adoption: our story so far

I promised there’d be a couple of surprises here on the blog for 2015, so here’s the first: I’m excited to share with you that Famille Desert are in the process of adoption! Whoop! It’s something I’m buzzing to write more about in the future but, for now, let me take you back a few years and share what’s brought us to this point.

Adoption was always something we’d had in the back of our minds. From the time we were engaged, and talking about our future together, Desert Dad and I knew that adoption would be the right route for us if we weren’t able to have kids biologically. And then, of course, we found we could – so we didn’t give adoption a second thought. Until Missy, our second child, was born. The birth of a child wouldn’t ordinarily be associated with thoughts of adopting another, but it was during the long nights feeding this little life that I sat scrolling through Facebook and blogs on my phone. I discovered the blog of an old friend, and although she didn’t write exclusively about adoption, whenever she did (for example here and here), something in my heart went all a-flutter. It was as if I was jealous of her. Perhaps I wanted to adopt a child as well. Could this be God tugging at my heart strings?

“Well God,” I reasoned, “you’re going to have bring hubby up to speed on this too – if this is meant to be, then prompt him as you’ve prompted me.” This had to come from both of us – I knew it would never work if I was having to motivate my husband to get as excited about it as I was. And, besides, I trusted that if this was something God was calling us to, He would call the both of us. It may have been the very next morning when, as I was coming downstairs for breakfast, Desert Dad alerted me to a news headline which had caught his attention: a pitifully small number of children had been adopted in the last year, raising questions about over-complicated bureaucracy and calling for reforms. Most importantly – and sadly – it meant a huge number of children were remaining in the care system, with their chances of adoption getting lower by the day.

This article had moved DD enough to draw it to my attention, and from that moment on, adoption was something the two of us could talk openly about, pray about, ask others about. Fast forward three-and-a-bit-years, and the time felt right to pursue growing our family through adoption – so here we are, two months into the process. It’s exciting and it’s daunting – mostly in equal measure.

The two most asked questions from friends so far have been what age we’re hoping to adopt, and when we might be expecting to adopt, should we be successful at panel. We feel it wouldn’t be right to adopt older than our birth children, which means we’re looking at age 2 or under. There’s a big need for adopters of older children, and it saddens me that we can’t offer a home to an older child. But there’s also a big need for adopters of younger children with additional needs – and this is something we’re open to. The only ‘needs’ we feel we would have to say no to are those which we wouldn’t be able to provide for alongside providing for the children God has already blessed us with. In terms of a time frame, thank goodness that the news article I referred to above was the start of some major changes for the adoption process in the UK. It’s a lot quicker nowadays – although no less rigorous – so if we were successful at panel, we might be hoping to adopt in the autumn. Not long!

As we’ve shared the news with friends over the last couple of months, we’ve been overwhelmed by their support and encouragement. Not that we were expecting them not to be – but the level of enthusiasm has certainly surpassed what I was expecting. Of course nothing’s confirmed yet – we still have a lot of paperwork, social worker interviews, reading, training and general soul-searching to do. And ultimately an adoption panel will make a decision about whether or not to approve us. There are a lot of unknowns. But, for now, this is our journey and I’d love you to join us.

desert parenting: the early years

There’s been a plethora of new babies born to my friends recently and it’s making me reflect upon my own experience of becoming a mum – in particular, how my faith has grown. The last five years of my life have been the most exciting ones faith-wise, yet this isn’t because I’ve been extra holy – in fact, the number of times I’ve sat down with my Bible for a traditional ‘quiet time’ is shockingly small. I’ve missed a lot of sermons due to being on the kids’ work rota or chasing toddlers round the church or placating an unsettled baby. On paper, my spiritual disciplines would look pretty awful to an outsider. So what’s helped?

* My tribe. I’ve been so blessed by the good Christian friends God has put in my way since, and because of, having kids. We don’t force theology, it just comes naturally. It comes when we’re chatting over tea and cake; we grapple with a tricky Biblical application over jigsaws with our kids; while we’re eating a plastic banquet, prepared by the littlies, we’re also musing over Scripture and faith and life and the grey areas. It’s not a big deal – and it comes alongside tales of the previous night’s sleeplessness, potty training anecdotes, plans for spa days and what so-and-so posted on Facebook – but it’s these snatches of God-conversation with friends which have shaped me, encouraged me, and got me thinking over the last few years. I couldn’t be more grateful for the ‘tribe’ God has put in my life. If you’re new to this parenting business, pray for your tribe to come. And if it’s already flippin’ obvious who they are: use them! Hang out more, open up to them, share your burdens and your thoughts, pray with them.

* Blogs, books and articles. Gradually, I’ve been able to read more whole books – but in times when that’s been too much, I’ve really appreciated blogs and articles sent my way by friends or posted on Facebook. Punchy, succinct thoughts on an aspect of Christian living. Friends, if you read something good: share it! It could be just the encouragement one of your tribe needs. A particularly helpful blog post I read a while back was this one, about reading the Bible as a young mum. Read it now – go on! I dare you! (It’s short and easy and encouraging – promise.)

* Serving and ministering. This is a really tough one. It requires a fair bit of planning (and sometimes childcare) to be able to serve in your church or community when you have kids. It’s never easy – but it grows faith. If I haven’t picked up my Bible in a couple of weeks, you can be sure that having to plan a kids’ work session or story for Toddlers, or preparing a Bible study for a Mums’ cell group, or planning to mentor a younger Christian will force me to open it again! I’ve grown in faith as I’ve seen others grow in faith.

* Sharing faith with my kids. There was a time when I was driving my kids somewhere and was massively challenged by a random Bible story that came on the CD player. (We were listening to the Big Bible Storybook, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected to hear a Bible story – more that it was some random part of the Old Testament which I’d forgotten about.) There have been other times when reading a children’s Bible or Christian storybook with them, or discussing faith, or praying, or playing through the Bible has kept me spiritually ‘topped up’ as well as them.

* My husband. I approach this one sensitively, knowing that several friends long for their other halves to come to know Jesus. I am so massively grateful for a husband who is unswayed in his pursuit of loving Jesus more, and I don’t take this for granted. He shares with me the things he’s thinking about, the books he’s reading, the articles he’s found – and it’s like I benefit from the time he’s put in, without committing lots of energy that I don’t have. Of course Christian wives are just as responsible for encouraging and challenging their husbands with new theological thoughts – but at this stage in life, low on time and energy, I’m thankful for a husband who keeps me on my toes. If you’re a Christian whose spouse does the bulk of the childcare, how are you supporting them in their faith? Those of you who are courageously and unreservedly pursuing Jesus without encouragement from your partner: we want to walk this journey with you. Please tell us how we can be better Christian siblings to you.

Before I had kids, my view of discipleship was very different. Perhaps I could liken it to a knitted square in one colour, row upon row of identical stitches forming a unified whole. There was one way to pursue God: through the Bible, in a daily quiet time, followed by a shopping list prayer. Nowadays, my walk is a tapestry: many different colours and stitches interacting in varied ways. There are dropped stitches too, as well as areas not yet stitched. I am an ongoing work, more aware of my imperfections than ever, but more aware of God’s grace than ever – grace which enables me to pursue discipleship in the haze of early parenthood, guilt-free and joyful.

why i threw away your artwork (letter to my kids)

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To my adult children,

As you read this to yourselves, I want you to do so in the context of our relationship. You must know that I love you dearly. You are, and always have been, our greatest achievement, source of immense pride and joy, and our lives are immeasurably richer for having had you in them.

That said, as children, your artwork was regularly binned – by the bag load. This is not because I didn’t love you or because I wanted to discourage your artistic attempts – in fact, I feel partly responsible for the creative people you were (and possibly still are – I don’t know, because I’m writing this in the past – your past – and you haven’t grown up yet, so who knows). I provided you with materials, and a space, and tried to nurture a love of Trying Things Out. But I threw away so much of what you produced, daily and without shame.

Let me try to explain the factors which led to this course of action:

1) The quantity. I’m sorry, but you seemed to bring back an average of four pictures a day from school. Apparently the teachers also taught you some reading and writing, because you’re now literate (again, not entirely sure as you haven’t grown up yet), but how they fitted this in, I don’t know. Because you drew so much. How big did you think our house was? I mean, I know you were small so it probably felt bigger to you, but seriously – how much wall space?

2) The poor choice of colours. Yellow on white does not work. It won’t be seen from a distance. And that is important, for some reason. Also – you didn’t understand that eyesight deteriorates, not improves, with age. So, no, I didn’t keep anything I couldn’t detect without a UV lamp.

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3) The repetitive nature of your output. Obviously, what with you being all (fictitiously) grown up and everything, I’m over this – but there was a time when I wanted to inflict some serious damage on whoever it is who markets all those identikit superheroes. You never seemed to get bored of drawing them, over and over again, identified in your pictures with capes and sometimes-decipherable labels. But I was so bored I was screaming inwardly. “TRY MIXING IT UP!” I was yelling in my head. “TRY PAINTS OR PASTELS OR COLLAGE OR SOME KIND OF FUN TECHNIQUE THAT MAKES ME LOOK LIKE THE YUMMIEST MUMMY FOR HAVING SUCH NATURALLY CREATIVE KIDS. BUT, DEAR GOD, NOT ANOTHER FELT-TIP SUPERHERO.” Man, am I glad I don’t feel that way now.

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4) The poor choice of medium. Chalk will rub off. Things that were not meant to be stuck to paper will fall off. And I wasn’t prepared to adorn our home with A4 sheets decorated with PVA splodges where the yogurt pot and pine cone had been. Just wasn’t.

I hope you’ll forgive me, and understand why I chose to act in the way I did. I don’t think you’ve suffered any major trauma as a result, and I’d like to think you’re all well-adjusted adults – perhaps that you benefited simply from the act of being creative, even if it wasn’t always displayed. But if you’re reading this with your therapist – what can I say?

Sorry. And I love you.

Mum xx

PS Some tips for when you have your own kids:

a) have a space where their artwork can be displayed. A big space, but defined – so that it can’t overflow. Despite what I said above, you had your own defined display spaces in the dining room, kitchen and bedroom. (They just weren’t enough for the HUGE amount of things you drew.)

b) keep a folder in the hall for all pictures produced in the week. At the weekend, decide with your kids which ones are keepers and which ones are not.

c) work on a one-in, one-out basis – kids want to display a picture? They have to take another one down.

d) cut round anything small-ish and stick it onto a card for the next birthday party they get invited to

e) palm off some pictures next time you see grandparents, aunts/uncles, godparents, cousins, neighbours, random strangers…they see your kids’ pictures as a novelty, something sweet and innocent, rather than a noose around your neck.

f) don’t use the words ‘bin’ or ‘throw away’. Instead talk of ‘recycling’, and make it an Adventure – “hey, I know, why don’t we put this one in the RECYCLING?!” you could say, excitedly. You never know, they might just buy it.

feb express

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Continuing with my one-cookbook-per-month challenge, for February I chose Nigella Express. This is a book I use regularly, but there were still plenty of recipes I wanted to try. So we stocked up on sugar, butter, cream and wine, and were ready to begin.

Oh my word, was this a wondrous month. Flavoursome Coq au Riesling, Macaroni Cheese (with a clever trick to avoid making a white sauce from scratch), Buttermilk Roast Chicken and New Orleans Coleslaw (made for a shared lunch at church) and Festive Fusilli served with Halloumi Bites (the best accompaniment to an evening catching up with a vegetarian friend).

There was not a single pudding which let us down in any way, shape or form: Caramel Croissant Pudding, Flourless Chocolate Brownies (served with ice cream), Orange French Toast, Instant Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Chip Cookies (made for a friend’s baby shower: said baby is still in there, guzzling away), Glitzy Chocolate Puddings and Ice Cream Cake (made for my birthday). I would happily eat any or all of these puddings at any time of the day or night. I swear: not one of these puddings will be absent from the Kingdom of Heaven.

It was a magical morning when we discovered the ease and deliciousness of Oeufs en Cocotte. The baked egg definitely improves upon the boiled egg for (predominantly) lack of shell, but also for the possibilities of adding chopped ham, diced mushrooms, or pretty much anything small and complementary. This and poached eggs have become my new Favourite Ways with Eggs for 2015. (Hashtag, anyone?)

The ‘Get up and Go’ chapter – a range of more interesting breakfast ideas than cereal and toast – proved popular in the Desert household. We had a Valentine’s Brunch with Smoothies, Chopped Fruit Salad, Breakfast Bruschetta, Green Eggs and Ham (pesto pancakes) and Breakfast Bars. The Pear and Ginger Muffins were sadly not as more-ish as the other options.

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Mediocre was the Red Prawn and Mango Curry – I mean, any curry is a good curry (right?) but this one wasn’t up there with my favourite curry recipes of all time (and I do have a few, so I’ve every right to be picky). The Potato and Mushroom Gratin was OK as an accompaniment, but not so good that I’d remember to get the book out again for it. Sweetcorn Chowder was a good option for a veggie dinner, served with toasted nachos and cheese, but I’m not sure I like sweetcorn enough to have a whole bowlful of it in one sitting.

The Naan Pizzas were a let down. OK so it’s a clever idea and, yes, I’ll accept that naans make better pizza bases than shop-bought pizza bases, but the suggested toppings (chiefly mushrooms) were rather lacklustre. I left these for Desert Dad and the kiddoes one evening when I hopped off to a meeting, and they were Not Impressed.

The Brandied Bacony Chicken was just not Brandied or Bacony enough to warrant the addition of these ingredients to a simple roast chicken (which, let’s face it, is one of the most Express things you can make, and tastes flippin’ fantastic with it). The Croque Monsieur Bake – basically a baked ham and cheese sarnie – was a disappointing dinner. And I just couldn’t get the Cheese Fondue to work. I mean, I did leave it unattended for an hour while I went out (accidental) but even before this, the gloopy cheese and simmering wine just didn’t want to be friends.

I think the Maple Chicken ‘n’ Ribs would have been nice, but I managed to overcook these just a little:

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Sorry Nigella.

However, on the basis that the good recipes were really, seriously good, this book is a definite keeper. And you know the best bit?

There are still loads of recipes left to try!