A Family and Imperfection Writing Contest
Who Are You?
by Lora Lyon
Two years ago, a stranger walked in to our life.
Or, more correctly, we walked in to hers.
In a tiny office in Odessa, Ukraine I became a mother for the 5th time when a five-and-a-half year old girl with brown pigtails and big blue eyes regarded us cautiously, but with a hint of hope in her eyes. I remember seeing my newborn children and wondering as our eyes met for the first time “Who will you become?” As I looked in to the face of my new daughter the question was brought to a whole new level.
“Who are you?”
Our child was already school-aged. She had strong opinions and even stronger survival behaviors created by a series of damaging experiences that had formed a heavily fortified wall around her heart. The delicate dance of infancy and bright exploration of toddler-hood had long since passed her by in years filled with regimented institutional care, inadequate nutrition, lack of mental stimulation and stifled emotional growth. Her earliest memories were filled with caretakers who couldn’t be trusted and needs that would never be met. Laying in soiled diapers, taking ice-cold “showers”, having soap poured in her eyes, never having enough to eat. Laughter when you were in pain. The mean nanny with the stick. Bedtime stories nightmares are made of, complete with Monsters who eat children that venture out of bed for any reason at all. Comfort only coming from a place buried deep within as you rocked yourself to sleep, terrified, night after night.
When she sat on my lap for the first time and heard I would become her Mama, it did not magically transform either of us. That day we were quite simply strangers who had rather suddenly become “family”.
Starting at rock bottom with an unknown Mount Everest of issues to climb, I carried her out those orphanage doors a few weeks later like a newborn baby with no real understanding of what lay ahead….only knowing that this leap of faith was her one chance for a life at all.
The typical slow process of discovering your child as they hit new milestones while you watch with loving awe, was replaced instead with diving head first in to the quicksand of trauma-parenting. Panic will certainly drag you all under. Painstakingly, slowly attempting to extract your child from the pit of loss, abandonment, abuse and loneliness that was the only world they had ever known becomes the singular focus if you are all going to survive. Finding your way through rages that could last for hours, struggling to find real help from someone who understands what your child has gone through, learning to choose love when all you feel is the pain and rejection reflected in your child’s eyes.
Over the last two years I have questioned my ability to be the mother she needs and deserves more than once. I’ve wondered if we will ever heal her hurts. I wonder if she will ever accept she was not to blame for her circumstances and truly believe she is loved and safe. I wonder if my own faults and flaws, so magnified through this experience, can be overcome in order to help her find success and happiness in spite of it all.
Parenting a child with a traumatic past is not simple or straightforward task. There is no official guide-book, and there are so many invisible struggles. Navigating the highs and lows of becoming this new family, as all of us are undoubtedly changed in so many ways, is an experience that has been beyond words.
People say we are “saints.”
I shake my head.
People say she is “so lucky”.
I want to cry.
There is nothing saintly about opening your heart and home to a child who has nothing and no one. I imagine if there were circumstances where my children became orphans certainly I would want someone, somewhere, to love and care for them the way every child deserves to be cared for.
There is nothing lucky about what happened to her. It was a tragedy to lose her first parents, no matter the reason. It was an injustice, to be raised in a place without love and nurturing and adequate medical care. It was unfair that it took five and a half years before someone would see her face, kiss her cheeks, and claim her as a beloved daughter.
She is here now. But luck?
Luck had nothing to do with it.
We haven’t been the perfect family. But we have been A Family. We haven’t been perfect parents. But we have been a safety net while she learns to trust and we created a place for her to call her own. She hasn’t been magically made “all better with Love”. But she has been transformed by the power of a real chance at living, learning make her own choices, and finding her true potential while surrounded by people who love her unconditionally.
Two years ago on February 17th I held a paper in my hands, which officially and legally declared she was no longer alone in this big, scary world. Not an orphan any longer, but a child who would be loved, cherished, protected and celebrated for the rest of her life.
Two years later there are still good days and tough days, although the good ones far outnumber the bad. We aren’t strangers anymore, that’s for certain. She’s a big fan of hugs and snuggles, she’s learning to read and write, and her smile can light up an entire room. I can read her changing moods like a broken bone warns you about bad weather. We have more in our mental and emotional “toolbox” to give us shelter when those storms break, as I imagine they will for many years to come.
Still, there are many days we regard each other quizzically, wondering if we will ever figure it all out.
“Who are you?”
I’ve decided there is only one answer: I am exactly who she needs. She is exactly who I need. Our family is what we all need. Not perfect. Just……Exactly Right.
And we are all still in the process of becoming who we were meant to be.
Lora Lyon is a military spouse and mother of five children ages 14 to 4 years old, three boys and two girls. She is a registered nurse, currently pursuing a graduate degree from Georgetown University in the Family Nurse Practitioner program. Her husband is an active duty infantry officer in the U.S. Army who has served two tours to Afghanistan and one to Iraq. You can follow their adventures on Lora’s blog, My Camo Kids, on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter.
I asked each of our Writing Contest judges to share her thoughts on the winning entries.
Here’s what they had to say about Lora’s story:
Korie: “Thank you for sharing your story. What a beautiful way to think of family- not perfect, but what we need.”
Korie Buerkle is the mother of two imaginative young children, and the wife of the talented graphic designer and amazing stay-at-home dad, Brandon Buerkle. She is a Children’s Librarian and loves creating storytimes and book clubs when she is not doing other administrative things that are not as much fun.
Meghan: “We need more stories like this being told about adoption! Honest and not glossing over the hard parts, but also positive and hopeful.”
Meghan Rogers-Czarnecki works at her family’s independent bookstore, Chapters Books and Coffee where she loves chatting with customers about good books as well as their personal stories, which are often just as compelling. She spends way too much time reading, negotiating with her three children, and cooking to have any left over for cleaning her house, so imperfection is near and dear to her heart.
Aj: “Curiousity. Determination. Compassion. The part about not being a saint struck me – about the situation being reversed.”
Aj Schwanz is the Chief Manager of Consumption for her tribe at their humble abode in Dundee, Oregon. She writes single-sentence bios for herself and then gives Beth Woolsey permission to write the rest. Beth and Aj share a deep love of well-written words which they usually find in YA fantasy novels and occasionally on a completely inappropriate Canadian television series about the fae underworld, about which they text regularly. Whereas Beth just Makes Up Crap on her blog, Aj worked Real Jobs in the Writing World as a Young Adult librarian and as an editor for Barclay Press.
And we would love to hear your thoughts, too!
One of the hardest parts of writing is wondering how our soul-baring will be received.
Your feedback and encouragement are enormous gifts.
Old Wood Pencil image credit gubgib via freedigitalimages.net