The quote on my blog title is from a wonderful series of young adult novels called "A Series of Unfortunate Events" by Lemony Snicket. In the first book of this series the young Baudelaire orphans find themselves in the clutches of evil Count Olaf. The following quote describes the sanctuary they create in the drafty attic of their captor's home:
"Sanctuary... is a word here which means a small, safe place in a troubling world. Like an oasis in a vast desert or an island in a stormy sea."
This week my family experienced sanctuary.
My husband and I were exhausted by the time we arrived in Denver for the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) conference. Although we had been looking forward to the conference for months, we'd spent 15 hours in the van with 7 children* (under 9-years-old) and our 16-year-old-nanny-in-training by the time we pulled into the hotel. I was frazzled, the kids were wired, and our hotel room was busting at the seams with sleeping bags and suitcases. I inserted my earplugs, crawled into a queen size bed with my husband and our four year old, and decided this was all a MAJOR mistake.
The next morning... after two hours of bathing, dressing, pop-tart feeding and awkward 10-people-sharing-one-hotel-bathroom moments... we managed to arrive on time to register our children for the "Kids Camp" childcare program for the conference. The lobby of the convention center was overflowing with adoptive families of all kinds. I spotted a dear friend across the room and ran to give her a warm embrace.
My kids followed, and one of them reached out to give her a hug.
But she stopped him.
My friend took him warmly by the hands and said "Hi, I'm Kim! I'm a friend of your mom's. I love to give hugs... but we should introduce ourselves first. Then you need to check with your mom and make sure I'm someone you can hug."
If you're a mom of an adopted child, or if you've parented children in foster care, or worked with institutionalized children from orphanages... you're constantly working on boundaries. Our children wander fearlessly away from us in malls and grocery stores. Our kids hug people they don't know. Our sons and daughters don't understand the unspoken boundaries that bind and protect most children.
I cringe every time a stranger accepts inappropriate affection from my adopted children. I want to yank my child away from them and yell "Stranger Danger!!!"... but I don't. Southern hospitality gets the best of me and I politely accept "Isn't she a sweetheart!" or even worse "What a cutie! I'm going to take her home with me!". When the stranger walks away, I turn off my superficial smile and remind my kids for the thousandth time that we don't hug strangers. The world doesn't get it.
But Kim gets it.
Kim doesn't take hugs from my kids, because she cares so much for them. Kim is an adoptive mom too.
One of my children was unable to participate in "Kids Camp" at the conference due to his severe special needs. Although our nanny watched him during most of the workshops, he attended a few conference luncheons and general sessions with us. We were THOSE PEOPLE. The ones who bring their fidgeting, special needs child into adult programming. I had my "game face" on. I was ready for dirty looks and irritated sighs... but they never came.
These parents get it.
Adoptive parents know that even the best laid childcare plans don't always work out. They understand that our kids can't whisper in quiet places. That our kids spill drinks and try to take food off other people's plates. They don't judge us because our six-year-old is potty training or our nine-year-old threw a pizza in the pool. Parents who choose to build their families through adoption understand how someone can have more than one daughter named Jessica, or own four strollers, or drive a bus, or carry a change of clothes in their purse, or know how to clean the inner cannula of a trach tube.
It's a hotel pool overflowing with colorful families.
It's a friend who will lovingly remind your child of boundaries.
It's a place where your family can release a collective sigh... and feel "normal".
It's a small, safe place in a troubling world. Like an oasis in a vast desert or an island in a stormy sea.
*If you know us personally (or are stalking us online) you may be curious about the young man I mentioned in this post. We've opened our home to provide emergency respite for adoptive families in crisis. We're currently caring for a wonderful little boy with special needs who attended the conference with our family.