What to Cling to In a Crisis

by Elizabeth Hunter on August 1, 2012

Theo has tree climbing madness. Wherever we go this summer, he hops out of the car before the rest of us have even unbuckled our seat belts, scans the landscape for the best climbing tree, and scampers to the top (or the highest reachable branch). Then he sits. Silent and uncharacteristically still. And waits. Mostly hidden by a thick canopy of leaves. Like some sort of curly haired chameleon. Like some sort of toothy, grinning bird of prey.

It kind of threw me at first. He seemed to have vanished into thin air.  I’d frantically scan the four directions for his lanky, graceful silhouette. I’d  scream his name until I was hoarse (never calm in a crisis). No Theo. Finally somebody has the genius idea to look up.  And, just as reliable as the sunrise, there he is, watching us with an enormous cat-ate-the canary smile.  Enjoying the one woman freak out show on ground level.

Now tree tops are the first place I look…

At home, two crab apple trees in the front yard and a more remote hemlock in the woods off the driveway are his favorite hangouts. At least twice a week, someone–the other kids, visiting friends, neighbours, the occasional babysitter–runs to inform me that Theo is high up in a tree and… what should they do?

How should I know?

It’s not like they teach you this stuff in “What to Expect When Your Expecting a Wild Ass Five Year Old.” How high up a tree do you let a kid climb? The nature immersion summer camp in our town’s rule is: the adult has to be able to touch some piece of the child’s clothing. My  husband’s rule is: ”as high as he wants!”  My braintrust on the subject?  Do the opposite of what my parents did, which was not let us climb trees in the first place.  Beyond that I haven’t a clue.

It doesn’t matter anyway.  Try telling him to come down: (“Come here right now!”  apparently sounds even lamer from 20 feet up) Try even noticing he’s up there in the first place. Well maybe you would notice, perfect mother that you are.  But on the average hot summer day with four kids seven and under and a new puppy chewing my laptop charger cords faster than I can reorder them, I am usually blissfully unaware as Theo scampers lightning quick to do his quiet-like-a-buddha tree thing.

Chances are at that particular moment I am either 1) cleaning up pee from various & plentiful human/animal sources; 2) holding Moses in my arms while he screams and kicks me like a crazy man (a healing behavior modification technique for trauma victims) or 3) trying to make someone do something outrageously unreasonable–like clean up their legos.

Occasionally Theo looks down and panics.  He screams indignantly for someone to come get him down.  Like we put him there.  But just as often, by the time I get there, he’s pushing my help away.

What does he see up there that’s got him so jazzed? Is he trying to match up his everyday ground level view of life with the new treetop birds eye perspective? Does he say to himself, ‘that tiny box is our car.  That loud squawking birdlike figure is my mom?’  Or is he lost in a newly discovered universe all his own?

Maybe for a young child it’s possible to see both these realities at once.  I sort of get that. Over the past two months, I have this feeling I’m emerging into the too bright light of  a strange new world.  But at the same time hanging by a thread to what’s familiar. Like I’m about to fall.

The little world I entered seven years and four children ago–that soupy sleep deprived, insanely demanding, heart expanding cocoon-like universe of all new mothers–once so wildly unfamiliar and exhilaratingly challenging, has become somehow too small to hold me anymore.

Who knows what invisible force tells us (or the butterfly) it’s time to emerge from the cocoon? What’s behind the sudden out of the blue impulse to climb to the top of the highest tree?  To push out past the known boundaries and get a bigger view?  I don’t know.

But I feel it like thunder under my feet.  Shifts.  Changes.  Breaks. Cracks.  Hills that used to look enormous look like flat land. Theo and I are being born again. Which sounds great.  But just like being born the first time, its not an entirely pleasant experience…

On Mother’s day I wrote a post that was a little out there for me.   For the first time, I got HATE Mail.  A good deal of it.  Mostly political rants about adoption. A lot of it cynical. Almost never first person.  Some people believe that taking a child out of his or her culture for any reason–even starvation or imminent death–is wrong.  Some people believe that people who were adopted as children are victims for life.

It was weird, though. Instead of being rational–this was bound to happen eventually as my blog readership grows– I felt utterly defenseless.  I couldn’t even formulate the language to respond (If I’d wanted to). It was like another universe.

The thing about the new mom bubble is, you don’t realize how it rips your heart wide open. You don’t realize, walking around in your milk and sweat stained yoga pants, that you have lost all your armor.  There is no facade.  That your skin is tracing paper thin.

I stopped writing for a while after that post. I thought, maybe I’m not meant to be blogging so personally and so publicly about a controversial subject.

It got me thinking about what actually keeps us safe.

At about the same time, we went to a conference in Washington DC celebrating Rwandan culture.  I watched dance, listened to music and heard stories that seemed to bring Rwanda alive in the room. I did not hear one person speaking bitterly about the bad deal life had handed them (Most were victims of the 1996 Rwanda genocide or had family members who were victims). They did not talk like ‘victims for life.’  Instead, they focused on telling their stories–the good and the bad–the facts of their life  with unflinching honesty.

I heard a love of  country, a unity, a oneness among conflicting tribes, a desire to keep alive what is unique and beautiful in Rwandan culture as a gift to future generations. As a gift to the world.

That’s when it hit me. What’s really holding Theo up in those trees is not how tightly he’s clinging to the the branches, but his unshakeable belief that someone will  catch him should he fall. That he is never truly alone. That it is a good, exciting thing to explore and be yourself.

As adults, almost all of us long ago discarded this naive assumption.  We learn over time to cling to what’s familiar, avoid boldness and risk. To be afraid (of hate mail) to speak the truth.

But what if the children had it right all along?

On the last day of the conference, there was a picnic for the families with children adopted from Rwanda.  I was totally absorbed watching Moses, my soon to be four year old,  enthusiastically trying to learn some lively Rwandan dance steps.  Suddenly I heard Theo’s panicky voice and turned around.  He had somehow climbed onto the roof  of the picnic area shelter. It had no branches, nothing to hold onto!  He  was truly frightened. I ran to help.  Neither me or my husband could reach him.

Then, out of nowhere, a 7 plus foot tall Rwandan man (Rwandans who are descended from the Tutsi tribe are typically that tall) calmly walked over, lifted his arms slightly and easily carried Theo down like a baby bird.

And I realized, my strategy in life is no longer to cling desperately to safe branches. To avoid pain, failure, or falling.  My strategy is to spin an intricate web of support around me so I have a safety net if I fall.

I started this blog to share my stories on my road to adoptive motherhood.  Then women began sharing their own stories of inner and outer transformation here. And then an unbelievable thing happened.  Our stories started getting woven together.  And the Adoption Goddess community was born.  This web of stories has held me and supported me through my adoptions and into motherhood.

It’s also taught me that I am, at heart, a storyteller. I believe our stories are the most sacred thing we have. My life has been informed, shaped, inspired, patched together, saved from the brink, and pulled forward  again and again by the transformational stories of the people I have known. I am woven into the fabric of Rwanda in a way that I never could be otherwise because our stories are connected through adoption.

I  believe that in the end our stories are what will save us.

This blog is my home online.  I am committed to continuing to make it a safe place for us to weave our stories together. I want it to be your safety net in adoption and motherhood.  In this spirit, I totally welcome and will only publish comments and reactions that come from your own story, in the first person,told  from your heart with as much honesty as you can stand.  No one is allowed to judge anyone else.  Ever.  :)

So tell me, what do you cling to in a crisis?  What supports you?  What kind of support would you like more of?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

MS August 1, 2012 at 10:09 am

adoption is yet the most compassionate decision I have ever made . my partner and I are currently completing the entire procedures for adoption in Thailand http://www.thailand-lawyer.com/adoption.html although I know it comes with a significant financial cost, you’re stories are assurance that it’s going to be all worth it. Thank you!


Diane Rotondo August 1, 2012 at 11:43 am

I have been reading your emaiuls (or blogs) since I started this strange universe–adoption. My husband and I are in the waiting game. Our homestudy was finished inApril. We handle the wait differently. He does everything else and doesn’t think about it-ever. Unless I bting it up–then we argue about whether it wil ever happen????? I om the other hand go through spurts. I worry then I “forget” but really it is always there. So where is my question? I don’t think I have have one but I am in the “bad” place right now. How we wil get all the money together if the call comes tomorrow? What if that call never comes? I so badly wantt o be a mom. It aches in me. I enjoy reading your blog. Don’t censer yourself. Everyone has different oppinions.


Jaime August 1, 2012 at 1:57 pm

You have a wonderful gift for sharing and I have pushed off a panic attack or two by reading this blog as I have gone through the adoption process. Thank you for being brave enough to continue writing – but then we already new you were brave – you are a mom 😉


Gabrielle August 1, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Thanks for this post. I’ve found a lack of support where I wish there had been more. My older sister, who has an autistic 9-year-old has the been the most helpful, but she lives 45 minutes away and doesn’t answer the phone much, so I’d rather like someone local I can turn to. I tried a support group from my church, but was told not to talk in the group as I scared prospective adoptees. I was dealing with a violent adopted son. I and another user from online tried to start a support group but it was given up on after one meeting. It has gotten better (he’s far less violent now) but I do feel like, except for my sister, we fought this battle alone. It really shouldn’t be like that.


Claire August 1, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Elizabeth, I am so, so sorry to hear that you received hate-mail after your beautiful Mother’s Day post. I don’t know why it surprises me, as I am unfortunately all too aware of the militant anti-adoption movement in our midst. Please don’t feel that you need to give these people a platform or engaged in discussion with them. Save that for people who use their energies toward constructive endeavors. And I know it’s easier said than done, but please don’t give those people the power to steal your joy or make you second-guess yourself.

A couple of years ago I attended a book discussion group hosted by my local adoption organization. I can’t remember the name of the book we discussed or the name of the author. It was a really good book. But one thing that stood out was that the author repeatedly stated that adoption should always be about finding a home for a baby who needs one, rather than finding a baby for a couple who wants one. Initially I agreed with her. But after giving it more thought, I wasn’t so sure. Due to the desperation of parents who long for children, there is potential for corruption in the adoption arena, and unfortunately it does occur. But that doesn’t mean that there’s something inherently wrong with building a family by combining parents (who long for a child) with a child whose birthparents have decided not to parent. If it was only about providing a child with a home, that could place a huge burden on the child. A burden of guilt, for starters. On the other hand, if the child knows that the adoptive parents needed her just as much as she needed them, the feeling of indebtedness is less likely to arise.

In an ideal world, adoption would probably not exist. Neither would unwanted pregnancies, infertility, poverty, or a whole host of other factors that lead some people to pursue adoption. I can understand people who prefer other methods to addressing these issues, such as providing more financial and emotional support so that biological parents can raise their kids. But even with all the support in the world, a 13-year old might not be the mother that a child needs. (That’s just one example.) And even with all the support in the world, an alcoholic might not get their act together in time to adequately raise a child, while the child spends years in and out of foster care waiting for this to happen. (Again, only one example.) Eliminating adoption is not the answer. It can be a good choice for all parties involved. Not without pain, but a good choice. My son’s birthparents have repeatedly told me that they feel that way, and I hope that my son will someday tell me the same thing.


Wendy Carter August 5, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Dear Elizabeth,

It is interesting to me that you would receive hate mail for being so open and honest about a process that is so raw and emotionally draining. I applaud you for your Mother’s Day post. That post got me through that dreadful day this year!!!! I really have come to loath that day. When a couple has tried to conceive for years like my husband and I have through two surgeries, multiple meds, procedures, etc and nothing worked and then the couple decides to adopt, there is so much more waiting in store. We are completely sick and tired of waiting. But God is always good and is using this time to prepare us. Your blog and emails are getting me through our domestic adoption wait. So, so glad I found you!

P.S. As a barren woman I did feel like there was a sign over my head like you mentioned. Others that I know have felt the same as well.

Mercy, love and peace be yours in abundance. Jude:2



Pdxmama August 6, 2012 at 6:56 am

Your Mother’s Day post is brilliant and beautiful. I am not surprised at the reaction you received, but it makes me sad that people won’t allow for joy to be part of the adoption experience. But, joy creeps in. Even more sustaining for me is your latest post. FABULOUS
writing and connecting of experiences/lesson. The band Nickle Creek has a lovely song about catching you when you fall…that might be its name. My husband completely disarmed me when he said that for him, being a Dad is that song. Being part of an adoption is always about climbing out on those high scary branches, checking out different views, learning to catch each other. YOU are writing truths that need to be heard about being a mother through adoption…don’t stop. Our climbing story…our fearless 3 yo daughter was up on a playground climbing wall at a local park during a live concert night…lots of kids & people around…we were right next to her and was in no way in peril but a man dashed out of the crowd and scooped her off the wall. We all stood there stunned as he disappeared into the crowd. Maybe because we don’t look anything like our kid, that man thought she needed rescuing. I am still wondering if I should be mad or grateful…or what. Our girl is a confident climber too…and we trust her abilities and desires. And yes, I too have noticed she completely believes we will be there to catch her, even when I (and random strangers) doubt our ability to catch her.


CM December 20, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Please never EVER allow hatemail to make you stop writing!!! There are ALWAYS going to be “haters” out there no matter what you do or say!! That is a reflection 100% on them, and not on you! Be confident, you are an amazing woman and mother, and you don’t need the approval of anyone else to write this blog and share your family’s story!


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