I solemnly swear

Today was a big day for our family. Although our Congolese son has been legally ours for years and he’s been home for nearly 6 months, today was the day it all became official. More than 5 years since the first documents were filled out, laying the groundwork for a mountain of paperwork to follow, all of those signed, notarized, and filed documents have accumulated into this afternoon’s court appointment.

We met our lawyer in the hallway outside the courtroom. I was unaccountably nervous and running out of ways to explain to Ezra why we were there. How do you tell a 5-year old with limited English that we got his siblings out of school early, got everyone dressed up, went to a place he’d never been before where we had to pass through a metal detector and ride an ancient elevator for a formality?

We already spend some part of everyday telling him that he’s here for good, that he’s ours forever. When he gets mad at me and says “I no love-ee you. I no love-ee ‘Merica,” I try to say with all of the sympathy I can muster: “I know you’re angry but I still love you and this is your home” (or something less sympathetic like: “Too bad, so sad.” It really depends on my mood and if it’s still 90 degrees outside…which it probably is).

When it was time to step into the courtroom, we introduced ourselves to the kind and friendly judge and our lawyer asked us a few questions. She asked if all of our documents were correct. She asked if we were able to take care of our son. She asked if we would allow our son the same rights and inheritance as our other children. She asked if we would promise to look after him and give him a place to live until he turned 18 or finished high school.

These were easy questions. Each “yes” was simple and expected. But there was something monumental about having to say them out loud and under oath.

My friend Julie recently experienced the same event with her son who came to America from the Congo just a few weeks before Ezra. Julie said, “As adoptive parents, we had to promise to bequeath our son our inheritance just like our biological children and we cannot ever disown him (even though we could disown our biological children). Adoption is for keeps. He doesn’t fully realize what it means to be in his forever family, but just like so many in the Bible were grafted into the lineage of Jesus, so our son is now grafted into our family.”

This was a voluntary occasion. Ezra is a part of a family who has been praying and waiting for him. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to explain the whys of the long process that finally brought us to this afternoon, but he is now forever ours.

A few things I’ve learned about parenting…

Being a parent is really hard, so much harder than I thought it would be when I played “house” with my baby dolls growing up. Dilemmas involving my kids arise nearly every day that call for some major, on-my-knees prayer time: when to step in and when to let them fail, grades and friends, time management and basic courtesy, boundaries and responsibilities, actions and reactions. It is not for the faint of heart.

I am fairly reluctant to write a “Parenting How-To” for anyone to read, partly because I am sometimes a failure at this job and I don’t want anyone to accuse me of thinking I have all the answers. There are times when I lose my cool. There are times when I prioritize in a wacky, mixed-up way. I have done and said things I have regretted, all while wearing my “Mom Hat” (assuming there’s a hat for everything we’re expected to be and do).

But just like any job, parents have days when they rock at their stuff and days when they should’ve stayed in bed. My kids are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but—as of right now as I type this—they haven’t stolen any cars and they don’t kick stray dogs. Keeping those parenting credentials in mind, allow me to lay out a few of the things I’ve learned about parenting.

Don’t give young children too many choices. They will begin to suspect that they are the boss of the family which should actually be your job. While we’re on the subject, while they are allowed limited input, don’t let your kids tell you what to do. You don’t have to be ugly about it. It’s just the cold, hard truth. I am not above saying the following to my kids: “You’re not the boss of me.” In fact, I said it earlier today when one particular little fella said I shouldn’t go past the bank before we met up with some friends. “I am the driver. I am the adult. I am the boss.” (Repeat this to yourself several times a day if you have a preschooler…or a teenager.)

Tell them stories about you. When our girls were small, they used to say, “Mommy and Daddy, tell us a story of when you got hurt.” (I’m not sure why these painful stories were their favorites but sports enthusiasts and accident-prone people have a lot of these in their memory bank, ready to be withdrawn.) Our kids now know stories about things that happened to me and my sisters growing up. They know about family trips my husband took with his sister and parents when he was little. They could tell you about the time my husband fell on a toothpick and it was embedded in his side and he had to go to the doctor to get it removed. These stories become a part of their legacy and inheritance (and a cautionary tale about toothpicks).

Answer their questions. When your 3-year old asks where babies come from, don’t blow her off, waiting for the perfect opportunity to explain the miracle of life with age-appropriate charts and graphics. Give her a basic answer to her question, such as: “They grow inside their mommies.” See if this satisfies the question. That may be all she needs but if she asks more questions, then answer those, too. You don’t have to feel comfortable explaining “The Birds and the Bees” to all kids, just yours.

Ask them questions. For the past nine years, I’ve had elementary-aged kids to walk to school. (I’ll get to start all over again with a kindergartener next year!) This was the perfect time to ask them questions. “How was school?” and “Fine” can only get you so far. Over a period of time, you’ll be able to get more specific as you build on prior conversations.

There’s lots more that I could say about parenting: Don’t hold grudges. Have reasonable (yet high) expectations. Read books to them. Apologize when you mess up. Try not to embarrass them. Get to know their friends. Be a good example of kindness and generosity. Among these, the best advice I could give anyone is this:

Tell them you love them and act like you like them.

Holding Hands

It was 22 years ago this week that my husband held my hand for the first time. We were watching a movie at a friend’s house. I liked him and he liked me. I kept my hand casually available between us and he slipped his hand in mine, a million butterflies fluttering madly in my stomach. I’ve loved holding his hand ever since.

Now that we have four kids, most of the hand-holding I’ve done the past 14 years has been with them. At this point, it’s hard for me to walk through a parking lot without holding on to somebody.

When I hold hands with my kids, it is mainly to keep them safe from passing cars and to keep them close but there are times when clasping hands is meant to establish a connection. Like the time my husband and I walked through an African airport, a little afraid and very travel worn. The director of airport security had been asked to help us through the checkpoints to enter the country. He found us then he found the official who could facilitate this for us. They chatted quietly and soon we were motioned to follow them. I noticed that they held hands and nodded to every police officer we passed. Their held hands were a bond that cast its shadow on us to ensure our delivery to the airport exit without harassment.

Over Labor Day weekend, I did a lot of hand-holding with my youngest. We took a mile-long hike to a waterfall. As we waded through the stream, we saw that the rocks were slippery with algae. Many times, he would begin to slip and I would pull him up. The area was packed with other holiday hikers, so there were times when the narrow path couldn’t support two-way traffic. We would have to step back and wait for people to pass before continuing. Often we stood just at the edge of a steep drop. I held his hand even tighter then.

There can be such comfort and power in holding hands. The Scriptures frequently illustrate this with our relationship to God.

Holding hands signifies that I AM HERE. Psalm 73 says, “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” Later on in Psalm 139 we read, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

Holding hands bestows STRENGTH. Isaiah 41:13 says, “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’”

There is something so touching and intimate about holding hands. It’s even more moving to know that our Mighty God also wants to show us such tenderness. Reach out to Him because He is holding out His hand to you.