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A Guide to "The Children Who Raised Me"

I am humbled, excited, overwhelmed, and just plain giddy – my first book is finally complete and has been released for purchase through Austin Brothers Publishing! This journey has been freakishly long with its fair share of mountains and valleys… but in the end, I think the timing has been perfectly God-ordained.

Just in the past few days, I’ve had numerous questions asked of me that I thought would be good to address here, in a blog post. It feels almost like an online interview where I get to answer your own questions for everyone else to benefit from – except that I get time to think about each answer without getting nervous, which is my personal favorite way to do things! So, without further ado, let’s get to it!

Q: Is your book going to be available in stores or just online?

A: My book is currently released on my new publisher’s website (Austin Brothers Publishing) based out of Texas. In just a short time, the book will also be loaded onto Amazon.com, and it will be added to the Ingram Catalog, which is the largest book catalog in the country. This will allow my book to be ordered at churches, bookstores, schools, coffee shops, etc. Depending on which stores pick up my book will depend on if it will be available locally or just remain online or in catalogs.

Q: Will there be an e-book and a hardcover edition available?

A: There WILL be an e-book available by next week, actually! The price for the e-book should be around $7 and will appear on my publisher’s website. Additionally, it will be available for purchase on ITunes, Amazon, Smashwords, and all the other major electronic reading applications. As far as a hardcover addition, this will depend on how well the book sells. There is quite a hefty expense that comes along with formatting the book into a hardcover, so if a need appears to be great enough for it, I will consider that down the road!

Q: Why did you choose to use your children’s real names in the book?

A: This was a topic that I thought long and hard about. In the end, it came down to the fact that my children’s names are on my Facebook page and on my website – all of which is public domain. To change their names in the book would basically be moot and probably confusing to those who have followed along with the blog. I don’t want anyone assuming that I went out and got an entirely new slew of children running around! That would get me committed for sure!

Q: How did you choose to develop your book into the format you did with each kid having their own section instead of the traditional chapters we normally see in books?

A: Well, when I first started the book, I figured I’d go chronologically and with normal chapters that would generally appear in a memoir. However, it read very heavy – the events that occurred in our lives had great periods of time in which there was an awful lot of darkness with not a whole lot of light. So when I decided to break the book up by child, all of a sudden the reader was able to start over in the story and take a break from the gloom, see certain incidents that were specific to each child, and get more breaks with humor and joy in the midst of the heaviness. All in all, I wanted the book to feel like a meal, filled with light courses, entrees, pallet cleansers, and dessert! In the end, I wanted the reader to feel full and complete, which is what I hope I accomplished!

Q: How did you decide what personal information to keep in versus edit out?

A: This was another very tricky element in writing a memoir. There are so many factors that go into telling a story with as much accuracy as possible without over-sharing someone else’s tale. I approached each section through my eyes only, because that would be the only way to keep it accurate to what I had experienced. I am not capable of making assumptions of anyone else’s feelings or thoughts, just my own perceptions of things. And as with all personal information, I tried to tell the readers as much as I could about my own perplexing feelings and struggles. In that, I wanted to be as open and as free as my heart would allow. But when it came to the rest of my family and others involved in our story, I tried to edit out just the facts – things that I was given from CYS, agency workers, doctors, and my family members themselves.

Even so, I took the time to have my family read the book. I wanted as many editing eyes on the emotional stuff as possible. This included my older two children. Whereas I didn’t let them read the entire book (simply because it’s far too heavy for their young minds), I did read them many of the details of their own sections in the book. I allowed them the opportunity to say yes or no to certain events. If they felt even slightly uncomfortable with parts, I edited them or removed them altogether. My oldest, Cameron, asked why I talked about their behaviors so much. I explained that this was so other parents could have a better understanding of the struggles their own children face. With that simple answer, my kids gave me their blessing to tell all the goofy things they do, just so that it will help you all!

Q: How did you come up with the title, I really like it!

A: Why, thank you! I like it, too! But I cannot take credit for the title. That was all God! I was sleeping one night after a ridiculously long day of editing, and I sat straight up in bed as if I’d been awakened by a fire alarm. The only thing running through my head was the title God wanted me to use: The Children Who Raised Me. From that moment on, my editing became smooth and the book began to flow in a new direction, pointing to a main aspect that I wanted to come from this - that in a family, we are ALL a part of shaping one another. Each of us has a purpose and a place, and the adults are learning right along with the Littles. As we bring all of our broken parts to the table, we are able to use them to create a whole unit, one that looks and functions differently than any other. Again, I cannot speak to how my children feel or think, but I can attest to the fact that my children, all four of them, (and my husband) have had a significant role in raising me to become the woman God needs me to be.

Q: Who is your target audience for this book?

A: Well, the book has a great deal of content in it, so it can be used to reach a great deal of people. When I first started out, I wanted the book to be used for other parents raising children with Reactive Attachment Disorder. Then, I realized that parents raising any special needs child may find what we’ve gone through as beneficial. And then I thought that families looking to foster or adopt may really want to see what often doesn’t get shared by caseworkers as they try to get children placed in homes – the dirty, raw parts of parenting someone else’s children. And THEN I found out that schools and mental health agencies were interested in the book to use as a training tool for their employees, helping them understand the complexities of attachment disorders and how to manage them differently than other disorders.

Overall, this book is for any parent, guardian, or adult that is working with children – it’s for the person who's lost a child and feels like they’ve been told that “it’s time to move on”, even though they’re not ready yet. It's for the parents struggling with infertility and weighing all the options through the emotional lenses they are wearing. It’s for the marriage that is hanging on by a thread under the weight of all that family entails. It’s for the professionals who want to do more but are bound by the legalities and insufficiencies of a broken child welfare and judicial system. This book, The Children Who Raised Me, is for anyone who is looking for Hope and needs to know that they’re not alone in their search.

Q: Are you available for speaking engagements? If so, what are the topics that you cover and your fee?

A: I AM available for speaking engagements! Despite having a tummy that HATES public speaking, the rest of me actually quite enjoys it. I have spoken at churches, schools, mental health agencies, and adoption groups so far – depending on where I speak and what they’re interested in learning, I can share about trauma issues and how it effects children and attachment, RAD, parenting, adoption and foster care issues that need to be changed in our child welfare agency, how churches and organizations can best rise up to help adoptive and foster parents… and I can even lead worship if you’re interested 😊.

But as far as a fee, I do not have a set amount. Because so many churches or groups are small, I would ask for a love offering of whatever is doable for that particular group. If I speak at an agency, I would just ask for a comparable guest speaker amount, that’s all. My goal is to bless, encourage, educate, and love on those who need it. That’s not something I am able to put a price on, and I never want to be out of anyone’s reach… trust me, I don’t think of myself highly enough for such things! But I do ask that my expenses be covered so that I can continue on in what I feel God’s leading me to do!

If you’re interested in booking me for a speaking engagement, you can email me through my Contact’s Page on the website.

Q: Are you planning on writing a second book?

A: YES! I absolutely love writing and will do it until my dying day – when a book will be coming out is still up in the air, especially since this one has taken up so much of my efforts! But definitely look for one in the future.

Q: How can I get my book signed by you?

A: This question is cracking me up! You guys, my handwriting is not really all that exciting, but apparently this is a big deal because this is the question I was asked the most! So, for those of you who really want to see my name on the inside of your book cover, then watch my MommyhoodSFS Facebook page and my website for upcoming book signings. If I’m not going to be in your area and you want to set up an engagement for me, you feel free!! Otherwise, we can find a way for you to mail me your book to be signed. Again… cracking me up right now!

 

Okay, I hope this has been helpful for everyone! In addition to the book, don’t forget that I have an online membership program that is helpful to professionals and guardians in dealing with children with special needs, attachment issues, and mental health diagnoses. Check it out on the site for further info!

Love to you all and thank you, once again, for all the support you’ve shown. I am so blessed to meet so many beautiful people through such a painful topic – God really does know how to make beauty from ashes.

Hugs and Hope,

Shivonne

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"The Children Who Raised Me" ~ Now Available!

In case you missed the memo (which, how could you because I've basically been blowing up my social media feeds with the news because I'm SOOOO excited), my first book is now available online at tatepublishing.com!  If you've followed my family's story, you may already know some of what falls in the pages of this particular memoir. However, have no fear, there is plenty of NEW content that helps put our lives into some perspective. 

From foster care to adoption, mental health behaviors to Reactive Attachment Disorder, grief and loss to new life, Christian parenting to just plain survival - this book has a little bit of something for everyone and I'm so blessed that God gave me the words that needed to be said... words that are hard to say. Although I floundered my way through much of it, my deepest aim was to shed light on the hard parts of raising someone else's children... to say the things that we're told not to say, and to take away the facade that all things related to adoption, fostering, and just plain parenting is nothing but happiness and love.

Because let's be honest. It's oftentimes not. In fact, sometimes it sucks so badly that you can't find breath and you make parenting mistakes and you cry ugly tears that no one should ever feel they need to hide out of shame. We are ALL together in this parenting thing. Whether it's messed or blessed, we are together. Even when you've felt you couldn't go on another moment; Even when you gave up and came back and gave up again and came back again all within the same 10 minutes; Even if you feel like you're failing...

There is always Hope.

And you are never alone.

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In My Heart - Always Four

Words can’t describe it, but sometimes I awaken in the night with a smile on my face. The smile comes from a faraway dream, one in which I was running my fingers gently through your curls or tracing your nose and lips in a way that only a mother can. In those foggy moments between sleep and awake, I listen to you tell me stories while I calmly rock you back and forth as I had a thousand times before. I dream that you laugh, that you run to me, that you remember me.

And then, as dawn wakes me from my sleep, I realize that you aren’t really here. My smile leaks from my eyes and down my cheeks, bittersweet memories making me wish I could close my eyes forever. Because when I am awake, I am reminded that I have not seen you face in a year - that I have not heard your laugh and your lispy words since that fated day last September. Your wailing pleas to stay with me were the last you uttered, and I failed you. I wasn’t able to let you stay. And little did we know that we would never see you again.

The pain that you may think I don’t love you, that I left you in your dire circumstances, is often more than I can bear. And yet thinking that you don’t remember me at all, well… that’s my own selfish fear. Yet I would rather you to have forgotten all of our memories if it meant that you were safe, that you were happy - that you were truly loved.

If I knew you were healthy and that there was nothing to fear for your future, I would gladly awaken to those tears each day. I would comfort your siblings with ease. I would hold your other Daddy without quite as much pain. But I don’t know those things. And my children don’t. And my husband doesn’t. We are tormented with the constant knowledge that you are so close, and yet we are helpless to save you.

I have given myself over to the fact that there are others that will never understand this loss. Many have reminded me, so innocently, that I chose this. I chose to foster. That I should have expected you to leave. But what I choose is to forgive their words. I know that they don’t understand what you go through, what you’ve seen. I know they have no idea the pain you’ve endured and how that pain has affected our family, as well.

They couldn’t possibly know. And then there are others who say that we should “move on, already”… like we are capable of pretending your existence wasn’t real – or treat you as if you are no longer alive and grieve you in a way that is impossible. But again, I choose to forgive because I know that those words are spoken as an attempt to ease our suffering – knowing that people are trying to help, even if they don’t know how.

I remember the day that I told a stranger how many children I had. For so long, I had four kids. It didn’t matter their status. Adopted, Foster, Pre-Adoptive, Biological – they were just terms that confused others. But there I was, in line at the grocery store. A woman told me how well-behaved my two kids were that had come to the store with me that day.

“How many children do you have?” she’d asked simply.

For months I had said four. I couldn’t bear to discount you, as if your lack of presence meant you no longer mattered in our family line-up. But on that day, the sadness was more than I could explain. And honestly, I know that she didn’t need to hear my story. She just wanted to buy her groceries and go home. And so I answered in words that sit clearly in my memory to this day.

“Three. I have three kids.”

I remember the look my daughter gave me as she tried to contradict my answer. I swiftly spoke over her and made quick conversation with the woman until it was time to take my bags and leave. Once in the van, I had to explain to a sobbing girl that WE still counted you in our family, but that others wouldn’t understand our story. I told her that we left you out of the equation for the ease of those around us.

But today, on the anniversary of your loss, I will not leave you out. I am aware that so many will read this – a handful will cry, some will offer words of condolences, and even more will interject more words of “let it go” and “you’re still struggling with this?”

But today is not about any of the readers. Just as we honor Memorial Day or September 11th, celebrating lives that were lost and allowing ourselves to sit with our grief without trying to brush it away to appease daily life, today is not about them.

Today is about you, sweet boy. It’s about you, and me, and Daddy, and Brother, and Sissy, and Wyatt. It’s about remembering you, whether it’s with laughter or with tears. Whatever emotion comes, I will face it and so will my children and my husband. We will look at your photos and watch home videos, sharing your memory and praying for your safety. And tomorrow, our “holiday” will be over, despite waking up with smiles that turn to tears as usual. And we will wipe the tears and go about our days, acknowledging you silently and lovingly as we pass your pictures on the wall.

But don’t mistake our silence. For you will never be forgotten, my child. You will always be one of us – one of my four.

I love you forever and always.

Mama

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When Bio Parents Die

           In the world of adoption, there are so many issues that parents and children face. Whether the parent is adoptive, foster, or biological, there are numerous decisions and issue to consider. Open versus closed adoption, visitation schedules, when or if to tell a child they were adopted, what information to share about biological parents and health histories are only a few in a sea of vast choices that families need to make, depending on their particular circumstances.

            My older two children were adopted out of the foster care system when they were 4- and 6-years-old. There was never any question they were adopted, as they had and still have vivid memories of their pasts. They are half-siblings, both sharing the same mother but having different fathers. My daughter knows nothing of her birth father – he was incarcerated at the time of her birth and signed rights over immediately. My son, Cameron, however, knew very much about his birth father.

            He knew the feel of the man’s belt on his back, legs, and bottom.  He knew the signs of drug use and saw first-hand the relentless torment that an addict can inflict on young children. He knew the fear of seeing his pets killed, having his house set on fire, and being abandoned in a hospital – left wondering if anyone would ever be back to pick him up. And he knew the terror of nightmares. Ones that still haunt him to this day, reminding him that he may never, in fact, be safe enough to dream like a regular boy.

            And now, my son knows the feeling of confusion. While perusing the online local newspaper, I came across the obituary of Cameron’s birth father. In a state of shock, I jumped up from my chair, my body unsure of where it was going exactly, only knowing that it could no longer stay in its previously seated position. My husband had taken the kids to a local fair and would be returning shortly. I called him instantly, making him aware of the situation. Together, we decided to tell Cameron and his sister the news when they arrived home.

            Although some may question our decision to inform our 10-year-old of such traumatic news, it was a choice we came to easily. Cameron may not mentally be up to speed with other children his age, due to all that stunted him in his earlier years, but he knows more about this sad world than most children ever should. In fact, just a few days prior to learning the news of his bio father’s passing, Cameron was in tears at the psychiatrist’s office, reporting continued nightmares and fears that his first dad will return in the night and try to kill him – revenge for reporting the abuse those 4 years ago.

            Because of Cameron’s Reactive Attachment Disorder, he often doesn’t process his feelings well. They get lost somewhere inside, convoluted by all the grief, all the loss, and all the unreliable adults he has known. Why should he feel safe expressing feelings, or even feeling them at all, for that matter, knowing that he did for 6 whole years before anyone cared to notice that he was hungry, that he was sick, and that he was being grossly mistreated.

            My husband and I sat both kids down at the kitchen table upon their arrival home. It was then that we told them the news we'd learned only an hour before. Wanting this to be a teachable moment for both of my children (as they both struggle with RAD), we talked about how it’s OK to feel more than one emotion at the same time. We talked about how it’s OK to feel sad, even though this man was associated with so many bad memories. We also talked about how it’s OK to feel relieved – happy, even – knowing that this man will never hurt another child again, and knowing that Cameron could now sleep easy.

            My son sat there, taking it all in. He went through a few of the grief stages right away, starting with denial. He hit on anger a bit, too. There was also sadness. Confused about this strange amount of biological loyalty suddenly appearing within him, he tried to brush it away before I reminded him that his first dad, although incredibly flawed, was also loved and created by God – the same God that loves and creates each of us. And to feel saddened by his death is very normal. And in the same breath, I told him that he could feel happy, as well. He was allowed to feel safe. Free. He was able to put the past to rest and find new dreams to occupy his sleep.

            Cameron and Taylor both peppered me with questions and a wide variety of emotions that evening. Cameron even went as far as to make me promise to read the obituaries religiously, just to make sure we don't miss it if his baby brother dies, the little boy that has been missing from out lives for nearly a year.  But what I wanted Cameron to see the most was the obituary itself. In the list of this man’s children was Cameron’s name.

            What you have to understand is that my son’s first family was very bitter that he caused them the inconvenience of all the court hearings that followed. Not only had they refused to attend the CYS-scheduled visits with him, but they refused to acknowledge his very presence at each hearing that followed. They would glare at him from across the courthouse lounge or lavish his sister with attention, ignoring my son completely when he would sheepishly try to say hello. They even went as far as to refuse to give CYS the family’s medical history, which has been a significant stumbling block as we’ve faced all the health scares with Cameron’s kidneys.

            And as he sat there, slowly reading through the many words he didn’t understand in his bio father’s obituary, he finally came to a name he knew. Seeing his own name in front of him, his head popped up suddenly.

            “They remember me? That means they don’t hate me anymore!” he said as tears slipped from beneath long eyelashes. He showed more emotion from the relief of simply being acknowledged than he did at the news of a close relative’s death. Because from the start, that’s what all children want. They want acknowledgement, assurance, care, and love. And from his first family, he didn’t get any of that. So, in one small gesture, a family that could have left his name out of the newspaper, chose to include my son and heal a small part of his heart – a part that I would never have been able to heal.

            I don’t know where this man stood with his Maker when he passed. Quite honestly, we had stopped praying for him a couple years back when Cameron made it quite clear that he didn’t want to do anything that would make him remember the man. And as time went on, he was only mentioned in therapeutic moments when being listed as a source of so much early childhood trauma.

           Also relieved at his passing, I am grateful to the writer of the obituary. I am overjoyed that Cameron was not passed by once again. And I do pray that this man, Cameron’s biological father, was able to find peace in God at the end.

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We Don't Have to Agree in Order to Love

            I am a parent of children with special needs.  Oftentimes I find myself on the receiving end of terrible behavior and on the giving end of yet another lecture or adult tantrum.  I do not always agree with my children’s behavior, but I love them anyway.

            My husband is not perfect.  He sometimes says bad words while doing home improvement projects and he lets our children ingest far more junk food than I would ever allow on my watch.  I do not agree with each of my husband’s choices, but I love him anyway.

            I don’t feel that this is a difficult concept to understand.  Do you?

            Because lately it seems like society is struggling to realize what is so basic to me.  That we can love without agreeing.  That we can find a way in this world without feeling the need to be cookie-cutter in our beliefs.  That we can reach out to others, even when we are on different sides of the political, religious, racial, and gender fences.

            I ask myself daily, What is going on with this world?  Why is there so much need to make everyone believe the same way in order for us to exist with one another? Why must we “take sides”? Why are we judged for not changing our Facebook profile pictures to support the latest world crisis?  When did being either Republican or Democrat mean that we are no longer united, or even simply American?

            I am a Christian.  I am a registered Independent voter.  I am Heterosexual.  I am a Caucasian woman, wife, mother, and daughter.  And I’m terribly concerned about the fact that our culture is pushing me into a corner where I am only allowed to associate with those of “my kind” out of fear that my love for ALL mankind may be tainted by intolerance or disagreement in some way.  I am even more concerned that so many of those around me seem unaware that they, too, are being pushed into their own very specific corners.

            As a person, I don’t have to agree with your views on sexuality, your opinions on gun control, or your stand on immigration.  And as a Christian, I most certainly do not have to change my own beliefs to co-exist with my neighbors.  Because in my eyes, ALL human life is precious.  And that is why I will mourn for every life.  Whether that life is lost to cancer, a shooting, suicide, war, or even execution on death row – you will not find me on the rejoicing end of anything that means one person is given permission to take the life of another.

            Perhaps that makes some of my Republican friends angry.  And maybe some of my Democrat friends will send me frustrated emails.  I would guess that even my Christian friends could find some way to disagree with something I believe.  But here’s the thing, folks.  Are you ready?

            I still love you.  We don’t have to agree on everything.  We barely have to agree on anything!  You are created by a God that has a plan for your life.  And whereas you may not be on the same path that I think is correct, I still love you.

            Understand this.  My love is not a Tolerance vs. Acceptance kind of love.  It’s not a love that means I’ll bad mouth you behind your back when I walk away.  I will love you with the only kind of love that I know… the kind that allows me to still hug my kids before bed, even when they’ve been complete turds.  And it’s a love that lets me snuggle close to my husband at night, even though we fought about money just hours before.  It’s a Godly love – plain and simple.

Photo by www.pocketcultures.com

Photo by www.pocketcultures.com

            For some reason, we always try to include ourselves into the tragedy of others.  We put our own views ahead of what we’re called to do, which is love others through their pain.  Why can’t we just grieve our country’s repeated losses without being judged, lessened by disagreements over lifestyle, or arguments over political debate?  At what point are we just blatantly disrespecting another’s loss by including ourselves in the mix, like it’s somehow about us personally?  

            Just as easy as it was in the beginning of this post, I will say it again:  I do not have to agree with someone’s choices in order to grieve their loss.  Period.  Because it’s not about us.  It’s never been about us.  It’s always been about a sinful world, in need of a Savior – in need of large amounts of grace and mercy.  And when the world is hurting, I want to be Jesus’ hands and feet of that mercy, not another roadblock that pushes people to their respective corners.

            So today, as a concerned citizen, I say this:

            If you do not have love for any particular person or group, then please allow God to check your heart and fill you with His love – one that is pure and prays for those who struggle or who are causing contention or who have committed a crime.  Ask Him to give you love for those who are like you as well as for those who are very unlike you.  Let yourself be overwhelmed with the loss of any life and to pour yourself out in any way that you can.

            And I also have this to say… to those of you who feel defensive – to those who walk around feeling targeted or unsupported – to those who are always ready for an argument or judgment or political battle – You, too, should allow God to check your heart.  Learn to accept love from those around you without turning everything into a debate.  Learn to disagree peaceably and to not make every act of kindness from another group into something that fits a particular agenda.  Allow yourself to put down your weapons and your fists when someone offers a helping hand.

            Because we are all people.  And we were all created by the same Holy God.  And we all need His love.

            And we can all learn to love, despite disagreements.

            Choose to be peace.  Choose to be hope.  Choose to be love.

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