes on someone’s emotions and John are I are both really hoping that her bond with Jack will help him adjust and work through all the things we know are coming.

Right after I had the stroke in Tanzania, Ulco bought me a stuffed penguin when he went to South Africa. In those days when I was angry and afraid, I took a lot of comfort cuddling with that penguin when I was alone. On his first evening here, Jack saw it in the closet and asked if he could play with it. Since then, we have built a penguin habitat, he has named her Rosey and he takes her everywhere. It is so great to see how he takes care of her. I told him the story of how she took care of me when I was sad and scared and that made him smile.

Yestrday I took Jack to Valley of Fire and taught him how to use my old camera. We went on a couple of hikes but instead of being in Valley of Fire, we were on Mars and instead of a car, we had a spaceship. Right now, he is upstairs with my nephews in a fort we just built, playing with action figures and having a great time. He is really coming out of his shell and it is great to see.

We know he has a lot to deal with. He has been through a lot and dealt with more than any 7 year old should ever have to. The thought of it all is more than intimidating, but this week has really given me faith that we can make a difference in his life. He has certainly made a difference in ours.

There was a time when we were getting so frustrated with the process of being matched with the right child and jack really is the perfect one for us. His personality is a great mix of John’s and mine. He does some of the same things we used to do when we were young. It really makes me smile to hear him singing to himself and it is such an honor getting to know him. I really hope that this works out to be our forever family.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A New Old Journey

Several years ago, I stumbled into the world of leadership development and coaching, thanks to my friend Sytske. A mutual friend of ours suggested we have a cup of coffee as Sytske wanted a bit of advice on her business and thought I might be able to help her a little. What was supposed to be just a cup of coffee, ended up changing my life and that change is still happening today. We ended up becoming business partners, and it didn’t last very long due to the fact that I just wasn’t ready. I wanted to be and I thought I was, but looking back, I just wasn’t.

I went into it with the wrong attitude, and more importantly, I started teaching and communicating it, but I wasn’t living it and before long, on my end, things began to unravel and there was no choice but for me to bow out of what Sytske and I were trying to build. I had learned a very valuable lesson, there is no way to succeed while pretending. I spoke about things like authenticity while at the same time not being very authentic at all. I eventually learned that I couldn’t ‘do’ authentic. It might seem obvious, but I really didn’t get it back then.

A lot has happened between then and now. I can honestly say that I have been pulled apart, stripped to the core and rebuilt. I have spent much of the last several years questioning, examining and rebuilding pretty much every part of my life, much of it here on this blog. There were many times I hated it, times I wasn’t sure I would make it through, and often times I wasn’t sure I wanted to make it through.

Now, a part of my life has come full circle. I am one again, or maybe really for the first time, entering the world of leadership development and coaching. Many of the things I used to know from books, I now know from experience. All those years ago, I wasn’t willing to be vulnerable. Now, after everything I’ve gone through and shared, I have nothing to hide. There are things I have chosen not to share, but that is different than hiding.

Two weeks ago, I joined the John Maxwell Team. I am going through the certification process now and it feels like a great fit for me. Now, instead of reading or learning something and getting it in theory, I really get it. So much of what I discovered on my journey the past few years is now resurfacing in was that let me see it differently. Some of those things I will be sharing in time. This really feels different than before.

One of my favorite classes I love to do at the Nevada Women’s Business Center is “Start With Why”, using materials from the author, Simon Sinek. I really know what my “why” is. And I have the “how” and the “what” all lined up as well. The first time around, my “why” was money, on being “seen” a certain way. My “why” was a lot of ego. This time, I am focused on making a difference and adding value. Money will come, but instead of being the focus, it will be a result of a different goal.

It was over ten years ago that I met Sytske for a cup of coffee. While our business didn’t work out for me, that cup of coffee started me on a path that has made a difference. Many of the conversations we had pondered all those years ago came back and got me through so many rough times. Going through those last few years, I had a lot of support from the outside, but the bulk of what needed doing was internal and I was the only person that could do anything about it. I could often hear Sytske’s voice asking me questions as she would often do, the ones that would make me think and get me to look at things differently. Sometimes I liked the questions I would hear her ask and other times, she was downright annoying in all those conversations I had with myself. Sometimes it’s the most annoying and uncomfortable questions we need the most. She definitely has a gift and by sharing it with me, she helped more than either of us could have ever imagined. Once again, I am amazed by the way a seemingly random encounter can have such an impact on someone. It makes me so aware that anything I do, not matter how seemingly insignificant, might be the thing that changes everything for someone or myself.

Having no idea what I was rally going to write, it seems this is as much about starting a new phase in my life as it is about the gratitude I have for knowing Sytske.

So, Sytske, thank you.