Sisters, Brothers, and Things
by Jen Hatmaker on July 24th, 2011

I was a model child, but sometimes bad kids influenced me toward sinfulness. I did my best to be a light in the world, but occassionally other people's darkness permeated my illumination, and they made me be bad.

When my sister Lindsay was six and I was nine, I manipulated her out of her piggy bank money so I could buy a stuffed animal I saw at the convenience store. Sidebar: I don't know how I walked a mile to the Quik Trip and spent my sister's money on crap without my mom's attention, but I assume it was a result of lax parenting in the early 80's when mothers let their fourth graders walk unattended to gas stations that still had cigarette vending machines (I remember these, um, because of the bad kids who bought their Capri cigs with their dads' change) and just hoped for the best.

Anyhow, when questioned, I told Mom I bought it with my own money, but since I spent cash within four seconds of obtaining it, thereby eliminating the need for the word "savings" permanently from my vocabulary, she smelled a rat and sniffed out the ruse. She made me write: "It is always best to tell the truth" 500 times in reference to my deception, which clearly would've never happened if I'd not been so poorly influenced by unsavory schoolmates.

You might think these sorts of shenanigans would've damaged any future relationship with my siblings, but you would be wrong. Me and my two sisters and brother are crazy close and are actually totally into each other. We crack one another up and badmouth each other's nasty bosses, exes, annoying neighbors, and enemies. We agree that we are really, really funny and we pity boring families. We ranch and travel and boat and grill out together. It is common knowledge that my sisters and I think our brother is nearly without fault and we regularly vie for his affection.
He's single, ladies. You may send inquiries with a bio and pic to me and my sisters.

I've read many, many adoption books leading up to this week, the Bringing A Child Home Week, and collected a wealth of information from the experiences of my adoption community. So although we are at the starting line with Remy, I have a decent idea of what to expect. I familiarized myself with the absolute worst case scenario in terms of attachment and transitioning, assumed that will be our lot, and if we end up a notch or two above Defcon 4, I'll consider it a bonus.

Parenting adopted children who've come from hard places is *quite* different than parenting our bio kids who were born into security and attachment and grew up in a healthy, safe family. Quite.

It's tricky, because often adopted kids look perfectly normal. They laugh and act cute as buttons. Their bodies and clothes and hair and faces and expressions and words look and sound just like all the other kids' their age. They may perform brilliantly in school and act like darlings to their teachers. You might be tempted to peek in on a twenty-minute segment of their lives and conclude, "Well, glory hallelujah! Now that they have permanent parents, they are right as rain! Close the books on this and let's all celebrate the happy ending."

You would be wrong.

The fear and insecurity and shame and abandonment these kids have endured is seeded deeply in their hearts, coloring the way they perceive everything: permanency, safety, parents, family, strangers, felt needs, security, trustworthiness, God.

Remy seems to be having a grand old time at our house for the most part, but her little mind has no concept yet of who we are to her and for how long. She's had transient caregivers her whole life, including her original family. Sure, she's getting lots of bananas and new clothes and attention, but she has no real security with us yet. She is simply charming us as often as possible in hopes that she can win us over and we might stick. (Next up: acting like a deranged, obstinate crazy child to test her theory that our presence in her life is indeed conditional and trying to just get on with the abandonment before she allows her heart to trust us. See Brandon's blog today for some of the woundedness we're encountering with Remy.)

Because of this deep insecurity, many adoption experts strongly counsel new parents to be THE ONLY NEED MEETERS in their new child's life for the first month or so. And I'm not even messing around. Like, no one else gets her a fork. No one else walks her across the street. No one else brushes her hair or wipes her face or gives her a bath or gets her juice or holds her hand.

We buy this, and because of it, we're drawing pretty tight boundaries around our family for these first few weeks. Not that the people in our world aren't fabulous, wonderful, incredible, precious; not that they haven't cried, prayed, cooked, encouraged, cheered, and loved us through this entire adoption; not that they don't adore our new kids with the fierce love God instills in his people for the broken members of our tribe. We know how special our people are.

But Remy only knows that people come and go despite affection, attention, and even biology. People cannot be counted on, and permanent parents certainly seem out of the question, so a steady stream of outsiders just reaffirms her lonely place in a big world with a lot of moving parts, all that seem mostly kind but none that she uniquely belongs to.

That's why we're holed up in our house like refugees for awhile. Katie, bar the door.

However, some experts recommend that within this attachment plan, only the Mommy and Daddy meet needs to the exclusion of the new siblings. The new sisters and brothers are certainly included in the permanent cast of characters, but they are bit players in terms of care-giving.

On our first night home with Remy, the initial house tour was exactly what you would expect: hilarious, manic, over-excited, thrilled...and that was our bio kids. They dragged her to every room, yammering in English she didn't understand, pointing out the corners and closets and shelves that hold our treasures and favorite memories. Happiness abounded, I tell you.

But just like an insecure kid who attends a sleepover and has a MARVELOUS time right up until bedtime when the tears erupt and the stand-in mom tries to soothe and comfort but eventually the mom is called to come pick up her bawling child at 10:45pm, we've learned that nighttime is when some of Remy's demons come out. Friends, I mean this in the most literal way. For the love of the land. Google search: exorcism.

That first night, when it became clear that sleep was imminent, the smile faded, the laughter ceased, and the tears started. No bed was right. No arrangement was satisfactory. No room was the winning destination. Fear jumped on her back like a monkey, and the meltdown began.

Brandon and I (tried to) snuggle with her in our bed, hoping for sleep to overcome this thrashing, petrified little girl who just traveled for 35 hours and landed in "America Texas" to an airport full of screaming people waving balloons and signs and yelling her name. Is that too much to ask??? She is so high-maintenance.

Anyhow, Caleb came into our room with tears flowing, as hearing her cries was just too much for him. (Despite evidence to the contrary, Caleb is actually our most tender-hearted kid, and his threshold for the suffering of others is nil. He has negative threshold.)

"Caleb, get on out, honey. Let us work this out with her."
"No, Mom. I'm going to sleep in here with her tonight."
"Sweetie, she's just scared and me and Dad need to be close to her."
"Move over, Mom."

Caleb crawled right into my bed with all his clothes on and sidled up right next to her. She calmed down and quit crying, dare I say it, immediately. He reached under the covers to hold her hand, and she was asleep four minutes later. He was asleep five minutes later.

So on our first night home in nine days after traveling halfway around the world carrying a dead-weight kindergartener, I slept on a sliver of my own bed that the brown and pink children weren't sprawled all over, and Brandon got the couch. The new daughter woke up happy as a clam ten hours later and promoted Caleb to the top of her Love List.
Bed hogs.

My brain knows the experts recommend parent-only caregiving, but my heart is telling me a different story. Here is what I know: Parents are not the only healing agent in a traumatized child's is. Big brothers that adore and protect you, an older sister who would take a bullet for you; this has healing power, exactly how God planned families.

Through the love and affection of parents and siblings, Remy is going to learn: You belong with us. This family is tight, girl, and these siblings are a gift to you. Forever. You can count on Mommy and Daddy. You can count on Gavin and Sydney and Caleb, just like you already count on Ben. You just got grafted into a unit; we're like a gang, and you've been granted membership without even having to be jumped in. You're welcome.

So yes, I'm letting Sydney lotion her arms and Gavin push her on the scooter and Caleb feed her cheese broccoli with his fingers (OMG, we found another food she will eat), because these are her people forever and ever amen. They will weather high school together and visit each other at college one day. They'll argue and get into trouble and cover for each other. They'll screen boyfriends and girlfriends and run interference for each other, and God help the first fool who makes fun of Ben or Remy's skin color; Caleb and Gavin can both throw a punch, and you better believe we'll look the other way. They will stand up for one another in their weddings and hold each other's babies. They will vacation together and talk about me and Brandon behind our backs and grow old beside each other, knit together long after we are gone. Their friends and coworkers and neighbors will come and go, but these five kids are for life. They are The Hatmaker Kids. Selah.

That bond matters. And we are going to let it heal and transform Ben and Remy.

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Abbie - July 24th, 2011 at 1:34 PM
beautiful! brought tears to my eyes.
Amber Rogers - July 24th, 2011 at 1:43 PM
Jen, this is the absolute sweetest thing I have ever read. Thank you for bringing some strong tears to my eyes and a huge grin to my face, and for reminding me how strong a bond my children can have one day. :)
Brooke - July 24th, 2011 at 1:55 PM

Beautiful. Thanks for making me cry in public when I read your blog on my phone. Lovelovelove
Tori - July 24th, 2011 at 2:02 PM
As someone who has a super close relationship with my brother, this brought me to tears. I can't wait to add to our family and watch my kids develop these precious relationships that are so important! So glad your kids can be such encouragers and comforters to one another even this early in the game!!
Donna - July 24th, 2011 at 2:02 PM
Amy Harris - July 24th, 2011 at 2:12 PM
Amen... so moved by the fact that our definitouns of family are the same! What a BEAUTIFUL family you have... Thanks for letting us all share in the ups and downs!

Brandi - July 24th, 2011 at 2:16 PM
Dangit...tears in a meeting again with my boss. I know at this point she thinks I'm mid-life "crisis-ing" or something. Great words my friend...great words.
Denise England - July 24th, 2011 at 2:23 PM
Girl, you are spot on. And SHOCKER, I'm crying again. I'm also a little ticked off that you are so far ahead of the game, 'cause, even though I've been at this 7.5 years, I didn't have a CLUE until year five and I still screw things up royally on a regular basis (silver lining: at least my kids are getting plenty of opportunities to see me model apologies and amends). And you're so in the know you're practically oozing Karen Purvis. Kids from hard places, felt safety. Yep. True dat! I fully support the decision to hole up in your house. Friends who are lucky enough to live nearby to drop off meals, ring the doorbell, hug Jen's neck on the porch and scoot. At least you'll get the chance to see her soon while some of us will have to continue to cyberstalk.
KellyJ - July 24th, 2011 at 2:27 PM
What a sweet story. And I agree, Remy has been adopted into a family, not just a set of parents. Praise God for the sensitivity or your kiddos :)

Carolyn Jones - July 24th, 2011 at 2:30 PM
Oh, the books I see coming out of this..........
I sat here
Rebekah - July 24th, 2011 at 2:34 PM
You are ridiculous. (ridiculous=wicked awesome) I love yall so much.
Dayla - July 24th, 2011 at 2:40 PM
So beautiful.
Mary Smith - July 24th, 2011 at 2:54 PM
Amen sister ! Your story has touched my heart once again thanks for sharing!
Carmen - July 24th, 2011 at 2:58 PM
Once again, you have made me cry. Love you guys!
Becki - July 24th, 2011 at 2:59 PM
And I am crying....yet again. Gonna go call my sisters. :-)
Julia L. - July 24th, 2011 at 3:23 PM
amen. beautiful.
thank you.
Lori - July 24th, 2011 at 3:26 PM
So beautifully put! I have always wanted a sibling for Davis so he could have someone to vent about me with:-)
Kim - July 24th, 2011 at 4:55 PM
Oh my word....i'm crying rivers over Caleb sleeping beside her. I'm so thankful for the bond between your kids and how sweet they are with her. That's one of the things I love most about your family (Kings)- that you and your siblings are so close. Way to pass on the legacy of sibling love. We are praying for her to feel secure in your world. Just savoring every little nugget of info on your adoption journey. Love you!
debra parker - July 24th, 2011 at 6:11 PM
i am reliving so much through reading this...
Katie - July 24th, 2011 at 6:15 PM
I'm calling my sisters. Now.
Kristie - July 24th, 2011 at 7:24 PM
the pictures of your children bring tears to my eyes, You are so very blessed.

Kristina - July 24th, 2011 at 8:11 PM
Amen and amen. Beautifully true and sweet. The love of a sibling is amazing. So happy that your 5 will have each other forever. I have 4 children only one to whom I gave birth. But these 4 children love each other immensely and NO one messes with one of them. My littlest has been known to tell some boys what she would and could do to them if they didn't leave her big brothers alone. (Doesn't always go over so well to have little sis fight your fights.) Praying for all of you as you do this transition twice.
Katie P - July 24th, 2011 at 8:24 PM
Wow, balling my eyes out. LITERALLY! Praying for awesome transition adn the healing of Christ for your awesome family
Mary Morrow - July 24th, 2011 at 9:53 PM
In the process of adopting...and THIS was AWESOME!
Thank you!
Lindsay - July 24th, 2011 at 10:58 PM
Awwww. Bubba is so cute in that pic! He is such a winner.
Janice Baker - July 24th, 2011 at 11:52 PM
Wow this is very powerful for me! And has come at a time when I needed it! We adopted three siblings that we fostered for 2 1/2 years. We are going through some "stuff" with our kids. After reading your blog it has once again reminded me how delicate our children are. Even though we have been with them for 4 years, our dedication to them is still doubted. I am at a loss for words but I do know this, thank you for putting things into perspective for me!
Krici - July 25th, 2011 at 12:24 AM
Crying my eyes out!! Love it! Your kids are adorable and love their compassion!
Brea - July 25th, 2011 at 10:50 AM
I love the way you see the world and share it!
Megan - July 25th, 2011 at 11:18 AM
Hi Jen -- My friend Holly (a friend of yours from those glorious college days!) forwarded me your blog. We just returned from our court date in Ethiopia and now await the day the Embassy gives us the green light to bring them home. This blog post both encourages and terrifies me. But ultimately, I know our God is big. He heals. He'll heal them, us and me. Beautiful. I will continue to cyber-stalk you and hopefully glean any piece of wisdom and solidarity I can!
DavaRenee - July 25th, 2011 at 12:07 PM
My sweet kitty is sitting next to the computer wondering what the heck is wrong with me. I lost it with Caleb walking into your room crying. As an only child, I always wanted an older brother to protect me and a sister to do hair
Andrea - July 25th, 2011 at 12:18 PM
If Robert leaves one more mess of shaved head hair in the sink, I'm applying for Drew.
graceling - July 25th, 2011 at 4:14 PM
Excellent post. I am just writing about bio kids traveling with parents to bring new sibs home... and my experience has been so similar- my bio daughter helped my adopted daughter heal and bond in ways that I never expected. I think, in part, because seeing that my bio daughter could trust me, my new daughter learned that she could trust me as well. And because the hurts in her life had been inflicted by adults rather than other kids, it was easier for her to trust another child.

Mary - July 25th, 2011 at 4:29 PM
So I've embarrassingly stalked you long enough and couldn't hold back one more second from sharing this with you.

Reading this post, through my big, fat real tears there was one word whispered---"Ubuntu."

Possibly you've heard of the term, but living life the Ubuntu way is an African Bantu origin. It comes from the saying: Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. Or, "A person is a person through [other] persons." Scot McKnight describes it the following way,"Ubuntu teaches us that life society works only when humans live out their connectedness, and that kind of connectedness with God and others, and with our past and our future, is what Jesus means when he says, 'Kingdom.'" And let me just say that you've got yourself a precious Ubuntu TRIBE going on, all those brothers and sisters. Those little pink and brown bodies were made for each other in this exact same way. Praise!

Marla Taviano - July 26th, 2011 at 12:44 PM
Oh, goodness. Love you guys.
Amy E. - July 26th, 2011 at 9:16 PM
ok should start some blog posts with "Mascara Alert!!" What a precious story of a precious new beginning for Remy...praying that her heart knows quickly that this is her forever family...what a blessing to read...
Now I shal go properly remove my eye makeup from my chin! ha!
Michelle - July 27th, 2011 at 8:39 PM
You have a way with words! And I'm bawling. You are doing right and I hope many, many children find homes after reading your posts. Ya know?
Jeff - July 28th, 2011 at 9:01 AM
Yes I'm a dude. And yes I'm leaving a comment on a blog (sigh). With our two ET kids eventually coming home to two brothers and two sisters, I can't put into words how meaningful this post was. Thank you Jen...
Patti - July 28th, 2011 at 12:38 PM
Love, Love, Love!!! This is what our Jesus means when he talks about Love!!!!
Lisa - July 29th, 2011 at 10:50 AM
OMGoodness. I'm sitting in a Starbucks crying and people are staring at me! What a BEAUTIFUL story. She is a lucky, lucky, LUCKY little girl and you will all continue to be Jesus with skin on in her life as LOVE (God's and that of your family) begins to heal that little girls heart. I love most that your sweet son crawled into bed with her and that THAT was exactly what she needed...God will prompt the hearts of you all, it seems, at different times to fill the holes in hers. I'll be praying for Remy and for your family as you all adjust.
Sarah - September 6th, 2011 at 11:18 PM
This made me cry! I love this post so much. This is what my siblings are to me and what I PRAY my kids are to each other one day!
JR - April 13th, 2012 at 12:50 PM
I'm assuming your readers are all married (or straight dudes). Seriously?! 40 comments and no takers on the adored-by-his-sisters brother? Seriously?! Brother's a looker.

Anyways, moving on. As the oldest sibling in a rag-tag bunch of 5 siblings from another mother (two birthed by our mother, three by another), I have this to say...AMEN! You do NOT mess with me on my siblings. I swear that it was God's jealousy for His reputation alone that kept me from flat-out DECKING the kid in the youth group (for which I'm one of the adult leaders!) that did some one of my beautiful sisters.

Our family is NOT perfect, and we've got some issues (yes we do!), but don't you dare mess with my siblings, because I was there when we fought for them, and I will fight for them until I die.
Karen Smith - April 14th, 2012 at 4:53 PM
You are just what theses kids need. I truly admire your bravery. It is hard! Not many children would embrace these two new family members like yours have. You and Brandon have certainly modeled the love of Jesus to Caleb, Gavin, and Whitney! And Remy and Ben are so blessed by that. I read 7 and loved it. God bless the Hatmakers for walking the walk with complete transparency! I know Jesus is smiling! You are His hands and feet on earth.

MandyP - July 5th, 2013 at 11:12 PM
So I was stalking you online tonight...and stumbled across this post. Now I'm laying in bed, like a tween with a book and flashlight after "bedtime" and my eyes are full of tears. What a beautiful post. Love it! My husband and I have 6 bio kids--all no more than 19 mos apart. We know they will also be TIGHT. (And we would also look the other way should punches be thrown to protect a brother or sister...) love your blog and now that I'm all up in your business, I plan to stalk you some more and probably creep you out a little by commenting 157 more times tonight...
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