My Children Are Not Normal

I fell asleep in Leah’s bed last night, her body turned into mine, our heads sharing the same pillow. I woke up shortly after midnight, untangled my arms from hers, slid out from under her covers, kissed her forehead, and stumbled downstairs to my own bed. And as I fell back asleep on my own pillow, I thought to myself, “My new normal feels pretty darn good.”

People told us that it would take about two years together before we would find our new normal. Two years of doing the hard work of dealing with trauma and grief, two years of shared meals and memories and bedtimes prayers, two years of living and loving each other before we would start to feel normal. Two years before every day wasn’t a battle and every conversation a minefield.

For two years I had poured most of my energy and passion into building our family. I had tunnel vision. My children needed me in ways that I had never been needed before. It was exhausting.

But I started to catch glimpses of life again over this past summer. I felt like I was slowly waking up to the world around me. All of a sudden my children weren’t as needy as before. Or maybe, more accurately, they weren’t needing me as often. There were long periods, days even, when the worst thing we had to deal with was homework and bickering. The usual flotsam and jetsam of busy lives and six children’s schedules. Those explosions that come from stepping on one of the hidden land mines in my children’s hearts? We started to go days between them. And then weeks. Weeks between explosions. Do you know how amazing that is?

And my children? After two years together, they started learning what it means for us to be a family. What it looks like for someone to always have your back. What it feels like to give and receive love unconditionally. Do you remember when I wrote about teaching our children how to hug? Read about it here —–> The Evolution of Love We had to physically gather their arms and wrap them around us. We had to hold each of them close and mold their little bodies into ours. We had to teach them that our touch was safe. Levi, my youngest, had the hardest time with this concept. Maybe it was because he was placed in the orphanage before he really had the opportunity to learn how to hug. His little body didn’t understand. He would hold himself stiff, arms hanging at his sides, head pulled back and away from us as we leaned in. And slowly, slowly, he learned to let himself go.

And then, one morning this fall while I was in the kitchen making breakfast (I am pretty much ALWAYS in the kitchen so many important life events happen here), and the kids were running around packing lunches and combing hair and causing morning mayhem, Levi came through on his way to the breakfast table and for no reason at all, threw his arms around my knees and gave me a squeeze. “Good morning, Mom!” was all he said as he skittered on by.

What. Just. Happened.

Levi initiated a hug. All on his own. I didn’t ask him or reach for him or hug him first.

That hug was two years in the making, my friends.

And when Naomi comes back into the house for a second goodbye before leaving for school and kisses my cheek, when Joel holds his brother’s hand and helps him balance while he is learning to skateboard, when Micah climbs on his daddy’s back and hangs there with his cheek pressed up against Scott’s beautiful bald head, when Hannah and Naomi sneak into each other’s beds at night to whisper and giggle, and yes, when Leah asks me to lay with her while she falls asleep and our feet and arms and breath are all mingled together….I realize anew that the past two years of hard work are worth it.

Do we have more hard work ahead of us? Yes. I am not implying that everything is perfect. Not one of us is perfect. I still default to impatience. One of my children, in particular, still defaults to anger. When things go wrong, the words “I don’t want to be a part of this family” inevitably surface. Tears still come. I know that we will face many hurdles. I think every family does. I mean, we all have our own unique challenges, don’t we? Whether it be sickness, or a struggling marriage, or a lost job, or a child who is testing the boundaries as they make their way in the world, trials are going to come. For me and for you. But friends, we have a choice. We get to choose how we handle our challenge. What is our response? We get to choose whether we want to coast along from day to day simply surviving, or if we want to do more than survive. We want to thrive. I want to thrive.

Oh, I am not saying that it will be easy. But I am saying that it can be good. Let me encourage you today. Press into God in those times of trials. Do the hard work. It will pay off in the end.

“We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul – not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.” Colossians 1:11-12

When we are depending on the glory-strength that God gives we can….

Endure the unendurable.

Spill over into joy.

Take part in everything bright and beautiful He has for us.

On November 24, 2014 we appeared before a judge to complete the final steps in our paperwork process. This journey started almost exactly 3 years ago when, during the Christmas season of 2011, our family of 4 decided to expand into something bigger. Something better. We decided to say yes to God and step into completely unknown territory as we started the adoption process. It began with prayer and a phone call to a social worker. And it ended in that courtroom in November as the judge signed and sealed and finalized our stateside adoption. Our children received new birth certificates with new legal names.

Leah Hamdiya Putnam

Joel Scott Putnam

Naomi Shukriya Putnam

Hannah Brooke Putnam

Micah Eba Putnam

Levi Eyob Putnam

Sounds like a family to me.


What is normal, anyway? I mean, our family definitely isn’t normal. We gather sideways glances, frank stares, curious questions and (mostly) friendly comments almost every time we go to Costco. I am definitely not normal. I am loud and expressive and I dance in public and I cry at the most inconvenient times. My children are not normal. No. They are exceptional. They have traveled a road not many have traveled and they have been refined and grown into something far above normal. They are strong. They are fighters. They are tenderhearted and empathetic. They are lovers.

But I am telling you that here we are, two years into our journey, and our family has created it’s own normal. We are chaotic and busy and messy and our home is so full of love that it sometimes leaks out into the world. And I don’t want to plug that leak. In fact, I hope the leak becomes a stream and that stream becomes a river. A river of love flowing from God, through our home, out into the world.




4 thoughts on “My Children Are Not Normal

  1. Kara Ayer

    I’ve loved watching your family grow these past two years and I love you! (By the way, I got a hug from Leah on Sunday.)

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