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Tuesday, August 09, 2016

On Being Adopted

It has been on my heart to write about my youngest and only adopted daughter, Soleil. We adopted her from Guatemala when she was 7 months old. She turned 10 in May. For those of you who don't "know" me, we have 3 older biological kids as well. Soleil went through a tender patch when she was seven when it suddenly dawned on her exactly how devastating it is to have been given up for adoption. It had actually started when she was just five. Evie, my then 8 year old, was asking me if she had ever been to New York City. I said, "Well, technically, no. But you were in my belly when we were there last if that counts for anything." As soon as I said it I saw the wheels start turning in Soli's head. "Was I in your belly, Mama?" We have always referred to Soli's birth/adoption story with as much candor as was appropriate for her age. So I said, "Remember you didn't grow in Mama's belly. You grew in your birthmother, Claudia's, belly. When you were born Foster Mary picked you up from the hospital and took care of you until you were 7 months old. Then Mama and Daddy went to Guatemala to pick you up and you have been with us ever since." She chewed on that for a minute, and then her little chin started to quiver and her eyes filled with tears as she leaned into me on the couch and whispered, "That's sad. They must miss me. I miss them, too." I expected that at some point the sadness of being adopted (or more accurately the sadness of having been given up for adoption) would hit her. But in my ignorance, I expected it to be...later. I expected the anguish to come during her tweenage years. I expected anger to come after that. At 5 years old I didn't think she would be able to wrap her baby brain around it. But she did. At least part of it. She felt the loss of both her birth mother and her foster mother profoundly. And it astonished me.

Fast forward a couple of years. Soleil was 7+ years old. She experienced a couple of months of heavy grieving. She was SO sad as she began to piece her life's puzzle together. The idea that she was born to a woman that didn't keep her was devastating to her. We had many heart to heart conversations during those months where she would crawl into bed with me and cry. She would say, "But why didn't she want me? Why didn't they keep me? Don't they miss me?" It was a helpless, heartbreaking realization to come to -- that I couldn't rescue my daughter from her pain. All I could do was hold her hand as she walked her path of grief. And I suppose that's the truth in parenting. We can't rescue our children from their paths. If we are lucky they will allow us to hold their hands as they navigate their own bumpy paths of life.

I was as gentle as possible saying, "I'm sure they miss you and think of you every day. In fact, Claudia might be thinking of you this minute and missing you as much as you're missing her. She was very brave to let you live with a family that could take care of you. She knew that she wouldn't be able to give you enough food and clothes and shoes."

"I wouldn't mind having no shoes if I could be in Guatemala with my birth family that matches me."

She was able to describe to me that she imagined her birth family in Guatemala complete with a brown mom and dad and a brown baby brother. All that was missing was her.

We have always spoken to Soleil with the utmost reverence for her birth country and respect for her birthmother, honoring her as a brave and selfless person. In doing so, I realized that we had inadvertently painted a perfect picture of life in Guatemala. And to a 7 year old adoptee that didn't make sense. If life in Guatemala is so rosy and my birthmother is so perfect then why couldn't I stay there? I understood that the time had come to introduce some of the harsh realities of life in Guatemala. I was delicate but clear as I described children eating from trash cans, sleeping alone and shivering in drainage ditches, begging and abandoned on the streets of Guatemala City. Things I had seen with my own eyes that had inspired me to adopt a child from Guatemala in the first place. I explained that Claudia did not want her to be alone and scared or eating from trash cans. So she made a brave and very hard but good decision to let her be adopted so that she would never be hungry, or cold, or scared, or alone. I could see that it hit home and the tears began to flow again.

Sometime later she wrote me a note. It said, "Dear Mom. I love you and our family. I don't ever want to leave." Initially, I thought she was worried that she had hurt my feelings by saying that she wanted to live in Guatemala with her birth family. So later I asked her, "Honey, what did you mean when you said you don't ever want to leave?" Her big brown eyes turned to liquid and she said, "What if they want to come take me away? I don't ever want to leave you." She crumbled into my arms. It dawned on me that although she will always mourn the loss of a birth family that she will likely never know, some of the torment that she felt during that time was the result of thinking that someone could show up at our house in the middle of the night and take her away from us. How terrifying to a little girl.

"Honey, no one can take you away from us. Even if you wanted to go, we wouldn't let you. You're our daughter and you belong with us."

"But what if they changed their minds and came to our house to take me away?"

"Even if they came to our house they can't take you away. No one can ever take you away just like they can't take Evie or Emerson or Cole. You are legally our daughter." (That word legally is so abstract to a 7 year old.) "We have the paperwork that says so."

Her eyes lit up. "You have paperwork?" (Aside - Soli LOVES paperwork. She can often be found sifting through the recycling bin by Dave's desk, rescuing bills and payment stubs and envelopes to add to the clipboard that she carries around to take "notes".)

"Yes. We have the paperwork. From Guatemala. That says no one can ever take you away."

"Can I see it?"

"Yes. And I can even make you a copy that you can have for your clipboard."

"Thanks, Mom."

We met Soleil's birth family in Guatemala for the first time in October of 2015. Soli was 9 years old. It was a heartbreakingly beautiful reunion of the likes I am certain I will never experience again. I was stunned and amazed by her grace and poise and her ability to give and receive love unconditionally. And I was equally amazed that her vision of having a brown family, all matching her, was absolutely accurate. Her birth father and birth mother are still together. And she has not one baby brother, but two (100% biological siblings), as well as two older half brothers. One is also adopted to the States and the other is still living with the family in Guatemala. After meeting them, I watched a very visceral peace come over Soleil. It's as if she now has all of the pieces to the puzzle of her life and can put them together and see the beautiful image of Self take shape in her mind's eye.

Recently, while cleaning out her room, we came upon the clipboard. We looked at each other and smiled. And she said, "I don't need that anymore, Mom. Will you save it for me in my baby book?"

For sure.

Teenagers Over Toddlers

I woke up this morning with a pit in my stomach at the realization that my babies suddenly (like overnight!) seem totally grown up. I wrote down their ages the other day (19, 16, 13, & 10) and I sorta wanted to barf. Everyone's in double digits and pretty soon I'm gonna have a twenty-something?!? WT%? Now, don't get me wrong. I love teenagers. I LOVE them. In all of their pimply, first kissing, driving-themselves-to-school, going-to-parties, awkward, gangly, glory; I love them. I always say that I will totally take a teenager over a toddler, and I mean it. But I think my heartache today is coming from the realization that I've missed my window of opportunity to do some specific activities with them. Like taking them to Bonfante Gardens (is it still even called that?). I've been meaning to do that for several years now, but, alas, it's too late. They don't want to go and play in the splash zone! And just the other day we were all talking about when our next Disneyland trip might be and 3 out of the 4 (4 out of 5, if you count Dave) totally gave Disneyland the "hard pass". Thankfully, Evie still wants to go with me. But, seriously! How did that happen? And when? 
I must be hitting a transition time in life. I've been here before and I struggle with transition sometimes. I think what has happened (although I hardly noticed it happening) is that all my babes have graduated out of "kid-hood" and into some level of "teenage-hood". I remember when they graduated from "baby-hood" (with very little pomp and circumstance and absolutely no raise for me, btw) and suddenly I had no babies! Everyone was solidly in "kid-hood". I remember the very day it happened. Soli must have been about 4 or 5, and I looked out my front window and noticed one of those irritatingly adorable groups of darling young moms and babes across the street at the park with their Lulu Lemon jogging pants and their jogging strollers. You remember the ones? Anyway, I thought to myself, "That looks fun! I've been meaning to join one of those. I'm sure they're not as irritating once you get to know them. Good thing I didn't let Dave get rid of my jogging stroller last year! I'm so smart." But then I realized that I had absolutely no baby to go in my jogging stroller. I had had a baby for so many years at that point that it hadn't dawned on me that one day I would wake up, and I wouldn't have one. And there would be no more "Mommy and Me" playgroups for me in this lifetime! Shocking. Uttering shocking to my sensibilities. For 15 years and the entirety of my adult life, my world had revolved around Mommy and Me and suddenly it was over. Just like that! And I was not invited back in the club. Where was my certificate of completion? Or my cash prize? Or a medal or a standing ovation or something? And I feel like I am hitting another one of those milestone transitions - where suddenly no one wants to play with the play kitchen or the American Girl dolls; no one is bringing me "tea" in the little pink tea set for me to pretend to drink; and the Star Wars action figures are covered in a fine layer of dust. Oh my aching heart. How did it happen? 
I do know from experience that the closing of one chapter leads to the opening of another (hear me trying to convince myself?). And although the next chapter of parenting teenagers and young adults may not involve a trip to Bonfante or little pink tea sets (or a raise), it will bring tons and tons of goodness, as long as I let it. For example, Cole may not want to go with me to Disneyland, but he did say yes to my invitation to go on a hike the other day, just the two of us. And although Emerson no longer plays with Star Wars action figures, a mini light saber dangles from his key chain as he drives to meet me for lunch, which he loves to do. Evie still loves to hang out with me so long as we're going to the mall or the beach or Starbucks. I can live with that. And my baby girl, Soleil, may not pretend to take my vitals or my medical history anymore (she used to love to play nurse), but she told me just last night that I should download "Tree World" so we can play together. I'm totally down. 
And, dusty as they may be, I'm saving the Star Wars Actions Figures for my grandkids. Amen.
P.S. Even if they let me back in the club, I would never go back. Forty something moms are smarter, sexier and generally more bad ass than we ever were in our twenties. They can keep their Lulu Lemons. High Five, Ladies.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

To My Darling Husband on his Birthday

I love you with every beat of my heart, every cell of my body, and every sparkle of my soul. Thanks for the adventures. 
I love you. ~H

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Brown is Beautiful

We were on our sailing trip in Central America in 2012, and out of the blue Soleil said to me, "Mama, I wish I was beautiful like you."

"What?! Honey, you are gorgeous. What do you mean?"

"I wish I had pink skin like you guys."

Uhhhh. My worst nightmare. My absolute worst nightmare. There's no dancing around this topic with a child in a mixed race family. ESPECIALLY, when she is the ONLY one! I tried to convince her that it's not the color of your skin that matters but who you are on the inside that counts. She didn't buy that for a second. With the look on her face she said to me, Mom, seriously. That is SO cliche. Next I tried to convince her that we all have different color skin. We lined up our arms. See? Mine is quite pasty, Daddy's is more tan, Cole's is quite pink, Evie and Emerson are a little yellowish, and yours is a beautiful shade of chocolate-mocha-latte-brown. But she and I both knew that was a bunch of crap, too. You are all pink and I am brown, she said.

I decided to change tacks. Cole had been given the equivalent of a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition from Latin America. The women were stunning. And they all had varying shades of chocolate brown skin. The pictures were very tasteful and exquisite. I showed it to her and asked her about the women, "Do you think she's beautiful?"


"What color is her skin?"
"What about her? Do you think she is beautiful?"
"What color is her skin?"
"What color is your skin?"
"Brown skin is beautiful. YOU are beautiful. Brown is beautiful."

Cole gave her that magazine and for the next few months she would thumb through the pages and admire the beautiful brown women. "Brown is Beautiful" became our favorite family saying as we traveled through Central America. Everywhere we went we made a point to notice beautiful brown people and whisper to each other, "Brown is beautiful".

A turning point came one day on the boat when I was downloading pictures to my computer. I came across one that I had taken of Soleil on the beach. The setting sun on her face was stunning. I called her to me and said, "Look at this girl." She stared at herself for a long moment and said, "Brown is beautiful, Mama."

It sure is, my sweet girl.

Soleil - Sayulita December 2011

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The Day We Accidentally Eloped

This past summer we took the kids to Montana for our annual summer visit. We visited the Madison County Courthouse in Virginia City where Dave and I were married in 1996, almost 18 years ago. (Sheesh! How did that happen??). As I recounted the tail of our nuptials for the kids I realized that it was a story worth sharing and documenting for the great grandkids. (Yes, I fully expect that the great grandkids will enjoy GG's blog!!).

Here's the story...

It was the summer of 1996. I was 20 and Dave was 26. We were planning to be married on the Madison River in Montana. We had planned an ultra groovy ceremony perfect for our river-side-dog-friendly-shoe-optional-locale. Our ceremony would be complete with bare feet, Enya, and an ivy covered trellis, hand made by Dave. It would be my dream wedding (and my husband-to-be conceded to my every whimsical desire. Thanks, Honey.). One detail that we both agreed upon was that we didn't want an officiator. We didn't feel the necessity for the state's permission in our unity. At least not in the ceremony of our unity. We agreed that we wanted to spend our lives together, and why did we need the blessing of the state to make it so? We felt that all we needed was our life long commitment to each other, the blessing of our families and a ceremony to be witnessed by our dearest friends and family. (Aside - Now, almost 20 years later - March 2014, in light of the recent denial of marriage equality by so many states, I am proud to have foregone the blessing of the state in my own ceremony.)

But back to June of '96 - So there we were planning our groovy ceremony, and we realized that even though we didn't want an officiator to be a part of our ceremony, we did want to come out of our "wedding" as legal husband and wife. We realized we would have to go to the Madison County Courthouse beforehand to get a marriage license, which we assumed was how you made a marriage legally binding. So about a week before our nuptials we made the 45 minute drive to Virginia City, adding to our "To Do in Town" list: file marriage license. We figured filing our marriage license would be as simple as getting a license for our dog: fill out an application, pay a fee, and file it with Bundy, the county clerk. You filed everything with Bundy in our tiny county: dog licenses, car registration, property tax, and, we figured, marriage licenses. So we arrived at the county clerk's window, wearing our usual errand running attire of the 90's: Levi's and hiking boots and told Bundy we were there to get our marriage license. We explained to her that we were planning a groovy wedding ceremony and we wouldn't have an officiator but that we wanted to be sure that we were legally married when it was all said and done. She tilted her head and looked at us through the readers on the tip of her nose, assessing whether or not we were serious. Once satisfied she said, "Ok. Then you two will need to go see Judge O'Malley." Great. We thanked her and inquired as to where we could find Judge O'Malley.

"I'll have her meet you upstairs in the courtroom. Did you bring a witness?" she asked as she glanced down at our matching flannels and hiking boots. We looked at each other.

"A witness for what?"

She smiled and said, "Never mind. I'll send someone up."

So up to the courtroom we went figuring that was where the applications for the marriage licenses would be found.

The courtroom of the second floor of the 150 year old, brick Virginia City Courthouse was empty and cold and slightly creepy with the 20 foot ceilings, heavy red velvet drapes and rows of wooden pews that had surely seen all varieties of atrocities since the 1860's. We sat in the front row and waited. Eventually, Judge O'Malley arrived wearing a long black robe. She was trailed by two women in business suits and sneakers. I recognized them from downstairs. Smiling, she said, "You two ready?"

We were slightly confused. Ready for what? To pay our fee? To sign our application? But we didn't want to seem like the ignorant, barely twenty-somethings that we were so we hopped up from our pew and said, "Yes, ma'am." We approached her where she stood in front of her heavy oak desk with the name plate that read Honorable MaryAnn O'Malley. She asked us to face each other while the other two women shuffled around and stood behind us. "You can join hands." We looked at each. Weird. But it wasn't until Judge MaryAnn O'Malley said,

"Welcome everyone. We are gathered here today..."

that we finally understood.

" witness the joining of these two people in matrimony. Do you, Dave, take Heather to be your lawfully wedded wife? To love and to cherish her, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?"

Holy $#@%! We were getting married!! Right then and there. In our Levi's and our hiking boots. At the Virginia City Courthouse. In Madison County, Montana. And we hadn't even planned it!! Honestly.

"I do."

"And do you, Heather, take Dave to be your lawfully wedded husband? To love and to cherish him, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?"

Holy $#@%!

"I do."

"Do you have a ring?"

"Uhhh." I took off the ring that Dave and I had chosen to symbolize our groovy commitment to each other and that I already wore on the ring finger of my left hand and gave it back to him. The ladies shuffled in their sneakers.

"Repeat after me. With this ring, I thee wed."

"With this ring, I thee wed." And he put it back on my finger.

Dave took off the ring that I had picked out for him and gave it back to me.

"Repeat after me. With this ring, I thee wed."

"With this ring, I thee wed." And I put his ring back on the ring finger of his left hand. I daresay, we both trembled a little.

"By the power vested in me by the state of Montana, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride."

Holy $#&%! We just got married!! We had just eloped!!! And we didn't even mean to. Our parents didn't even know!! Our siblings didn't know! Holy $#&%! We looked at each other and we could hardly contain ourselves. We laughed right out loud. Right there in the Honorable MaryAnn O'Malley's courtroom we laughed. And we kissed. And we laughed again. And we hugged. We were married. Just like that.

"Congratulations!" The two women said, clapping their hands.

"Congratulations," said MaryAnn O'Malley.

And we all went back downstairs to sign our marriage license, pay our fee, and file it with Bundy.

Dave and Heather in front of the Madison County Courthouse in Virginia City, MT, June 24, 1996 - right after we got married without knowing it. Four years later to the day, our second son, Emerson, would be born. 

A visit to the courthouse in 2003.

A visit to the courthouse in 2013. 

Virginia City, MT 2013

 In our Levi's and hiking boots with the Honorable MaryAnn O'Malley in 2013. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Halloween 2013

At the Pumpkin Patch with my honey.

I'm always really excited when the kids will humor me by partaking in the pumpkin patch tradition. 

Cole as "Shaggy".

Emerson as "Waldo".

Soleil as a squaw.

Evie as "Alice" (again).

Me as "Marie Antoinette". 

I LOVE fall! It's my very favorite time of year. Sweaters and pumpkin spice lattes and leaves, leaves, leaves, leaves, leaves. This time of year always inspires me to blog. 
I hope you're enjoying the beauty of the season, too.
Hugs, Heather

Sunday, May 05, 2013

One Groovy Birthday

Here's a funny story that you'll appreciate.

Last summer Emerson turned twelve. We had a really fun bonfire at Carmel Beach to celebrate. We had arrived early with Emerson and a few of his pals to get set up and get the fire going before the throngs arrived. (He'd invited the entire 7th grade.) Just a few minutes before "go time" I looked up from the fire to see Em's friend, we'll call him Will, pick something up out of the sand. He held it up to get a better look and I could see that it was a clear plastic container the size and shape of a film canister. Inside there were two...well I couldn't tell what they were. So I said, "Will. Bring that over here."

"What is it, Mrs. Stewart?" he asked as he handed it over.
"I don't know," I lied as he scampered back to join his pals in the ice plant.

Well, I didn't know for sure what it was, but I felt fairly certain that the clear plastic canister with the two dried herbaceous looking "flowers" inside was not something I wanted in my hand just when I was expecting a bunch of parents to be dropping off their 7th graders in my charge.

I looked around quickly for a place to get rid of my stash. I though about burying it in the sand, but I wasn't keen on the idea of another 12 year old finding it again in the future.

I thought about stashing it in my purse. But then I realized that I was likely to forget about it entirely for months until I was about to go through security at the San Francisco International when I would wonder if I had any nail clippers in my purse that would be confiscated. Gulp. Yikes! Bad Idea. Do not put it in your purse. Mucho bad idea.

But what was I supposed to do with it?! I was starting to panic! Parents were going to be arriving any second!

Then I had a brilliant idea. I would burn the evidence. It would burn to oblivion and no one would ever have to know. Yes. Perfect. Brilliant. Do it fast. Before any parents get here. But don't burn the plastic. Imagine the toxins and there are kids around! Yes. Good. Take off the top and dump it in the flames.

So anyone who has any experience with such things will know that this was NOT a brilliant idea. And I knew it too just a split second after the buds hit the flames. That was one groovy bonfire. And for about 20 minutes Dave had to stand guard at the bottom of the stairs, upwind of our fire, to cut parents off at the pass.

Monday, April 29, 2013