Orphan Awareness Month: Ashley.
Hi. I’m Ashley. I’m a mom of three.
This is my silly family.
Inside the walls of our home, we operate just like any busy family. I spend my early mornings packing lunches for school, signing assignment pads, determining what my morning grump will eat for breakfast while making a ponytail for my early riser, then trying to keep those two from getting into a brawl while I help the youngest get his clothes on right: “good try! But, let’s try putting our socks on right-side out and right-side up this time!”
In fact, it’s usually not until we leave the house and head out into the world that I even remember other people may not see us as a normal family. Esther, 9, is our biological daughter. Millie, 7, we brought home from Guatemala at 9-months-old. And, Elijah, 4, we adopted out of Arkansas foster care one week before his second birthday.
So, in the midst of the crazy day-to-day shuffle of life, it’s usually the questions of others (the ones they actually voice or the ones that are written on their faces) that remind me that our family was formed in an untraditional way. Millie was chasing Elijah on the playground and another playmate asked her, “Do you know that little boy?” She yelled out, “He’s my brother!” just before she tackled him to the ground. Another time, I picked Esther and Millie up from tumbling class, and a classmate asked me, “Are you guys giving Millie a ride?” Esther just replied, “Yep,” then flashed me a mischievous smile. On a class field trip, one of Millie’s classmates informed me, “You don’t look like Millie.” Millie laughed and then informed her friend that that’s because she was adopted, that she looks like her birthmother, and that she’s been lucky enough to be loved by three moms: birth mom, foster mom, and “mom mom.” The most open questions come from kids.
Adults ask their questions in more guarded ways. “Do you not find that you love them differently?” Well, of course I love them differently. They’re all different. They all have different ways that they express and receive love. I love Esther by having a girls’ night. I love Millie by scratching her back. I love Elijah by making him his favorite homemade yogurt. What this person is really asking is whether I can truly love an adopted child as much as I love my biological child, as if love is tied to blood, to genetics, to having the same nose (or long legs, in our case). And the answer is obvious: of course I can. We all can.
In adoption circles, people throw around the term “bonding.” Bonding is basically the process that brings child and parent together. I’ve heard adoptive parents say that they were bonded to their children at first sight. They looked into one another’s eyes and there was this magical familiarity, a soulful connection. That is absolutely wonderful. But, it’s not how it happened for me. In fact, it didn’t even happen like that with Esther, my biological daughter who came first. If I’m being honest, once she’d been delivered and swaddled and laid on my chest, I looked at her as if she were some alien being. Her puffy cheeks gave her a slightly ethnic look, and she just wasn’t what I expected. This is my daughter?, I thought. I loved her, of course; I just didn’t recognize her as mine.
And, so it was with Millie. I’d dreamed of her since as a teenager I’d spent a day in an El Salvadorian orphanage and felt a calling on my life. Years later, once we’d been matched up with her and I’d seen that first photo, I spent the next 9 months wondering how it could be possible to love so greatly a child I’d never met – how it could be possible that my arms physically ached to hold her.
Yet, once we received that long-awaited call, we traveled to Guatemala with clothes that turned out to be two sizes too small and tons of jars of baby food which she looked at quizzically and then grabbed the tortillas off our plates. Who is this kid? She must have been just as curious about us. Our first night together in the Guatemalan hotel room, she stood up in her crib and peered through the dark at us lying in our bed. She just stared – like she was trying to figure this whole thing out.
And, Elijah. We got the call that DHS had found us a match, a nearly-two-year-old, biracial little boy, and nervously called his foster parents, took copious notes on this little stranger – his favorite TV shows, his eating and sleeping patterns, his allergies. Then, we went without our daughters to meet him for the first time. He gave John fist bumps then sat on my lap, this big, smiley stranger, and gave me the longest, most sincere hug. Only now that I know how rambunctious he is, how he never stands still for a moment, do I fully understand how strange this extended hug was. It was as if he knew. And, then, as we left, though his foster parents had been careful not to tell him the reason for our visit, he waved goodbye and muttered, “Bye, Momma.” And, yes, I was his Momma. He had my heart even then.
But, he came to us with a whole wardrobe that was unfamiliar to me and that was washed in laundry detergent that wasn’t ours. I know this sounds strange, but I couldn’t wait to get rid of that smell. It wasn’t offensive at all – a nice, clean smell – but I needed him to smell like us – like our laundry, like our home. Maybe then, he would seem more familiar instead of a stranger here for an extended visit. I remember sneaking into his room the first night and peering into his crib, just staring at him, trying to figure him out, much like Millie did us on our first night together.
My, how far we’ve come from those initial encounters. Recently, a doctor asked me whether Millie has a family history of heart disease and I started to tell him about my maternal grandfather! I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the way, we bonded. We became cemented together. When I look at my kids, I don’t see them as the little strangers I met long ago. I see them as my son and my daughters. And that whole transaction is just bathed in love. What makes a family is love. What takes you from unfamiliarity to being able to recognize which child has crawled into bed with you by the smell of the back of her head . . . is love.
I’ve been told, “You guys are doing such a good thing by giving these kids a home.” This always surprises me. I think what strikes me as odd about it is that it’s present tense – like I’m doing some big, magnanimous thing today. Maybe we did a pretty good thing back when we decided to grow our family this way, to answer God’s call to love the orphan, to care for the fatherless. But now? I’m not loving my kids out of charity. I’m not “giving them a home” because they need one. I’m loving them up and down and inside and out because I can’t help but do otherwise. They’re amazing, wonderful beings. I look at them and I see my children. Sure two of them have a past that doesn’t include me. It’s part of their beautiful stories. Any tragic or sad parts of that story are just plot twists that make the happy ending that much sweeter, that much more triumphant.
That’s the miracle of adoption. That’s the power of love. And, it is such a beautiful picture of the way God loves. He takes us who would otherwise be Fatherless and bonds with us. He looks at us and sees not helpless, homeless orphans, but sons and daughters. His sons and His daughters. He doesn’t love us out of pity or charity. He loves us whole-heartedly, unreservedly, because He just can’t help himself. That’s what parents do.
To follow along with Ashley and her beautiful family, check out her blog at http://broodingon.blogspot.com/. Enjoy the homesteading resources, snippets of daily life around a small farm and be amazed at Ashley’s knack for well, everything! Her overall theme of living simply is addictive and I can assure you you’ll be a frequent reader in no-time!
Thank you Ashley for the woman you are. For you to open your heart so wide and share with us. Your story is inspiring, to say the least. We love you and your sweet family.
P.S. I’ve got to keep the kids soon, me and Millie are overdue for some Dora!
Remember to join in with us this November and donate to one of our causes, then comment below and let us know.
- In Haiti – please give to Life is Hope orphanage through our website at prayingpelicanmissions.org for uniforms. The children are in need of uniforms to go to school. Without these uniforms, the school cannot proceed as planned and be seen as legitimate by the Haitian government.
- In America – would you consider donating to Jacob and Anna? They are two of our newest PPM co-workers, and are in the final stages of bringing home their son from Belize. Not only are they adopting, they have just stepped out in faith and taken positions as Missions Coordinators, meaning they must fundraise the majority of their salary as a family. You can visit their support page to make a donation toward their adoption.
- In Arkansas – we want to support a local Christian foster care organization: The CALL. As a response to the lack of foster and respite care homes for the over 7000 foster children in Arkansas, The CALL exists to educate, equip, and encourage Christian families to meet the needs of these foster children. to help fund this awesome ministry you can send a check to us, or donate online on The CALL’s website.