Joy in the Moment

by JoAnne on October 20, 2014

little girl 2

The sound of other kids playing in the room seemed distant, as I attentively watched the beaming 3-year-old twin finding joy in the moment. A few minutes before, I had suggested to him that he could wear the colorful, dinosaur-print underwear, if he would like, but the little guy shook his head stating firmly, “No, I like these.” Holding his hands on his hips, he paraded around in his brand-new white underwear announcing proudly, “My daddy bought this for me.”

Sitting there with tears in my eyes, I knew from my own painful life experiences, why a small gift from a father could be such a big thing to a child.

Let me tell you, helping potty train twin boys is not an easy task. This is not my first set of twins either, but actually my third that I have taken care of in my home over the past 17 years.

I have loved being a part of children’s lives and seeing firsthand their unique personalities blossom as they grow into successful young people. And unexpectedly along the way, I’ve learned a lot about myself, too. For me, it has been healing to finally be able to put into words what I needed from those who were supposed to be my parents.

You know, it’s almost embarrassing to say that technically I’ve had four fathers, but I can only ever remember throughout my life a couple of gifts that were given to me by any father figure. My biological father was never a part of my life. The courts have tried to convince me that the man’s name listed on my original birth certificate (my birth’s mother’s husband at the time of my conception) was legally another absent father. And then there was my first adoptive father — an alcoholic, and lastly, my step dad that my adoptive mother married after her divorce.

Life should never be this complicated and confusing for any person, much less a little girl. I can’t say that I truly had even one father step up to the plate and steadfastly call me his very own with his unconditional love.

I missed out on experiencing that joy in the moment. To all fathers, regardless if your daughters or sons are small or all grown up, I hope that my story will in some way touch your hearts. It’s never too late to share with your child a small, significant gift just from you that they can treasure always out of your genuine love for them. Truly, I believe it is a big thing when it comes from their daddy, like my precious little friend parading around proudly in his brand-new white underwear.

It’s hard to believe that the twin I wrote about in my post from a number of years ago is now in the third grade.

Recently, I received a card in the mail from my close friend’s father thanking me for helping him find his birth family. It dawned on me as I was reading his thoughtful words, I never even received a card from either of my fathers who at different times had been a part of my life. Make it one of those random Hallmark moments today … go down and purchase a meaningful card specifically for your daughter or son and sign it Love, Dad.

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“Do Something”

by JoAnne on October 4, 2014

These lyrics spoke to my heart from Matthew West’s song, “Do Something!”

“I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”

It was just our family’s secret that I was ashamed of too for a very long time. My non-biological brother was only two months older than me; we were both adopted at birth. The truth is that he had to try to fight his demons alone –my brother struggled with serious mental illness for much of his life until passed away this last year. I will never understand why my stepfather, a medical doctor, and my adoptive mother, an retired RN, didn’t try to get him the help he desperately needed.

As my brother’s sister, when I hear news stories like below, I need to know the answer, “How can we as parents, community and society help our young people suffering with mental health issues?”

The other afternoon at around 4:30 pm a 15-year-old came back to his local high school here in Oregon with matches and a gas can; he wanted to start his school on fire. Walking into his chemistry class, he indicated an intent of starting his notebook on fire. The student voluntarily went with the principal to the office. The boy was taken to a hospital on a mental health hold.

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Dear Wonderful You

by JoAnne on September 28, 2014

As most of you know, I love to write and have had a number of stories published. But for many years, I’ve been equally as passionate about making a difference in the lives of our young people. When I learned my “Dear Wonderful You” letter was going to be in this upcoming book, I have to say it’s one of the most meaningful accomplishments as a writer. You know I can’t change the past, however, I believe the letters in this book will help other adopted and fostered children like myself, during those times when we need someone to understand how we are feeling. If you happen to know an adopted or fostered child that could benefit from reading this book, I am buying a few extra copies, and would love to make sure they receive one. That would mean a great deal to me. Thank you for being a part of my journey.

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Holding Onto My Childlike Faith

by JoAnne on August 4, 2014

McLeod1

It was opening day of trout season. The spring weather didn’t seem to be cooperating with the anxious fishermen, as they awakened to a light dusting of snow. From a young girl’s point of view, the only problem I could see was getting out from underneath my warm blankets and facing the chilly cabin. As my bare feet tiptoed across the wooden floor, all I could mumble was brrr, but I was ready to brave the elements for this adventure.

Dressed in several layers of clothes, I sat shivering on the metal bench of the boat as my dad and I got ready to set off. Looking over the side, I wondered if the fish were frozen in the lake or if it was too cold for them to be hungry. I imagined myself dangling a long pole into the water full of fish-shaped ice cubes.

Hours after the crack of dawn, when the avid fishermen had already staked out their spots on the watery hole, my father rowed our small aluminum boat to a leftover spot. We weren’t in our secluded place long enough to even get bored before something magical happened. The jerking motion I felt coming from underneath the glistening water tugged at my emotions, as well as my fishing pole.

I wasn’t sure what was trying to get my attention at the other end of the pole, but whatever it was, there was no doubt in my mind that it was trying to pull me in with it. I knew I needed my dad’s strong hands to help me bring in my catch. His eyes were filled with excitement as we shared in the anticipation of what was to become my favorite childhood memory.

My dad kept bragging that it was going to be a big one. I beamed from ear to ear as he helped me reel in my trophy. It wouldn’t have mattered to me if it turned out to be a mucky, large tree branch attacking my fishing pole. Being able to spend this rare moment of time with my dad was enough for me.

I giggled hard as my dad finally yanked the fish right out of the water, like pulling a loose tooth. The silvery, rainbow-colored fish bounced around our small boat while Dad tried to pull the hook out of its mouth. We kept trying to remember to quiet down, so we wouldn’t scare all the other hungry, cold fish away.

As we headed back to the dock, Dad proudly shared my news with all the fishermen we passed who had been camped out since sunrise on the water. He wanted my big fish weighed as soon as possible. There was a lot of commotion being made over how I, a young girl, made my debut as a fisherman.

At the store by the lake, I was happily surprised to learn that my fish was the biggest one caught for that first day of trout season!

The dad who took me fishing that day was one of four fathers who have come and gone throughout my life as the result of adoption, divorce, and remarriage. Even as I have struggled with feelings of being abandoned numerous times, my favorite childhood memory was one thing no one could take away from me. My “fishing dad” has left me with a lasting impression of what a father’s love means to me.

Now, years later as an adult, I sit on a weather-worn log overlooking that same crystal-clear water. I have come back to a place I’ve dreamed about so many times in my life. The beauty of nature is still as breathtaking as ever. The mountains that almost touch the sky look as though they are sprinkled with powdered sugar, and the peaceful lake gently dances over the rocky shores at my feet. I feel God is “leading me beside still waters to restore my soul.” Remembering the strong hands of my dad helping his little girl catch her very first fish, I see the strength of my Heavenly Father. I picture Jesus, arms outstretched, reaching to all the ends of the world with His powerful hands, surrounding my life with the blanket-like warmth of His care and protection.

Trustingly, I hold onto my faith with hope and anticipation — the same way I hold onto my fishing pole bobbing over the water. I feel God’s reassuring hands wrapping gently around mine as I experience not only the magical moments of life but also its challenges.

Sometimes, we have to recapture our faith through the eyes of a child to witness God’s love with a pure and true heart.

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My Brother’s story

by JoAnne on July 13, 2014

After my husband left early for work Saturday morning, I got up for a few minutes to read my e-mail.

One message was from my long-time friend asking if I had seen the video she sent to me privately on FB last week. For some reason, I had not watched it yet, so I sat down and clicked the play button.

It was a video about Ryland’s story. When I got to the part where I heard the parents say, “She may have only been 5 years old, but we needed to start truly listening,” my tears from years of confusion and frustration as being my adopted brother’s sister started flowing freely. My brother and I were both adopted at birth; we are only two months apart in age.

My heart ached for my own brother who was so misunderstood. Part of me wanted to believe his life would have been easier if our parents had been more supportive and had loved him unconditionally like Ryland’s family has admirably done in the video below. Would my brother’s story still have played out so tragically if he had been part of today’s more accepting generation like Ryland was born into?

After watching Ryland’s transformation, I couldn’t help but wonder if this child had experienced as many losses as my brother and I did at such a young age (losses from adoption, divorce of our parents, instability, alcoholism, mental health issues, and verbal and emotional abuse) if the ending to Ryland’s video would have had the same outcome as my brother’s did; as I know now, he didn’t have a chance in hell.

I recall my mother’s righteous sister saying once in a conversation with me, “Your brother always had such feminine, delicate-looking features. It doesn’t surprise me that he thinks he might be transgender.”

In such a disturbing contrast, after the death of my mother, this same aunt lashed out at me with the cold, heartless words, something to the effect, “Can you imagine how difficult it would have been for my sister to have raised your brother, such a bad seed.” And I got lumped into her awful thoughts as well, as somehow we as her adopted children made her a broken woman. I know for a fact that my mother was not nice to many of her relatives over the years, but sadly, all but a few have made it clear by their silence that blood is thicker than water.

No matter if I had wanted her to, my aunt could not have taken back her harsh words. The damage had already been done. I felt violated all over again by some of the personal things she had spoken of only as hearsay regarding our “black-sheep” family. Disappointingly, my sister-in-law is the only one who could have shared such private matters with my aunt, but she wasn’t even a part of our life during that time.

My mother was always worried about maintaining her image, especially with her mother and sisters. Her family meant more than life itself to her. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, my mother, out of pure embarrassment, would have never wanted her relatives to know such ugly intimate details about my brother that might make her look bad. And until now, I honored her unspoken request, even after she passed away.

What I did next even surprised me. Because of my first adoptive father’s alcoholism, I spent a lot of time as a little girl being shuffled around from state to state, and home to home to stay with mother’s large extended family. Up until this point, my aunt had meant a great deal to me. I thought she understood me and could read between the lines that my upbringing couldn’t have possibly been easy. I told my husband and best friend that I needed to write my aunt and speak my peace. Both said, “What good is it going to do; she is just going to hurt you more!”

“If she does write me back,” I said firmly, “I am not reading it!” and at that point I sent the e-mail. When she quickly responded, I kept my word to myself and deleted her reply before I ever saw the first sentence.

In this letter to my aunt, I had asked her, “How could any of mom’s relatives know first-hand what went terribly wrong in our family if none of you were there? What hurts me deeply is that I was there and obviously very personal matters that involved me have been scrutinized by others with such insensitivity and unkindness.”

As I watched Ryland’s video, I knew my brother had been screaming out for help for many years because he was really transgender. If the relatives were apparently maliciously gossiping early on about how different and delicate-looking my brother appeared, it seems so odd that my parents would be wearing blinders. It made me sad for him.

Isn’t it interesting how sometimes as children we can sense what our sibling might have been struggling with better than our parents ever did? It was clear to me that he had difficulty bonding and fitting in with family or friends. I believe that the two of us got as close at one time as he ever did to anyone. Looking back, it was when my brother and I stopped sharing a room at the age of 11 that he started to drastically change. I shouldn’t have been expected to know how to help him, but part of me feels like I let my brother down. All we had was each other and I didn’t know what to do or say.

After learning of his death last year, I wanted to find out how to remove my brother’s online journals. His writings made me feel uncomfortable as if I was the reason he didn’t like who he was as a human being. As his sister, I was hurting as well.

Quite honestly, I don’t know how to stop these feelings that make me think that I am partly to blame, “My sister and I were inseparable and I wanted to be her!”

Was it just ramblings from a lost soul who couldn’t distinguish fantasy from the real world? The truth is — my brother didn’t get the help he needed with gender identity issues combined with serious mental illness. I do understand that not all transgender individuals are mentally ill and do live happy and healthy productive lives. I have debated with myself whether my brother would have had more of a fighting chance if my mother would have not been so worried about what others think – that somehow it would have made her look like she had failed as a parent if she didn’t have all the answers.

Excerpt from my brother’s journal (age 40 something):

“Kids get the funniest things in their heads. My sister and I were raised as equals, even though she is two months and six days younger. We bathed together, played together, slept in the same crib and shared the same clothes. We got fed at the same time and were put to bed at the same time. My sister and I were inseparable.

Was there a difference between my sister and myself? Turned out there was. What, I really didn’t know at that time.

About age 4, I was laying in bed wishing upon a star. Mom came in and I asked her if I could be like my sister. Guess she didn’t understand the question. Her reply gave me another tailspin, “No, Scotty, you can’t. She’s a girl. You’re a boy.” Right then and there I changed my wish. I wished Tinkerbell would make me more like my sister. Tinkerbell was my invisible friend.

That night Tinkerbell visited me, but she wouldn’t turn me into a girl. Tinkerbell told me I would take it for granted. That I must work hard and some day my dreams will come true. Then I would appreciate what I have. Yes, I was a female cognitively; I still had some lessons in life to learn that I wouldn’t learn as a female. Haven’t figured out yet what those lessons could have been.”

As his sister, I never want any other sibling to grow up like I did feeling so alone and vulnerable, while trying to make sense out of the tough issues in life.

When we plant a seed, one never calls it a “bad seed” if it doesn’t get plenty of sunshine and water to help it bloom into God’s beautiful creation. How can we expect it to be any different with our children, if we as parents and society aren’t truly listening to those unheard voices who are crying on the inside for love, respect and above all, understanding.

My only regret is that I did not know how to stand up for my brother in a world that can be so cruel and judgmental.
JoAnne, scott collage 3 copy

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He loved me … he loved me not?

by JoAnne on June 27, 2014

Tonyfishing

Above are the only two pictures that I can call my very own of my first adoptive father. I wish I could say it was when life was simpler, but that would not be the truth.

Not too many months ago, I learned that my adoptive father was married before. I contacted his first wife’s grandson. He was cordial and said his late grandmother was not married before. It wasn’t important to me to push the issue. I knew I had the right person. Maybe down the road when a relative is doing their genealogy, they will say, hey, that woman was right :).

Sounds awkward; both my adoptive father’s wives worked together at the same small hospital for many years as RN’s. His first wife and my adoptive father divorced one week before marrying my adoptive mother.

The only reason I contacted the grandson in the first place was to see if he knew the answer to my question, “Do you by chance know why your grandmother divorced my adoptive father?” If everyone else knew my adoptive father had a serious drinking problem, which resulted in his premature death from alcoholism, “Why would anybody in their right mind help my adoptive parents adopt under false pretenses not one newborn, but two newborns a few months apart in age?” His first wife must have known her ex-husband was adopting children; one was born at the same hospital where she and my adoptive mother worked.

When I look at my first adoptive father’s picture I don’t see a bad man, I see a broken man, a human being who didn’t for whatever reason get the help he needed to conquer his disease. I truly don’t ever remember him loving me. Actually, what I recall is a man who didn’t like his little girl all that much. Do I blame him? Obviously, he didn’t need the added stresses of helping raise and support two more children, along with one older biological son from his marriage with my adoptive mother. If I would have had the opportunity to talk with him as a grown-up, these are the questions I would have asked him:

  • Why did mom forge your name on my incomplete adoption records in the courts?
  • Why all the deception if there was nothing to hide?
  • At that time, would your alcohol problem have been the reason for you not even telling your relatives back East about me, until long after the fact?
  • Was adopting children one last attempt to try and save yours and mom’s failing marriage?
  • Who in heaven’s name wanted me?

No one could possibly understand what I had been searching for all these years. I needed one person to say out loud, “I knew what the doctor who delivered you, the prominent judge, your adoptive mother, and all the other mysterious players involved in putting a child in harm’s way was wrong. I tried to voice my objections to someone who could have possibly made a difference in the outcome. I want you to know I cared about you, the innocent child.”

Instead, I have felt like so many adults let me down as a child.

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Where we find forgiveness

April 9, 2014

I was thinking about my late birth father tonight … he was a very intelligent man. As a geologist doing both on-loan and contract work, he had something like 45-plus newspaper articles written about him. There were no pictures of my father. A lot of the clippings announced where he would be heading for his […]

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A Glimmer of Light

March 30, 2014

ReMoved from HESCHLE on Vimeo. I am always asked why I have such a heart for children, especially sharing such a deep connection with the little girl or boy who has no voice. After I watched this poignant video, I kept thinking to myself, “Mom, you never came running for us when my two brothers […]

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The two of us

March 12, 2014

I just realized something last night … not only do I look more like our mother than any of my four other siblings, but there are some more amazing similarities between the two of us. My birth mother gave birth to her first child (daughter) at the age of 22 on November 15th. I gave […]

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Be that one person…

February 21, 2014

You couldn’t pay me a half-million dollars to want to be the rich daughter again. It comes at such a high price. My stepfather had told my husband that he couldn’t get me to ever talk about what he had planned to leave me as his inheritance. That I would just cry and say, “Oh, […]

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