Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Regrets ... I've Had a Few

I am not exactly a crooner fan, and the "brat pack" entertainers were a generation ahead of me, but I have often hummed selected lyrics from Frank Sinatra's "My Way" over the years. (I say selected lyrics because I agree with few of the lyrics, with its emphasis on rugged individualism and unshaded humanism). The lyrics I often hum to myself are these:

Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

Over the past ten years (can it be that long already?!) of foster and adoptive parenting, I have acquired some regrets. I regret my naivete, my personal sense of invulnerability, and my lack of preparation. Realistically, I understand that there is no way one can be insightful enough, strong enough or prepared enough to work with children whose history is checkered with abuse and neglect. So, I've had regrets, but they mostly relate to my own sense of inadequacy, and not to the children who have become part of my life through adoption. So, really, along with old Blue Eyes, I can say that they have been "too few to mention." Claudia and I do what we have to do. We do not walk away, we do not abandon, we do not leave behind.

There is one thing my past ten years has taught me that I do not regret. These years have been transforming, and I have come to learn that transformation always comes with a price. Before this adoptive parenting journey I was naively idealistic. I believed that all troubled kids needed was someone to love them. I have discovered that troubled kids need someone to love them no matter how badly they treat you. I believed that nurture trumped nature, that the benefits of a committed and loving family could overcome early years of neglect and abuse. I have discovered that the benefit of a loving family is that at its very least it offers a challenging child the opportunity to see a different way of life. There is no guarantee that the child will (or will be able) to make that way of life his or her own. I once believed that children, given the opportunity to see two sides oflife, would readily choose the more positive, promising option when given the choice. I have discovered that the pull of personal history is very strong. I once believed that living in a family where faith in God, consistent guidelines and generous affection could transform any child. I have discovered, rather, that the parent is often the one who is most spiritually transformed through the years.

When I speak about The Spiritual Dynamics of Adoptive Parenting, one of the strongest points I make is that authentic spiritual transformation takes place in the presence of conflict, not harmony, and that all transformation comes with personal pain and sacrifice. God has given me the opportunity again and again to experience what it is I seek to teach others about deep, personal transformation. This unrequested gift results in authenticity, and it is never an easy acquisition.

The past forty-eight hours have provided yet more opportunity for personal transformation. It has come with a personal and familial cost. To tell the county prosecutor, "No, we do not want our son to return home, and no we do not want to have charges dropped" is a moment of personal transformation. After five years of trying all we can to move John away from the department of corrections system, I realize we have done all we can do. To watch as your son enters a courtroom handcuffed, legcuffed, shuffling in with a prisoner's gait is personally transforming. To observe his glower, his pseudo-machismo, his screw-the-world stance is a moment of personal transformation. To hear your son's court-appointed attorney tell the judge, "Well, your honor, if his parents won't take him home, then there's not much more we can do today" is personally transforming.

But my most haunting mental image, and one that bites at my soul hour after hour, is how closely his life is becoming that of his birth father's. Several weeks ago I did an online search for the prison system in John's state of origin to discover a photo listing of his birth father, who is incarcerated and will be for many more years. At the time the physical resemblance between the two caused the hairs on my neck to stand up. It was an eerie experience, and I prayed at the time that his birth father would be the last generation of that family to be housed in prison. Yesterday, watching John woodenly enter the courtroom in restraints, dramatically reminded me that my earlier prayer has not been answered.

Claudia and I (she more than I, frankly) continue to hold out hope that one day he will understand that he doesn't have to follow in his birth father's footsteps. And it's at this point that I recognize regrets ... regrets that John was not removed from an abusive and neglectful family earlier in his life; regrets that our time with him was not convincing enough to make a difference; regrets that begin with "What if." "What if we had been able to spend even more time with him than we have?" "What if he had continued to take his meds as prescribed?"

All I know at this moment in time is that our family's emotional system is already relieved. Last night in our home there was a palpable sense of peace. Bedtime was a relaxed affair, with light, engaging conversations and children who appropriately found their ways to their rooms with little argumentation or dispute. Claudia and I were able to talk for a few minutes before drifting off to sleep without fear of an intrusive knock at our door (a consistent, every-night expectation while John was home). We did not have to anticipate the every-evening dispute about whether or not John would take his medication, would refuse to, or would say he had, only to find piles of pills in shelves of the house later.

Based on this dramatic and blessed change in our lives, perhaps my greatest regret is that John didn't exit earlier. But if he had left sooner I suppose the regret would have been different ... it would have been the questioning about whether we did the right thing, whether or not this was giving up on him, wondering if we had short-changed him. The past few weeks have been transforming for me. This is a transformation I have not requested and, to be honest, have not welcomed, but it has been necessary.

And the story is, of course, not over. John has been our son for eight years, and he will continue to be our son, whether he is able to live in our home or not. We love him no more or no less today than we have all these years. We will continue to be in connection with him as we are permitted, and we will always believe God can do more for John than we have been able to. And maybe that's enough. For today, anyway, my regrets are too few to remember.

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