Monday, April 28, 2008

Remembering Aunt Rosemary ... and a little boy

Today I was waiting for Sarah's kindergarten class to emerge from the school building at pickup, and noticed that Kristi, the Pizza Mom (who collects order forms and money for the weekly pizza lunch) was trying to alphabetize a stack of forms nearly as long as my arm.

"Can I give you a hint?" I asked her. I told her how we used to communicate with my Aunt Rosemary, who had contracted Lou Gherig's disease at 35. We broke the alphabet into four parts, and had her spell out words by blinking her eyes when we reached the right letter: Adolph (A-H), Girl (G-L), Manner (M-R) and Stay (S-Z). So, if the word was "picnic," she would blink on "Manner," then again when we reached "P" ("M-N-O-P. P, okay... next letter.")

To this day, when I have a ton of filing or alphabetizing to do, I break everything down into four piles, then subdivide from there. Goes much faster.

The story of Aunt Rosemary led to a general discussion about suffering, and I told Kristi how becoming Catholic had made such a difference in how I perceived pain. Suffering was no longer pointless, but a process by which we are purified and even transformed.

Then my eyes fell on one of the papers in my stack, and my throat closed up. Before I could steel myself, tears filled my eyes. It was his.

One of the children at the kids' school shares the same name -- first and last -- of the child my sister gave up for adoption when she was seventeen. The long, drawn-out process left everyone in the family a little bitter about the family court system ... ultimately, the baby was given to his biological father, who has a criminal record, rather than the Christian couple my sister had selected, who had promised to allow the child to have a relationship with us as he grew older. Instead, the father took the baby and swore none of us would lay eyes on his son ever again.

Today Andrew would be just about the same age as the boy at my kids' school. And so when I hear this boy's name called out in assembly, my heart skips a beat. It's not the same kid, of course ... but somewhere out there I have a nephew I will never know, and who will likely never know about me. I pray he is healthy and happy. But barring a miracle, I'll never know for sure.

From time to time I stumble across websites that are dedicated to birthparents or first parents. In their pain, these mothers can be bitterly dismissive of adoptive parents -- as though all of us are rich, self-entitled baby stealers who say and do anything to get what we want. When I encounter women like this, I try to empathize. Their pain and regret is infinitely greater than mine, for whereas I lost a nephew, they relinquished their own flesh and blood. Often under duress, and never eagerly.

I wonder how often they hear another child being called on the playground, and feel the cut of loss. Whether that loss is a beloved adult relative, or a helpless infant who never knew your name ... you never entirely get over it, do you?

Heavenly Father, how it must have pained you to send your Son out into the world, knowing the fate that awaited him there. Watch over your children who have suffered similar loss. Make us gentle as we tend to the invisible wounds of those closest to us. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Today my DH sent me this link to faith-based cell phones. Believe it or not, Christianity trails behind Judaism, Islaam, and even Buddhism in producing faith-compatible electronics for the faithful. The "kosher phone," which screens out pornographic numbers and charges according to whether the other party is also "kosher" -- and ups the rate for calling on the Sabbath. The Muslim phone alerts the carrier to the times for prayer, and the direction of Mecca. The Buddhist phone has a "Budda jewel" that allows the adherent to access faith-based videos.

Teresa Tomeo at "Catholic Connection" (who will be hosting me on her program during the national hour tomorrow at 9:30; click on this link to listen live) so often educates us about how so much of the media affects believers in negative ways. I thought this was an inspiring example of how media can be used to help people of faith live out their lives with greater intentionality. A worthwhile endeavor, wouldn't you say?

For you adoptive parents out there that need a warm fuzzy today ... Here's one from my friend Donna O'Boyle!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

"In His Sign" Podcast

Last week I was interviewed by Bill Donaghy at "His His Sign" and "At the Heart of Things" about Behold Your Mother: Mary Stories and Reflections.

Here is a link to the podcast, if you'd like to hear it!

I spent this weekend with the women of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Greenville, MI, speaking of the "Good Girls of the Gospel: Women of Courageous Virtue." Mary, of course, is the perfect model of courageous virtue ... but then, she is the perfect woman, who had one perfect Son. I don't know about you, but I don't have either of these things going for me ... which is why I love to explore the lives of some other spiritual matriarchs.

One of the women who was repeatedly mentioned this weekend was the woman in Luke 8 who was healed from the "issue of blood." For twelve years this woman faced down doctors and neighbors ... and finally found the healing she sought by touching the hem of Jesus.

What strikes me about this story is the fact that Jesus didn't let her slip back into the crowd unnoticed. "Who touched me?" He asked. In that moment, the woman had to own up to the fact that she had reached out to the Lord, and sought His healing touch for both her body and her soul. In that moment, she knew what it was to be loved, accepted ... welcomed.

To me, this encounter speaks hope for those who struggle with infertility, inability to carry a child to term ... and those who struggle in the aftermath of abortion. So many struggle in silence, when the Lord wants to bring healing and grace into your life. No one is beyond the mercy of God. Nothing you could tell Him would surprise Him about you. He already knows it all.

The question is, are you willing to let go of this chapter of your past, and live in joy-filled hope?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tips in the Kitchen: Kid-friendly chicken recipes

Today on YouTube I came across this video about the best way to cut up a chicken. This is a truly useful skill that will save you mucho dinero at the store. Even the parts that don't normally get eaten whole (such as the back) make great soup stock.

My favorite ways to make chicken include:

Chicken Mexicali: Mix 2 cups cooked, chopped chicken with 1 can of cream of chicken soup with 1 cup sour cream. Pour 1/2 jar of salsa in the bottom of a 13 x 9 casserole. Place spoonful of chicken mix in tortilla (I use wheat) and wrap like burrito. Place on top of salsa, and repeat until the pan is full. Top with remaining salsa, fresh cilantro (chopped) and shredded cheddar cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Serve with salad.

Chicken Divan: Boil and debone 2 chicken breasts; cut meat in strips. Thaw one large bag of broccoli florets, or steam 2 crowns of fresh broccoli and chop. Set aside; mix 1 can cream of chicken soup, 1 cup mayo, 2 tsp curry powder, 1 Tbls lemon juice, and dash pepper. Butter 13x9 casserole, put drained broccoli on bottom, chicken on top, and soup mix over all. Top with shredded cheddar and bread crumbs (if desired). Bake 350 for 30 minutes. Serve over rice with fruit salad.

Deadline Chicken: Put chicken parts in crock pot along with 3 cut-up sweet potatoes, 1 chopped onion, can of corn, and can of black beans. Poor large jar of salsa over all. Turn on "low" and cook all day. Wa-la!~ Serve with tortillas and salad.

Hope this inspires you!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Save Our Children!

A wise man once said, "The greatness of any civilization is measured by the treatment of its weakest members." America has always been a great nation. We enjoy unrivaled personal and civil liberties. And yet, we are now a nation in undeniable decline. How did we get here?

To put it simply, we have forgotten ourselves, where we came from and where we're going.

* We have abandoned spiritual principles that brought us greatness, turning "freedom of religion" into "freedom from religion," poisoning decency and sacrificing the common good in the name of "tolerance" and "individualism."

* We have robbed our children of their right to take their place as vital members of society, having abandoned and neglected them on one hand, and and overindulged and under-disciplined them on the other.

* We have wasted our natural abundance and vast resources, allowing those less fortunate -- both around the world and in our own backyard -- to die of poverty.

* Above all, we have sacrificed millions of young lives -- both born and not-yet born -- in the name of freedom.
Today my friend Sarah posted this YouTube video that is a must-see for any woman -- especially any African American woman -- who has ever considered abortion. It is profoundly ironic how the abortion industry has waged "Black Genocide," legally, by swathing itself in red-white-and-blue bunting and calling it a "choice" rather than a "child."

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Our two Democratic presidential contenders have the blood of thousands and thousands of preborn children on their hands. Senator Obama has gone so far as to argue in favor of actually denying medical care to children who survive abortion. (For more information about "Democrats for Life," click here.)

Five hundred thousand children across our nation are being herded together into group homes, or are kept in permanent "limbo" without a family to call their own. (Here is information about how to become a foster or adoptive parent.)

Four hundred thousand children are in a state of embryonic suspended animation, abandoned by the very people who were willing to go to any lengths to have a child -- even if that meant sacrificing their own flesh-and-blood. (If you would like to rescue one of these little ones, click here for more information on the "Snowflakes" program.)

In the first four centuries of Christianity -- when the Catholic faith was considered a dangerous Jewish sect, and our leaders were routinely rounded up and executed by the Roman State -- history records that thousands of Roman citizens nevertheless converted because of the witness of the lives of these ordinary Christians. In particular, they were admired for tending to those in prisons and hospitals ... and because of their efforts to rescue and raise as their own countless abandoned Roman infants (infanticide was legal in the Roman Empire up to eight days of age).

There is a lesson for us here ... The question is, how will you respond?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Interview today at "The Heart of Things" with Bill Donaghy

Today at 5:00 EST I'll be talking with podcaster, blogger, and Catholic radio personality Bill Donaghy at "The Heart of Things" (800 A.M. "In His Sign Network") Catch it on podcast -- by clicking here or by clicking on Catholic International Radio. PLEASE NOTE: The link for CIR is not functional today, the 22nd, but should be up tomorrow and you can download the program at that time.

For more about Bill and his ministry, click here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Making Mom Proud

Today was Honors Assembly at South Arbor Academy. To be honest, I almost missed it -- I didn't see the notice, and was rushing out the door to get to work on my latest deadline. But fortunately I happened to be in the building, and had time to make a choice: I made my way to the gym to sit with the other parents. The deadline would have to wait.

I shifted nervously in my seat as the children marched into the assembly. It's silly, really, but one of my greatest struggles as a parent is letting my kids set their goals and dreams without expecting them to fulfill mine as well. Such as being at the top of their class, just as Craig and I were usually near the top of ours.

The sad thing is, we don't always realize what we're doing. A few weeks ago when I was visiting my parents, we talked about how much more difficult the curriculum seems to be now than when I was in school. This led to a discussion about report cards, and how I always dreaded going home if I had anything less than a "A" on my report card.

"Well, we never expected you to get all 'A's, Heidi. Only to do your best," Mom insisted.

I remembered it differently. Fortunately, so did Dad. "We knew you could do it, honey. And you never disappointed us. We were always so proud of you."

His words echoed in my heart again as I sat in the bleachers. Last term had been difficult, both in terms of academics and "moral focus" (the ability to control themselves and focus on their work). But this was another term, and we were all getting another chance.

This time, both kids made the honor roll! Hurray! I smiled and waved, elated that they had won this recognition -- and overjoyed that I had been there to share their moment.

These next few weeks will bring other milestones as well. Christopher's First Holy Communion. Sarah's learning to sleep in her own bed. The pool goes up again, and before long we'll be adding another member to our family (the four-footed, tail-wagging variety). In September Sarah starts first grade. And time keeps marching on.

Like many moms, I continue to juggle multiple hats: wife, mother, editor, writer, speaker, church volunteer. And, like many moms, I don't always make the "honor roll." As I type this, I can see the chair full of laundry that needs folding and putting away; the kitchen floor desperately in need of a scrub. For the moment, I've set those things aside.

Today I'm taking time to enjoy my children ... and make them as proud of me as I am of them.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Behold Your Mother

This YouTube video was just sent to me by my online publicist, and I thought you might like to see it.

Excuse me now while I go find a tissue to wipe my eyes... God bless you!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sign the Petition for Domestic Violence Prevention Funding

Please join me in helping women and children stay safe by signing this petition, which is in support of the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act. This act that provides important funding to domestic violence shelters and training programs -- something that has been gradually losing funding under the present administration (more money for bullets).

For more information about the FVPSA, click here.

To sign the petition, click here.


Happy Birthday, Pope Benedict XVI!

Holy Father, as you celebrate your 81st birthday here in the U.S., we wanted to bring a little taste of home to you (I could not manage the lindertorte). First, a little German birthday wish...

...and birthday candles from the Cathedral of Cologne.

Frohliches Geburtstag, Heilige Vater!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Let There Be ... ORDER!

Yesterday the kid switched rooms. I was grateful that, despite the fact that they had different shaped windows in each room, their curtains still "fit" (with a little fudging). Now Christopher has the "big boy" (queen-sized) bed and large room, and Sarah has a little hideaway closer to us.

There was a time in my life -- right before I moved to Michigan, in fact -- when nearly all my earthly possessions could be packed up and moved in the back of my Toyota Tercel. A few boxes of books and kitchen utensils, a suitcase full of clothes (I was living in California at the time so didn't have all the bulky winter wear).
Now I couldn't move either of my children with less than a pick-up. "YOUR son certainly takes after YOU!" I tease Craig not-so-pointedly when Christopher pulls yet another treasure that I have hidden away in the trash. Honestly, what on earth was he planning to do with the leg off a busted Buzz Lightyear? Bronze the thing, apparently.

So, this weekend (or so) has been dedicated to restoring order. I'll let you know when I manage to shovel out ... Gimme a month or two. It'll take me that long to pry the computer magazines from my DH's panicked grasp.

You ladies who sort and pare down to essentials without any perceptible interference, how I envy you! (Uh, oh ... back to the "Envy" chapter in Raising Up Mommy, followed by a refresher in "Greed"!)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Random Seven Facts Meme

Today at Catholic Exchange I have an article about National Child Abuse Month and how we all need to work together to protect our kids. Please check it out if you have time.

Kathleen from The Daily Grotto tagged me for this meme. Thank you -- I especially enjoyed listening to Pacabel's Canon this morning as I typed up my answers! These are the rules:

1. When tagged place the name and URL on your blog.
2. Post rules on your blog.
3. Write 7 non-important things/habit/quirks about yourself.
4. Name 7 of your favorite blogs.
5. Send an email/comment on their blog letting them know they have been tagged.

Seven random things about me.

1. Someday in heaven I want to have tea with (in no particular order): Teresa of Avila, Chiara Lubic (founder of Focolare Movement), Amy Carmichael (the "Protestant Mother Teresa" of the 19th century whose name I took at confirmation), Brenda Ueland (my favorite writing coach), and C.S. Lewis and his wife Joy.

2. This one is critical: Friends and family stock their refrigerator with Diet Coke when I visit, and would never DARE slip me a *gag* Pepsi.

3. I traveled a lot before I married (at 35), including one summer traveling on a Mexican bus and another summer on a bus across Poland (I speak neither Polish nor decent Spanish).

4. I grew up without television, and instead started playing the organ at age five. I was also a decent ventriloquist at one time. (I don't do much of either any more; when I do play, it's piano.)

5. I have trouble with calendars, both holding on to them (lost my Daytimer while on vacation, and am still trying to piece my life together) and reading them (I am FOREVER getting dates mixed up).

6. I met my husband at the Ballroom Dance Club at the University of Michigan when both of us were well past our college years. (We had an instructor teach swing dance at our reception.)

7. Although I have less and less time for them, I still become unreasonably excited about being invited to participate in these memes and receiving the blog awards that float through cyberspace. Sad truth is, having struggled to make friends as a child, I still crave being part of the "cool crowd." Thanks, Kathleen, for the warm fuzzy!

I tag the following blogs (in some cases I've noticed they've already put up a meme, which I've linked here, but I wanted to note some of my recent favorite finds). If I didn't include you, it's likely because you've been a longtime Catholic blog favorite :-)

* Tina at Antique Mommy (this is the link to the meme she already did, but I enjoy her blog so much I wanted to include it anyway)

* Christine at Domestic Vocation

* Jen at "Et tu?"

* Michelle at Rosetta Stone

* Mrs Fussy (who is now in her third trimester and on bedrest, please pray for her) at Fussypants

* Sandy C at Momisodes (who recently interviewed me for "Connecting Moms")

* Michelle at Scribbit (who has one meme here and whose recent post here about her adventures as a sub organist took me back a few years ...)

I hope you enjoy discovering these blogs (or simply catching up on them) as much as I did!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

As if kids weren't embarrassing enough at Mass...

The other day I found this post at Scribbet, which sent me back to the days when I used to play piano and sing for the 12:30 Mass at St. Thomas. I started playing organ when I was five (keyboards only until I could reach the pedals), and had my first church (Lutheran) at twelve. After I became Catholic, it took me some time to work up the nerve to get behind a keyboard again (I was afraid I'd publicly humiliate myself by missing my cue). Finally, at the tender age of 32, I started playing again -- once a month at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

This chapter of my life ended abruptly the week we got Christopher and Sarah (and their older sister). It happened to be "my" week at the piano, and Christopher spent the entire hour alternately whimpering under the piano bench or howling into the mike. (The howls got louder when Craig tried to pull him away from me.) Thankfully there were no "samba" buttons to push, but Christopher did manage to push most of my buttons before I had a chance to excuse myself and remove my foster son from the situation.

The following week, we started going to St. Andrew, where my music skills (thankfully) went largely unnoticed.

That incident taught me something important about the hidden life of motherhood. As single and newly married women, we use our gifts and abilities in a variety of ways that don't always translate well when we become mothers. And yet, the transition does not always come easily.

Frankly, there were times when I resented it. After all, I had gone from being, "Heidi Saxton, the musician and top-notch church volunteer" to "that disheveled woman who can't keep her brats in line." I won't kid you ... it was a demotion of the most painful kind.

In Raising Up Mommy, I talk about the virtue of humility that expresses itself distinctively in motherhood through the gift of hiddenness. As women, we find ourselves setting aside our gifts in order to expose the spiritual debris beneath: the pride, the self-reliance, the unhealthy kind of independence us Type-A personalities tend to exhibit in abundance.

If it were not for our children, we might never have an opportunity to weed out those spiritual toxins. But by the grace of God, the little humiliations -- perhaps especially the public ones -- become a source of unbridled grace.

"Just Yell Fire!" Stay-Safe Video for Teens

Yesterday's USA Today (9D) ran a story about this year's recipients of the National Caring Awards. According to the article, founder and director Val Halamandaris founded the Caring Institute and created the awards in 1989 after meeting Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who asked him to do something about the "poverty of spirit in America." This year's award winners -- including both adult and young adult categories -- are listed here.

The recipient that caught my attention was sixteen-year-old Dallas Jessup who as a sophomore at St. Mary's Academy in Portland, Oregon, raised $500,000 from donations to produce a movie entitled Just Yell Fire, which she wrote to teach girls how to protect themselves. This blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do wrote and produced the film after hearing of the abduction and death of a young Florida girl. USA Today reports that "two million people in 37 countries have viewed the film."

This film includes ten techniques -- starting with the "FIRE!" (rather than "Help") yell. Written by teens, for teens -- watch this with your teen today!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Have you ever considered foster-adoption?

Today at "Sunflower Days" I found this post, which describes the harrowing story of an extremely courageous mother who decided to expand her family through foster-adoption. Christopher and Sarah came to us through foster-adoption, but (unlike this family) they were our first and our last placement. It also took three years from the time they entered our home until the adoption was finalized.

It doesn't always work out that neatly for everyone, as Sharon's post demonstrates. Although foster-adoption is not as financially risky as some other types of adoption, it can be infinitely more emotionally taxing, as this post will show. Still, I share this post with you to demonstrate that, when you trust God to work out the details, He has a way of making all things beautiful, in its time.

God bless you ... and God bless Sharon and her beautiful family!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

April is "Child Abuse Prevention Month"

Today in my column at Catholic Exchange I post this article about what we need to be doing to eradicate all forms of child abuse. Please check it out and comment!

"...For anyone who makes himself responsible for one small baby, as a whole, will soon find that he is wrestling with gigantic angels and demons.”

G.K. Chesterton as quoted in "Under Her Starry Mantle"

Another chilling story of child exploitation hit the wires today when CNN ran this story about the 401 children who were forcibly removed from a western Texas "polygamist retreat" run by an LDS sect. The raid by social services was conducted after a sixteen-year-old girl reported that she had been married to a fifty-year-old man and had a child at age 15. (Texas law does not permit children to be married, even with parental consent, before age 16).

One more reason why the USCCB was absolutely right in their efforts to raise awareness by declaring April to be "Child Abuse Prevention Month." That the bishops efforts have not received the kind of enthusiastic response it deserves -- including in some Catholic circles -- drives me absolutely crazy. Stories like this demonstrate more eloquently than any press release ever could why as a society we need to be raising awareness about every kind of abuse that are perpetuated on our children, as well as how we can keep them safe. While Catholics are not alone in their struggle to root out and eradicate all forms of abuse, as I was reminded when I stumbled on this post today, we must do our part if we are going to be taken seriously as people of faith with moral integrity.

On Friday Catholic Exchange will be posting my column about "Child Abuse Prevention Month." Whether or not you are Catholic, I hope you'll join me in supporting and affirming the intentions of the USCCB (spare me the scandal-related diatribes, which detract from the importance of this issue). This is a cultural epidemic about which we cannot afford to remain silent.
For more information about recognizing and preventing child abuse, click here.

Monday, April 07, 2008

96 Women Bloggers to Watch for Spring 2008

Today as I was checking out my stats on "MyBlogLog" (which I recently upgraded to "Pro"), I came across this article, at "Virtual Woman's Day" and was THRILLED to find "Mommy Monsters" listed!

I know this is a bit of shameless self-promotion, but it really made my day and I just had to share. But just to show I'm not TOTALLY self absorbed, let's swap stories. What has been the best feedback you've ever received on your blog? C'mon, don't be modest ... let's share the love!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Sarah says...

There are some friends who have a seventh sense for when to step in and say or do something at just the right time, in just the right way.

For me, Sarah is one such friend. Today her review of Raising Up Mommy brought a smile to my face, and hope to my heart. If my little book is only half as good as she and her mother say it is, I'm a better writer than I thought! (*grin*)

Now if I can just get a handle on the chaos that is the rest of my life... *sigh*

Have a happy day!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Parenting from the Inside Out: A review for parents who want to do better.

During the month of April, Behold Your Mother is sponsoring a writer's contest. For details, click here.

Each time I make something for dinner that one or both the children don't like, the familiar refrain resounds: "Tell us the story of the baked beans!"

When I was about six or seven, as I recall, my mother made homemade baked beans for dinner, which I refused to eat because the onions and molasses were so strong. After an hour of watching me poke at my plate, my mother said to me, "You may be excused, Heidi. Maybe you'll eat a good breakfast."

The next morning, I ran down to the kitchen expecting to find a steaming plate of oatmeal or scrambled eggs ... and found instead the baked beans, now cold and sticking to the plate. Again I refused to eat them, and went hungry until lunchtime. That night for dinner I was given beans a third time, and ate them -- very reluctantly -- only when my father informed me that I would get the beans the next morning in my oatmeal. (This story is always met with a resounding Y-u-u-u-c-k!)

So when the kids balk at eating dinner, all I have to say is, "So... you want that in your oatmeal tomorrow?" Problem solved.

Long before we become parents, we form impressions of what constitutes a "good parent" from the adults in our lives. Our own parents, for better or worse, provided our first model; other cues came from friends and extended family members.

* The aunt who consistently gave up a career in nursing in order to tend to her growing family and bedridden mother-in-law.

* The neighbor who allowed her daughter use mascara in eighth grade to cover up the fact that her lashes were blonde in one eye and brown in the other.

* The church friend who invited every new family at church for "impromptu" dinners of chicken parmesan.

Sometimes these models were not so heart-warming: the parent who drank or spanked excessively, who exaggerated her children's misbehavior to win sympathy but refused to come clean with her own dark deeds, who yelled at the kids for making noise while he watched T.V. instead of turning off the set and engaging them in conversation. And all too often, these children grow up and find themselves saying and doing the same things with their own children, despite their firm intention never to repeat the same mistakes.

So what is a parent to do?

In Parenting from the Inside Out, Dr. Daniel J. Siegel and Mary Hartzell explore "the extent to which our childhood experiences shape the way we parent .... and offer parents a step-by-step approach to forming a deeper understanding of their own life stories that will help them raise compassionate and resilient children." The authors help parents to identify the "toxic ruptures" in the relationship between parent and child, and the interactive dialogue that must occur in order to repair the damage. Each chapter includes "inside-out exercises" to help the reader apply the lessons of their own lives in order to strength the parent-child bond.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Addiction in Children: A review of "Beautiful Boy" by David Sheff

Standing in line at StarBucks for my weekly vanilla steamer, I was preparing to fortify myself for the "parent guidance" meeting when I spotted beside the cash register a shelf display of David Sheff's Beautiful Boy. Something made me pick up a copy.

Like many adoptive parents, I frequently think about the whole "nurture vs. nature" conundrum. When all is said and done, how much will we be able to influence our children and the choices they make ... and how much is genetically predetermined? Will they be forced to pay with their own lives the tab for the choices their first parents made?

According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, children raised by parents with substance abuse issues are in the "highest risk group" of those who will themselves become addicted. Even if these children are placed in other families through adoption or foster care, they are between two and nine times more likely to become addicted than their peers.

I asked the counselor if this means we should clear out any and all alcohol from our shelves, to which she replied, "Well ... that is one approach. However, it is also possible that it could be a good thing for them to see a model of responsible alcohol use."

Beautiful Boy gave me some insights about addiction that parents of adopted children (perhaps especially those from the foster care system) do well to keep in mind. While it comes from a unabashedly secular POV (the author equates God with conscience on p.154), he also recognizes the futility of trying to control the uncontrollable, whether the toxic impulses are our own or our children's.

Parents of the addicted must come to terms with their own relative powerlessness, with the sheer irrationality of the disease ... and with the reality that, in the end, the only person they may be able to save is themselves. Not a comforting thought, even when you do believe in God. And yet, even faith offers no temporal guarantee. We can trust God for the outcome ... but in the end, to paraphrase the great C.S. Lewis, "I don't pray to change God's mind. I pray so that change may come in me."

This inability to prevent one's children from destroying themselves is a sobering thought, one that is absolutely counter-intuitive for most parents. Nor is it exclusively the realm of substance addiction. There is a sickness of spirit, a woundedness of the will, that can take hold of a child in any number of forms. The daughter caught in the violent cycle of domestic abuse, the son addicted to porn, the teenager who struggles with bulimia or anorexia. In some cases, even religion can become an addiction when the ritual becomes a compulsion devoid of relationship. Sheff writes:

"More than anything, parents want to know at what point a child is no longer experimenting, no longer a typical teenager, no longer going through a phase or a rite of passage. Since it's unanswerable, I have concluded that I would err on the side of caution and intervene earlier rather than later -- not waiting until a child is wantonly endangering himself or others. Looking back, I wish I had forced [son] Nic -- when he was young enough so that legally I could have forced him -- into a long-term program of rehabilitation. Sending a child -- or adult, for that matter -- to rehab before he is ready and able to understand the principles of recovery may not prevent relapse, but from what I've seen it cannot hurt and may help. In addition, a period of forced abstinence during the formative teenage years is better than that same time spent on drugs. Forced treatment in a good program accomplishes at least one immediate goal: It keeps a child off drugs for the time he is in treatment. Since the less someone uses, the easier it is to stop, the longer he is in treatment the better" (p.312).

In the end, however, we can control only so much. In the end, each person must choose the path he or she will follow, the kind of life he or she wants to live. Recovery -- the healing of the will -- must come from within. And so, at some point parental intervention involves the deliberate release of a loved one to work out his or her own destiny, to reclaim life under his or her own terms. This kind of relinquishment is the ultimate leap of faith: to entrust that person into the hands of God, come what may. This is the end result of every kind of parenting, of course ... but in this case, the stakes are so much higher, and the outcome far less certain.

As for me, right now, my job is to love my children, model integrity and consistency, and pray that God will give us all the "serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."