Thursday, November 29, 2012

When the Wait is Not Alone

Just last week my son and I were having one of those moments. You know, those sweet, warm moments when your kid is this real person and the conversation you are having is something you could only dream of having during those screaming, tantrumy, unreasonable earlier moments in his young life.

"Mom", he said, "when are we gong to get my baby brother and sister?"
"I don't know, buddy."
"Will it be soon?"
"I don't know. I still hope so."
"Mom?"
"Yes?"
"I'm really ready to be a big brother."

I know you are, kid. Believe me. I see the way your eyes light up in the store when some other recently blessed family is pushing around a little baby in a stroller.

I see your hesitating steps when we pass them and how you want to reach out and touch that little one and play and dream of life with siblings.

I love the way you think of our little neighbor as your little sister. How you ask if I can invite her over to play with you, even though she is only a year old and I hear how you talk about "sweet baby May" to everyone you meet, proudly, as if she is yours somehow.

How you hold her hand and lead her around the yard and pull leaves out of her mouth so she doesn't choke and how you laugh and delight in her just like the adults do in her life.

How you read books to her when we go places together in the backseat, all the while dreaming of when that baby strapped in the middle will be your own little sibling. I see you. 

I pray along with you every night when you ask God, yet again, to "please bring us a baby brother and sister." And I ache with you those nights when you don't feel strong enough to pray it. Sometimes I don't either, so I understand. I understand.

I hear the longing in your voice when you talk about our family's future. About what we will do when it's more than just the three of us. Of what car trips and vacations and decorating the Christmas tree and simple family dinners will be like. I love that you dream all the time and that your dreams are never empty of hope.

Most of all, I love that I am not waiting alone. That you are as much a part of this as your Daddy and I. That when we suffer the disappointments that are an inevitable part of this process, you somehow know and you sweetly comfort us. How do you do that? How in the world, at 6 years old, can you possibly know what we need?

I know you can't read this yet. Maybe someday you will. Maybe by then our family will look different and you will have forgotten how long the wait was and will only remember the reality of its completion.

In the meantime, hold on little man. Keep waiting with your mama. I can't promise you anything, but I know this: it's always better not to wait alone.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The First Gray

A few nights ago, exactly two weeks before my 34th birthday, I found my first gray hair. I don't normally comb my head looking for signs of impending age but it was RIGHT THERE. Sticking up off my scalp. Screaming at the mirror- "look at me, look at me!". And I panicked. I did. For at least a whole minute. My husband, of course, patiently examined it for me to confirm whether it was, in fact, a gray hair or just a random extremely blond one reflecting the light. Yeah, because I have those.

After the panic subsided, I sat back and wondered exactly why I panicked. I've been in staff work for 11 years now and something I've always told my graduating seniors is that their twenties are going to be harder than they think. That transition from having magically wonderful long breaks every few months of one's life, of a schedule that includes long meals with friends every day, easy-to-find friends and community- well, it can pretty much disappear about 24 hours after graduation.  The twenties are filled with goodbyes and transitions. I said goodbye to the best college roommates possible, a faith community that shaped me in uncountable ways, a campus I had fallen in love with, the home and town I grew up in, the idea of ever living with my parents again, being single, my personal space and the vague illusion that I was still somehow young enough to have few responsibilities. I transitioned to new homes, marriage, parenthood, jobs, friendships and an increasing awareness of my own smallness in the vast scale of the world. Much of this was good, but it is also exhausting to be in constant flux.

When I turned 30 I rejoiced. I looked forward to a potentially calmer decade. Of course, right around that time we decided that Reed would pursue grad school and we'd make another huge transition by leaving our church, neighborhood, city, jobs and friends to move from Virginia to North Carolina. Despite all the change, however, this has felt different. It has felt calmer and sweeter than most of the earlier transitions. I have felt more rooted, more relaxed about the transience of our life. My pastor recently said that he hopes our souls are more rested at 80 than they are at 25. My first thought, "Well, they'd freaking better be!" thankfully didn't fly out of my mouth. I ruminated to myself instead. How sad would it be to hit that age and be more restless than I was 10 years ago?

The thing is that when I really thought about that gray hair, after what I can only deduce to have been a full-scale-societal-pressure-influenced freakout, I thought it might actually be a little bit beautiful. Another notch on that perpetual wall where we measure how grown up we're getting. Aging has this nasty connotation to it in America -  that something wrong or bad or evil is happening to us, that it's something we have to arrest at all costs. Every beauty commercial out there is geared toward telling me how to stay young-looking. But why? Why should I yearn to look the way I did 10 years ago, why should I wish that my life would stand still or that my face and head shouldn't reflect the ups and downs of the life I'm living? If I want my soul to be more rested at the age of 80 than it was at 25, this is yet another area of change that I have to embrace. Like the craters and pock-marks my own soul has suffered, my body will have to endure some changes, too.

It's up to me not to "age gracefully" (does anyone else feel like that's a condescending term, anyway?) but to live life each day, gray hair sprouting and wrinkles forming around my eyes, with my eyes pointed in the direction of my Lord, not at what's happening to my face or what used to be in my life. Because the reality is that I wouldn't want to be 25 again. I like who I am. I like being in my mid-thirties and that my stability is not rooted right now in the fact that we've "settled" somewhere. The truth is that we haven't. There are still more adventures in our future and we know not where or when. That should terrify me. But the internal chaos that accompanied all the transitions when I was younger is increasingly absent. The ways my soul has changed make the unknowns and the growing up less painful. And way more fun. Some people say it's all downhill after 30. Well, I'll just hop on a sled and enjoy the ride, then. Sounds like a lot less work than climbing uphill all the time.

Proverbs 20:29 says "the glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old." 

I say bring on the splendor.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Christmas Creep

It's the night before Thanksgiving and I am pretty much done with my Christmas shopping. The last time I was in a store on Black Friday I was a sporting goods store employee dealing with harried, rude customers with a nasty turkey hangover fighting over the newest Columbia jacket. (You know you had one. You wore it every day to high school with jeans, hiking boots and a flannel shirt.)  I vowed as I left the mall that afternoon that I would never be responsible for subjecting any other human being to what I experienced that day. And I've kept my vow.

Here's the deal. I do my best to be done with Christmas shopping by November 1st. Sometimes that happens, sometimes life prevents it. Most years this has meant that I don't have to deal with the crowds or even the decorations and pop Christmas music being played over and over. And over. For the record, if you are sick of that music, think about the people who hear the corporate holiday cd played thousands of times over the course of the season. I'm surprised they don't all rebel and start throwing merchandise at the speakers (or us) by December 1st. Some of you might be thinking I'm crazy and why in the world wouldn't I want to shop to Justin Bieber's version of some previously sacred tune? The answer is simple: I want the Christmas season to actually be about Christmas. And the way America is going, that's getting harder and harder. The Christmas creep means that I've got to be finished shopping before Halloween to avoid the overblown Christmasland of the stores. Really, people?

I want to make something clear. I love Christmas. The reason I shop so early and am finished with that aspect of it is because I love Christmas so much that I actually want to be able to enjoy it. To remember what it's actually about. To not have December be my busiest, most stressful month of the year. To let my son see a mom who is just resting, soaking in the joy of the expectation of her Savior, rather than running from store to store frantically buying stuff, so busy that I even forget to do our advent calendar with him in the mornings. I want what he experiences in that final month before Christmas not to rile him up for what will be under the tree but to be a chance for him to continue to learn about this God who loved him enough to send his Son to earth in the form of a little baby- to really ponder that unbelievable, world-altering, life-changing good news. To cultivate in him at a young age the idea that Christmas isn't about Macy's or Santa or, to be blunt, him. I want the story of Christmas to saturate our household so much that when the day actually arrives the presents under the tree aren't the focus because it's not what we've been waiting for. Jesus is the focus because HE is what we've been waiting for. For the record, this is why we don't do Santa or Elf on the Shelf around here. I never want my son to think that Christmas morning is about him or that it's some kind of reflection of how well he has behaved this year. We give gifts because we give them. Not because he deserves them.

And I've decided that there is one kind of Christmas creep that I should be supporting. Advent is this beautiful time when we often get better about creating and implementing family traditions that point to our Savior. And why, for goodness sake, shouldn't that creep into the rest of my year? I should be creating these types of traditions for February and June and October, not just late November when we're setting up the advent calendar and manger scene and wondering, yet again, what this Jesse tree thing is. Sure, we talk about God around here, we say our prayers, we discuss what we learn in Sunday school and read the Jesus Storybook Bible to our son like everyone else our age seems to do, but what daily practices are we implementing into the life of our family to make sure that we are not just worshiping our own family life but that we are actually worshiping God?

This advent, with the shopping done and the decorations going up this coming weekend, I'm looking forward to peaceful mornings over coffee to ponder this question. How can the real Christmas creep into the rest of our year? How can I cultivate an atmosphere of joy and expectation of encountering the living God well after we take down the tree and turn off the Christmas lights?

And how, for the love of all that is good and holy, can I avoid hearing any more Justin Bieber music ever again? 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Battle of the Sexes

I started second grade in a brand new school, good old Austin Road. When you start a new school, you tend to also start a new bus route. While the bus was never my favorite form of transportation, I remember making a friend early on that year. A sweet girl by the name of Jackie. I would get on the bus before her and wait anxiously until she joined me and we could enjoy the rest of the ride together. Those first 10 minutes alone were some of the least favorite of my day because, let's be honest, you just never know what's going to happen on a school bus.

The thing about Jackie was, she was kind of a tomboy, too. She played sports and liked to spend recess running around just like I did. And I remember this one conversation we had on the way to school more than anything else we ever did together. There we were, 7 years old, talking about why the boys in our class seemed to not want to talk or play with us and how we didn't always feel comfortable hanging out with the other girls. (At the time, I didn't realize that particular conundrum would become a theme in my life.) So, we devised a plan. Our devious little minds decided that if we were to actually walk into Mrs. DelGrosso's class talking about the Yankee game the night before, the boys might actually let us play with them. It wasn't hard for either of us to talk about it, both our dads were pretty obsessed with baseball and the games were always on at home. We'd both been to Yankee Stadium(the old one in the Bronx) and seen games in person and genuinely enjoyed the game. I think the plan even worked for a time. The boys couldn't resist chiming in on our, I'm sure, startlingly poignant observations about the most recent matchup. We had moved over to their turf, the world of sports. We were interesting. We were ok. For girls, that is.

It's interesting to me how often this memory comes back to me. For years I remembered it just as a silly story, as a small triumph in manipulation, in the power of becoming all things to all people. But more recently it reminds me of a deeper issue in our world, this way in which the "things of women" are often portrayed as less interesting, more silly, certainly less worth the time for most of us than the "things of men". I use quote marks because I hate that we put these interests into gendered categories at all. It's the same problem that labeled me, an athletic girl, as a tomboy or that makes people worry when a little boy likes dance or art more than his soccer games. The same issue that made me proud of being a tomboy and terrified of being a "girly girl." That made me struggle with feeling thankful that I was born a woman. Yes, I confess it. I've added to the problem just as much as the next person.  
 Don't hear me wrong. I am not trying to argue that there are no differences between men and women. I think there are beautiful ways in which we often approach life from different angles and we need each other to understand the world more fully because of that. But when my son says things like "I can't get that, it's a girl color" or tells me that the girls won't play with him at school, I wonder why it has been so easy for this divide to take root. I wonder at which point his friends will start to make fun of girls for the things they like to play. I wonder if they'll say things that I heard from boys growing up, things about my general inferiority or silliness or those backhanded compliments along the line of "you're different from other girls, you like sports" or "you can be one of the guys".

We own a board game called "Battle of the Sexes." I have no idea who got this game for me, but whoever it was no doubt thought it would be perfect. After all, half my life could probably be summed up by that phrase. The point of the game is for men to have to answer questions that women would typically know the answer to and vice versa. Um, can anybody say stereotypes?! Here's the deal with this game: every single time we have played it with people, the women have won. And every single time the men have complained that the game is unfair. It's my opinion that it probably is unfair, but only because it's reflective of a culture that makes it necessary for me to know more about "guy stuff" than men have to know about "girl stuff." The way we do gender is, a lot of the time, messed up.

Now, as a parent, I want my little boy to feel free to be who he is. To not feel bound by certain things, like the color of a toy or shirt, to learn how to respect the differences between him and the little girls he plays with and to not grow into the perspective that one gender is inherently better than the other. I want the little girls he is friends with to be given the chance to be themselves and not be at risk of being called a tomboy or girly-girl or needing to say or do a certain thing so the boys will think they are cool enough to hang out with. I want toy manufacturers to think hard about ways to engage kids that don't just play into stereotypes, challenging kids to explore all facets of their imagination, to put things on the market like this new female-oriented engineering toy, GoldiBlox, you can read about here or watch the video below. . If I had a daughter, you'd better believe I'd be pre-ordering. I might just get it for my son, in spite of his aversion to pink as a girl color.



Mostly, I don't want my kid to ever have to feel like this is a battle, that there is some inherent war going on between him and the girls in his life. I lived like that for way too long myself. It's a whole lot easier to just go ahead and be yourself and love the people around you for who they are than to constantly fight. To speak truth when necessary and to refuse to go along with the status quo when it's wrong, to take those parenting moments when you have the opportunity to impart some huge piece of wisdom on the subject and use them well. To refuse to get into those conversations, seemingly harmless, that jokingly bash the opposite gender or perpetuate harmful stereotypes on either side. To be light in one area in a world that still has a long way to go to be a just and safe place to live for all people.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Orphan Sunday

There are a lot of made up holidays out there. National Mustache Month, Talk Like a Pirate Day, Valentine's Day. Most of these holidays that aren't really connected with something significant don't make much of an impact on the global scene. My life stays relatively unchanged even if I choose to walk around saying "argh" for one day of the year.

But last Sunday was Orphan Sunday. Yes, another truly made up day. A day initially started in Zambia that spread across the world for churches to talk about the orphan situation. To talk about the millions of children who are without families due to war, disease, natural disasters and abandonment and all the implications that go along with being alone in this world. To challenge individuals, families and churches to think about what role they might play in alleviating this tragic problem. A made-up holiday that has the potential of actually impacting millions of lives.

My church put together a video highlighting families that have already adopted as part of a way to talk about Orphan Sunday and showed it during the service. As I sat in my chair, I swung back and forth from laughter to hope to sadness at the scope of the problem. I beamed seeing several families from my own life group represented and being so honored to be a part of their lives as they've walked this incredible journey. You can see the video below.

CHBC Adoption Families

As a family who is actively waiting to adopt and one who is part of a community that is full of adoptive families, Orphan Sunday didn't feel wildly different than usual. We think about this all the time. We wonder if there are other things we can be doing while we wait. I'm so proud to be a part of a community that cares about this issue and is asking questions on a corporate scale. I'm glad that after the service, people could walk into the lobby and immediately start sponsoring a child or get information from a number of adoptive agencies. Things are happening here.

But I know it's not the same everywhere. When I hear people say things like "Wow, you're doing such a great thing" or "I don't think I could do that" I just want to ask why. Why is something that is all over the scriptures and something that is such a massive issue on the global scale something that so few families think critically about? Why is it so often "plan B" for so many of us, something we might eventually think about if we can't have biological children or only after we've had as many biological children as we want? 

Friends, don't hear me wrong. I don't necessarily think everyone should adopt. Maybe some of us aren't built for the specific types of challenges that come with this. Maybe we have children who wouldn't do well with added stress in the family. Maybe you are reading this and have a spouse who would never consider it even if you might. Who knows? What I am saying is that this problem is huge. And it's something we can't afford to ignore, especially if you call yourself a Christian. So I think it's always worth asking "How can I be involved with this issue, right here and right now."  And being open to at least laying the bigger question before God that might say "What role should I and my family play in adoption in the future? Are we meant to adopt?"

On Orphan Sunday last week, my pastor prayed a very vulnerable prayer before his sermon. He confessed to God that he was afraid of what asking some of these questions could mean for his family. He wasn't sure he would like the answer. But he was convinced by scripture and the need in the world that he still needed to ask these questions and he needed to be willing to hear the answers. And he reminded us all that God does a lot of work in us between the time when we ask a question like that and the fruition of the answer. What might be fear now could be transformed to something else in the waiting. I know this has proved true for us, even as we wait amid so much uncertainty in our own adoption process.

So, I challenge you, friends. Read about Orphan Sunday. Become aware of the huge scope of the problem every day. Check out your foster system or a local adoption agency or orphanage and see what needs they have. Be willing to ask God "What role might you have for me in all this?" and then be willing to hear the answer. Scary or not, if we trust our lives to God and care deeply for the state of the "least of these" in this world, the question is always worth asking.

Monday, November 5, 2012

For Love of Legos: Livin' the Party Life!

My son turned 6 this week. The only gifts he now asks for are legos and percussive instruments. That's it. And you can imagine that being an only grandchild and only nephew on both sides, that he tends to get what he asks for. This year, to round out the fully lego-centric year we had, he wanted a lego birthday party. I, in my delusional clinging to an increasingly elusive free schedule, obliged, meaning that I probably spent way too many hours working on creative plans to make a great event.

As a disclaimer, most of the following pictures are not necessarily completely original ideas. The internet is replete with wonderful examples of lego parties. I added my own fun spin to a few things. Mostly, it was a blast to put things together with him and to enjoy watching him share his love of legos with friends from school, church and soccer!  I decided to post this just in case any of you who have kids who are similarly obsessed might enjoy a little (very inexpensively done) inspiration! Enjoy!
The Invitation (With location specifics blurred out!)


The Invitation: I found a lego font online (legothick), discovered a legobrick background on a google image search, added the specifics and "voila!" I just addressed the other side and mailed them as postcards.

The Welcome: We had to welcome the kids to legoland! I confused one poor parent who thought that there must be a place called Legoland in Durham and tried to Mapquest it, but for the most part, it was just a clever way to describe the location.
Welcome to Legoland!


Then, of course, we had to plan for the food. I am never, nor have I claimed to be, all that into cooking. The idea of coming up with clever, lego-themed foods and actually being able to create them was a tad overwhelming. Thankfully, there were a lot of great ideas on the internet. We decided to make Lego cakes, Lego Chocolate bricks and Lego Pops.


 The lego pops: They are quite simply one large marshallow and one small one stuck together with yellow candy. Then you spread the whole thing with more yellow candy, let it harden and draw on the faces. I wrapped a piece of floral foam with tissue paper and made a label with my fun lego font and there you go.
 The choco bricks: I found a plastic mold for $1.27 on amazon and melted chocolate chips to make my own little lego shaped chocolates. Cost almost nothing. Again, made fun little labels and wrapped them up. These were in our favor bags.

The cake: I made a 9 x 13 sheet cake and shaved off the dome after cooling. Used some gel coloring to make red, yellow and blue frosting. Cut large marshmallows in half to make the dots on the "brick" and then iced the whole thing. There were two long bricks and two square bricks. The kids loved getting to choose which color lego brick they could eat!



Minifigure Head Cookie Decorating:
Decorating Cookie Heads
I made sugar cookies in the shape of lego minifigure heads. We set out a bunch of bowls of frosting and candy as well as some gel writers and let the kids have fun making their minifigure faces.

The Clues!
Putting together their cars!

The Scavenger Hunt: I broke the kids up into three teams- Blue, Red and Yellow. Good solid lego colors, of course. I came up with clues that would lead them to little bags of legos. Their final clue came with instructions on how to put their legos together into little cars. Each team had to find all their clues and then race to put together their cars. It was fun to see their brains work to find the clues, looking under tables and climbing in the backyard and then to work together following instructions to put them together. I think it was definitely a success!
Looking for clues!










Indoor Game: Anyone up for "Build-a-Minifigure? These kids were!  I just used card stock and came up with 10 different body parts to pin up. Like the traditional pin games, they were blindfolded and got to try to put the pieces up on a white piece of cardstock on the wall!

Kids Working Hard!

Our Completed Minifigure!


















 And, of course, the Goody Bags! Josh had a lot of fun tracing the circles and helping me tape them to the bags. I found a pack of these cute little bags at 5 Below, made up some nametags with my favorite new font, filled them with the choco-bricks, some lego coloring pages, a lollipop and we added their minifigure cookies, nicely wrapped, to take home with them.

Overall, I think the kids had a great time. Apparently, today in Sunday school, my son offered up a prayer of thanks that his mom and dad gave him a lego party. So, we feel pretty confident he enjoyed himself!

Here's to legos, the most amazing toy in the world and the first and last thing my son wants to do every day of his life. 


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Sugar Experiment - One Year Later

It has been exactly one year since I started a sugar-free six week experiment. One huge prayer, a lot of complaining and panic and I dove into what I thought would be an impossible goal. Those six weeks turned into seven which turned into eight and kept on going. In fact, I consumed almost zero sugar from just before Halloween until Christmas Eve, when I allowed myself the tiniest, most pathetic little piece of apple pie ever consumed by mankind. It was Christmas, after all. And when that wee piece of pie was done, I kept right on the no-sugar bandwagon. Or at least the very-low-sugar bandwagon.

I've had a lot of funny interactions over this. People will offer me a dessert at an event which, up until a year ago, I would never have turned down. Now, I politely say "no, thank you." This inevitably leads to either a hurt look on said person's face if he or she has been the one to bake the dessert or a look of confusion. What decent American turns down dessert, after all? So, I've often found myself explaining why I'm not eating sugar in a futile attempt to make them feel better. Usually this backfires because then people feel guilty for eating the dessert themselves. Rock. Hard Place. Me.

When I first started this experiment I wouldn't have thought I could go more than a week. An old high school friend, upon learning of my new endeavor, called me to give me some pointers and warned I'd not probably feel well while my body went through detox. He was right. I'm glad I was warned because I might've rethought the decision and given it up. For the first two weeks, I didn't feel great. My energy was weird, I didn't sleep well, I craved sugar 24 hours a day, I spent hours justifying in my head why this was a dumb experiment but in the end my rule-keeping won out and I didn't give in. Halloween candy entered the house but not my mouth. Thanksgiving pie scents wafted through the air and I sulkily munched on nuts. When afternoon sugar cravings hit, I ate hummus instead. A LOT of hummus.

And slowly, ever so slowly, my body began to like what was happening. My energy increased, my sleep improved, what few headaches I had remaining after earlier dietary changes and acupuncture virtually disappeared. PMS, gone. Brain fogginess disappeared. Exercise felt better than it had in years. Running three miles used to feel like an unattainable goal to this sprinter body but now it's a regular and increasingly easy jog for me. I have even, for the first time in my life, entertained thoughts of signing up for a race longer than a 5k. Woh.

Now, it's no secret that originally this was a dietary change intended to, yet again, solve my infertility. And again, that aspect of it was a big failure. No pregnancy, no baby. And for awhile, every time I abstained from sugar I was reminded of my infertility, an unfortunate side effect of a good decision. But slowly, as God has been helping me with acceptance of my uncooperative body, as I've been readying our home and my soul for the baby that IS coming through adoption, the reason for the sugar-free has faded into the distance. After all, I feel great. The change was for the better, no matter the initial reason. If I never do have a second biological child, there is nothing but good in my life for having changed the way that I eat.

So now I, Carolyn, lover of all things chocolate, former imbiber of a daily pre-slumber glass of chocolate milk (with a straw, of course), once consumer of multiple desserts per day, see sugar as yet another unnecessary ingredient in my life that I've been conditioned to need.  And the truth is that I don't need it, I barely want it now and I've found that there are plenty of other delicious foods that I can consume that won't mess with my body. Do I eat it occasionally? Sure. Little bits here and there. Do I completely abstain from any food containing even 1 little gram of sugar? No, but I try to. Do I still bake my son a birthday cake and let him eat it? Of course, I'm not an ogre and I'm not trying to make anyone else in my life adhere to my own change.

But what was an experiment is now a way of life. I'm glad I took the risk to try something I never thought possible and am humbled by the results of trusting God with something as seemingly insignificant as my crazy sugar addiction.   

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Last Cuddle

I've never been the most touchy-feely of people. I remember back in college I was dating a guy who asked me if he could hold me hand on a walk and I told him (and I think I really believed what I said) that I needed to have my hands free so I could move with proper momentum. And any kind of PDA's? Nope, not gonna happen. I just like when people keep their hands to themselves. Didn't we all learn that in kindergarten, anyway?

Fast forward to the birth of my child. God's sense of humor strikes again when I am given the child who could win the award for "clingiest human in the universe" his first two years of life.  For two years my child cried, whined, freaked out, pulled hair and basically clung on to whatever part of my body he could reach at any given moment rather than risk the scary world of independence. I had to utter sentences like "I just need you not to touch me for 30 seconds. Just 30 seconds, love, how about mom gets to stay sane with just ONE. LITTLE. BREAK?"

After we moved to North Carolina and my son miraculously began to understand that there were indeed perks to this whole independent thing, I started to understand what other moms would talk about when they would utter sentences like "I wonder what so and so is up to? I guess I should look for him." I'd never had to utter such a phrase before because, oh look, he was always attached to my leg. But he began to branch out, he began to climb on playgrounds (yes, I had been up to the very top of the chick-fil-a play spot in a vain effort to get my son to play without me, thinking that if I could just show him how wonderful it was up there, he'd go free. Didn't work. And it was NOT easy to get back down.)

Now he's turning 6 in just 2 weeks. He's in kindergarten for 6 hours a day. He's really a boy now. And ironically, the thought enters my mind every time I get the chance to cuddle up with him, "I wonder if this is the last cuddle?" All kids are different and I don't know when they are supposed to start detaching. I don't know when to expect the eye roll and the "Mom, not here, my friends can see you!" kinds of statements.  But something in my soul has started to panic a little. For someone who has never loved the cuddle to begin with, the thought of losing those cuddle privileges seems suddenly to be the saddest prospect in the world.

I've mentioned this to a few friends, some of whom have older kids and I have been reassured that there are 8-year-olds out there who still dig mom time. And just last week while we were at worship rehearsal at our church, the mom of one of the teenage guitarists showed up and he gave her a big hug and kiss right in front of God and everyone. Score one for hope.

So, I've decided to savor the cuddle. To treat each one like it could be my last, to enjoy the smell of his hair (because I'm pretty sure sniffing his head when he's 30 would be less than appropriate), to tickle him as much as I can, to drink in the giggles and the warmth and the sweetness. And to do my best not to dread when this phase ends because if there is one thing I've learned through 6 years of this whole parent thing it's that each new phase has amazing and wonderful surprises of its own and spending time wishing he'd stay a certain way is an exercise in futility and an affront to who God is making him to be as he grows up.

So, little man, bring on the cuddle. Let's enjoy it while it lasts and let's savor the ever-changing ride of this incredible journey of growing up.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Lessons From the Little Field

I got into youth soccer coaching accidentally. One moment I was responding to an email asking for volunteers with my own questions about the details of coaching so that I might better consider coaching from an informed standpoint- after all, I didn't want my kid to be wait-listed for lack of volunteers but I was growing in this whole ability to not always say "yes" to every opportunity that came my way. The next moment I was receiving an email back with a roster of sweet three and four-year-olds. So much for my cautious response.

I remember well my very first practice. It inspired its very own blogpost, Herding Cats, that I ocassionally go back and read to remember how far we have come. The Mighty Tigers, that first season, felt chaotic, fun and frustrating all at the same time.  In the seasons since then, as I have watched these kids grow up and seen some come and go, I've learned a lot.

Here are eleven lessons from the little field:

(1) Never Show Your Weakness. The practices that I have shown up for exhausted have been the ones most likely to dissolve into chaos. It's as if these little people can tell you are on the edge and they manage to suck out every last vestige of patience, control and vitality from your very soul and take it as their own. The more energy you can infuse into your being before you show up, the better things will go.

(2) Never, Ever Turn Your Back. I learned this one the hard way. The second you turn away from a team of little kids, all hell breaks loose. Balls flying through the air at people's heads(including the coach) Kids lying scattered on the ground like a bunch of bowling pins. And noise. Noise everywhere. Noise that will make your head explode. 

(3) You Gotta Have a Trick Up Your Sleeve. There is no reasonable and straightforward communication involved in a kids soccer practice. Everything has to have a spin. If you want the kids to take a water break and actually return to the field, you have to make it a race. If you want the kids to listen to something you want to say, you need some kind of gadget to keep them quiet. (If you hear my voice, clap once..if you hear my voice, clap twice...etc.) If you want the kids to go get their balls and bring them back to where you are, count backwards from 10. Otherwise they will take roughly 2 hours to go get them and likely end up on another field altogether throwing balls at innocent bystanders. True story.

(4) There IS Crying in Soccer. My first season, with kids who were barely larger than their soccer balls, I would consider it a successful game if there were any kids left on the field by the final whistle. Sometimes it looked like a war zone- kids laying on the field picking flowers, one kid sitting squarely in the middle of the goal just waiting to get walloped, multiple children sobbing in parents' arms for varied legitimate and, in my opinion, illegitimate reasons. But then I've never been high on compassion. We've made it through two games now with no tears and I feel like we're on our way to the Olympics. It's that miraculous.

(5) When in Doubt, Abandon Ship! It wasn't until this current season that I could really try to run a drill and have kids actually participate. Up until now, it has been games, games and more games. All, of course, purposed to increase skills in dribbling and kicking, but games nonetheless. Occasionally, though, even games fail. Kids are freaking out, balls are not even on the right field anymore. If that happens, abandon ship. Give it up. Always have a new game ready to replace a failure. You just never know what's going to be a hit and what is going to usher in armageddon.

(6) Cheer like it's your job! We've made it a priority to have a fun cheer every season. Because no matter what, whether a kid has sat out an entire game sobbing or scored 20 goals (yes, we do have a few of those kinds of kids, too) they all want to celebrate at the end. And they will fight to the kid to have their hand be the one on top in the middle of the huddle and use their "outside voices" like they've been given the best gift in the world. Pick a name, create a cheer, teach it and do it often. The kids will leave the field smiling even if they lose 100-1 or have had the worst practice in the world. And after all, if the kids aren't smiling, what's the point?

(7) Keep Things Moving. You've got to have a plan. And it's got to be a plan with very little down time. The second the kids are standing around wondering what's next is the same moment you lose control. From warm-ups to cool-down, the kids should know every minute what they are supposed to be doing. If not, they may initiate a very cute, but hostile, takeover.

(8) Smile and Nod. Kids will want to share totally irrelevant details of their lives in the middle of your most inspired coaching moments. They will want to show you their pretty pink purse or stick-on Spiderman tattoo or tell you about the birthday party they are attending next month. This is important to them. If you shoot them down, you might send them into a downward spiral from which they cannot emerge. Love on their info, smile and nod and tell them you are excited to hear more after practice and them make it a point to actually follow up. They'll love you for it.

(9) The Name Thing. Everyone's had that moment when someone in authority could not remember their name. It's no fun when you're 30 and it's no fun when you're 5. I make it a point when I first meet my kids to say their name constantly that first practice. By the end of that first hour of knowing them they should be fully confident their coach knows who they are and cares about them and will notice if they aren't there. If you're bad with names, bring a camera and take pics that first day then make it a point to memorize those sweet little faces. Believe me, their parents will rest easier on the sidelines if they know you actually care enough to know who are their kids.

(10) Go Team! Kids sports can be a world in which parents live vicariously through their children.It can be highly competitive on the sidelines even if the kids on the field aren't even sure which direction to run. Encourage your parents from the get-go that this is about the kids having fun, playing hard and learning good teamwork. Help them learn the kids names. Ask them to cheer for all the kids, not only their child and team but also the little ones working hard on the other side of the field. There will be plenty of time in the future to get competitive- maybe if we infuse our kids with a healthy view of sports, teamwork and the opposing team, their trash talk won't be quite so mean in those later years.

(11) Never Go It Alone. I won't say it's impossible to coach kids by yourself, but it's pretty darn hard. Get the parents involved. Beg, borrow and steal to get a friend to be your co-coach. I finally have one this season and I cannot begin to explain what a difference it has made. Whatever you do, have an ally. Two is exponentially better than one. Especially if your assistant coach is a bald guy who can scare the heck out of unruly participants.

To those friends of mine who are considering coaching your kid, go for it. I have faced some of the most frustrating moments of my life with these teams but there is no question that I have experienced some of the best moments of my life as well. Watching my kids go from chaotic and weepy Mighty Tigers to this current season of the Fireballs where they are communicating and passing and laughing and staying on the field the whole time is just incredible. And seeing your own kid excited to tackle practices and games and so proud and excited that you are his coach- well, that's a pretty awesome bonus!






Monday, October 1, 2012

The Best Kind of Homecoming



It's that time of year again. Football rivalries are all over facebook, I'm getting mailings all the time from my college about upcoming events, Josh's school is planning a spirit week and pep rally and teenagers all over the place are stressing about a date. Homecoming. I still remember all the hype (and unnecessary drama) that surrounded it when I was in high school. I remember the excitement and work everyone put into making a few days a little more special than usual. And when it was over, its memories faded quickly as we rushed on with our classes and sports and extracurriculars.

This past weekend, our son got invited to a Homecoming Party. One of his best friends and, incidentally, one of the sweetest boys I've ever met, was allowed to invite one friend out to dinner to celebrate the anniversary of the day he joined his family, the day he was adopted. We'd never even heard the term before but I immediately fell in love with it. What a wonderful idea and perfect name! Of course, when anything new is introduced to a five-year old, roughly 784 questions immediately follow. What's a homecoming? Why did he invite me? Do we bring him a present? Who did he live with before his family? Does he know his other mom? And on and on. 

Now, because of our own process my son probably has a slightly higher adoption IQ than your average five year old. Because of his inquisitive nature, he has wanted to know the ins and outs of just about every stage. So, I'm used to answering questions that inevitably increase his understanding that the world we live in is a broken place. When your kid asks questions about why a baby wouldn't have parents to take care of it, your heart breaks a little. Or, frankly, a lot. Answering some of these questions in the context of the life of his good friend was emotional for both of us. Adoption has been so abstract for him, this mythical baby in the vague future that will all of a sudden be a part of our lives. But looking at his friend, with whom he plays soccer and legos and superheroes and builds forts and teepees and giggles incessantly, here was a real kid, a real baby 5 years ago that needed a family. Something clicked.

So, the idea of getting to celebrate that day five years ago when his friend was adopted was incredibly special. As we sat around that table, laughing, cleaning up spilled drinks, watching our two skinny kids inhale more food than their bodies could possibly hold, passing around this child's baby pictures and the picture of the first time his parents got to hold him when he was eight months old, I was blown away. Blown away by this family with whom we have gotten to be close friends, grateful for their wisdom and the risks they've taken, overwhelmed by this beautiful kid who has become such a sweet friend to our son, amazed at God's goodness in their lives and ours. Reminded again that God brings sweet beauty out of ashes, redemption out of tragedy. I could see the raw emotion in the eyes of his parents in that photo, this crazy moment where you are handed a child you've never met, not carried in your own body, and told he is yours. Forever. Being able to celebrate this with our friends was an unexpected gift, both to see into their family and rejoice with them and to be reminded, yet again, that our own homecoming is on its way.

As much as I remember those fun football games and dances and fighting with people over the best float idea, homecoming didn't change or affect my life. I barely even have pictures of it. In the grand scheme of things, it was another school event, a fleeting surge of school pride, another something to be involved in for a few passing moments.

But this. This is the best kind of homecoming. This day to celebrate when a forever family was established. This is where the joy and the expectation and the excitement really belongs. This is the real stuff of life, a moment that will stick with me for years to come.

And I can't wait for our own homecoming, can't wait to take those shell-shocked pictures, to be able to see my son's eyes light up when he holds his new sibling for the first time. To celebrate again every year the day our child finally came home.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Learning to Breathe

Over the last month I have powerwashed every conceivable outdoor surface of our home that can take it, weeded my entire garden (no small thing), aerated, tilled and seeded the whole backyard(twice!), painted several items of furniture, sorted and packed years worth of baby clothes, planned one baby shower, reorganized and rearranged the nursery, babysat multiple times, picked up lots of sweet little boys from school, played several fierce games of volleyball, run countless miles in my neighborhood, coached four soccer practices and one game, handmade several items of Jewelry, volunteered at a book fair, spoken at two InterVarsity large groups, handwashed my garage doors, shed and front porch and, lest we not forget, reinjured my toe about 15 times in the above processes.

One might say I have a little too much time on my hands. And one would be right.

Here's the deal. My son is now in school 6 1/2 hours a day. And on the days when my husband drives him in and a neighbor picks him up, I am alone in my house from 7:15 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon. Never in my life, other than those brief, shimmering, glorious childhood summers of long ago, have I had such a yawning abyss of unstructured time. Even those summers felt more clear: wake up, swim, play, eat, repeat ad nauseum, then go to bed.

Now, being the extreme "J" on the Myers-Briggs' scale that I am, I have come up with a lovely excel spreadsheet that outlines what I could (or perhaps more accurately, what I think I should) be doing during all of those waking minutes. And it is prominently displayed in my home office where I see it every single morning. And every single morning I, wickedly, think to myself "I don't REALLY have to follow that." Because the true story is that I don't. I have been moving at lightning speed for years, with a job in high school, always working over college breaks and often during the semesters themselves, barely a break between college graduation and that first job, and an overlap between my first and second jobs. I'm still working that second post-college job, although some of the specifics of the every day have changed. So, other than some vacation time, my weeks have always been really full. And when we brought a child into that mix almost 6 years ago, things only got faster, fuller, more insane. (Although, incidentally, my brain seemed inexplicably not to work as well after the addition of said juvenile complication.) And even in my "down" moments I've always felt like I should be moving. Thinking. Doing. Completing. Planning. Never just enjoying life moment to moment and not producing something. That is, after all, as illogical a concept to us "J's" as the idea of not liking excel would be.

So, I've tried to slow down. Given the extreme list of "things" I've been doing it would seem like it hasn't worked. But a month of free time is a LOT of time. And working part time, the hours are done really early in the day. So, I'm still left with hours. And so I've sat on my back patio with coffee and books for hours at a time. I've read books I've wanted to read for awhile and drank way too much coffee. I've fought against every guilty inclination I have that I'm not accomplishing something. I've started dreaming about what life will be like when my husband gets a post-doc and I start working to head back to school myself, which is still quite a way away but fun to think about. I've counted down the minutes until my son gets home and had tons of energy and enthusiasm with which to play legos. Miracle of miracles. 

The space has caused something else unexpected. For this woman, dreader of the baby stage, I've found myself looking forward to that little one that will be here (hopefully, soon.) I've thought how nice it will be to take long walks with the stroller, rather than just by myself, how peaceful it will be for that baby to sleep on my chest on a lounge chair on the patio while I read a book. (Or, more likely, sleep myself, because let's be honest here.)  I know, some of you moms of babies are cracking up at me right now. But let me delude myself into only remembering and expecting the sweet moments for the time being. I have spent most of our adoption waiting period dreading the hard ones and it is exhausting.

Bottom line, I'm learning to look at this period as a gift, rather than an unwanted waiting or some kind of interm. Firstborn in school, second one an undisclosed number of days or weeks or months away from being a part of our family. Job, flexible. Fall weather, a spectacular and unusual gift for NC in September. Lots of quiet to listen and rest and dream and prepare my heart for baby number 2.

Next time this will happen? Probably years. So, I'm going to go make myself an iced coffee and sit in my favorite spot. And drink it all in. And breathe slowly. And NOT feel guilty that I'm not accomplishing something.

After all, for some of us, learning to breathe is actually quite an accomplishment.

 
 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

An Open Letter to My Pregnant Facebook Friends

Dear Facebook Moms-to-Be,

I'm really excited for you. I truly am. Nothing quite matches that feeling of expecting a child, of knowing that a little person is growing inside of you and preparing for that moment when he or she enters the world and irrevocably changes your family for the better.

I loved seeing your announcement, that wonderful post that let the world know that in just a few short months that little bean in your ultrasound picture will be with you and in our lives as well.  I look forward to the pictures that you'll post right after labor. (Though PLEASE don't post during labor.  Maybe I'm old fashioned but I feel like those hours of hard work and labor don't need to include wifi breaks.  They should be private and treasured between you and whoever is helping you out! Wait until you're done and then open up your laptop again.)

I'm sure I'll click on pictures of your baby as he or she grows up and maybe even the occasional video, too.  After all, I love posting pictures of my own child and it's wonderful to see kids growing up, achieving all their firsts and seeing how they change you, my friends, along the way.

But here's the deal.  There are women, lots of them, who cannot experience what you are experiencing.  They have prayed and cried and waited, many for years, and have never seen that little stick turn blue. Or maybe they've seen it turn blue one too many times and never ended up holding that little child in their arms.  Possibly they've undergone painful procedures and tests, have had to change their diets and inject drugs in public bathroom stalls and endured insane mood swings to attempt to get their bodies to cooperate with the whole pregnancy thing.  They've likely read one too many stories about women who chose an abortion rather than give that child up for adoption to women like them who have yearned for a baby for years.  Maybe, like me, they've had the opportunity to have one child and experience pregnancy only to turn around and have any future pregnancies denied them due to the hazy diagnosis of "unexplained secondary infertility."

Whatever the case, facebook can be a hard place.  I want to rejoice with those who rejoice. I really do click on your announcements and though I usually experience a concurrent surge of grief and jealousy, I am excited for this new little life that will enter yours.

What is very difficult for many of us who struggle with infertility is those many posts that complain. That complain of pregnancy weight gain. That speak of fatigue because of a little fetus doing flips during the night.  That daily update us on how hard pregnancy is and how they hope they won't be pregnant again any time soon.    

Because many of us would give anything to have pregnancy weight gain. Or to be kept up at night from a kicking baby.  To have to even think about the idea of fearing another pregnancy too soon.

Do I think you should never complain? Certainly not.  Did I complain when my ankles were swollen and during that awkward period when I grew from "flat belly" to "chubby" but before I hit "baby bump"? Sure. But I didn't complain about it to hundreds of people. Those were the things I talked about with my husband or my mom or a close friend who I knew didn't struggle with infertility at the time.  The immediate world didn't need to know about it and I had already known several friends who had had trouble getting pregnant and had learned at least a little about the arts of discretion and sensitivity in this area.

So, please hear this plea from a gracious and loving standpoint and from someone who has made her own insensitive mistakes along the way.  We are excited for you and will come to (and sometimes host!) your baby showers.  We are usually grateful to hear about your pregnancy via email or phone before you post on facebook if we know you well enough to deserve such a heads up- it helps us prepare for the big announcement that will inevitably incur hundreds of likes and comments, as well it should.  We do want to know. We do want to rejoice.

But know, too, that it often hurts. Sometimes just a little bit deep down or sometimes it hits us on a tough day, when our miscarriages or stillbirths or our unfulfilled longings for pregnancy or our broken adoptions are just right at the surface.  And we don't want to rob you of your joy - that wouldn't be fair or loving of us. But I would love it if when you sought to share your complaints you sometimes, just sometimes, took pause to think of doing it in a way that reflects that you have mourned with those of us who've mourned and that you know we're out there.  And that maybe you value us more than you value a few "likes" on a status that is maybe not so necessary to post.

We live in a world where we're told to do anything we please and the effect on others be damned.  I hope that, at least in my own little facebook world, we can live as though that's not true. Aware of how we affect the people in our lives, choosing to put others ahead of ourselves, making choices that honor God and love people well, rather than just choosing the action that gets the most response from people.  My hope is that those of you who have never been affected by infertility, who haven't even know someone who struggles with it, will know just a little more of how you can support those of us who have had lives enmeshed with this struggle.  There are probably more of us in your life than you are actually aware. 

And my hope, too, is that you WILL keep posting those adorable pics of your babies.  On my good days, they give me hope, they remind me of what's to come and they allow me to rejoice with you.  And that rejoicing always reverberates through my own soul, helping me to wait more patiently and love more exuberantly while I do. 

Thanks for listening,

Carolyn 

Friday, August 3, 2012

School Supplies

I love office supply stores. I really do. I could wander aimlessly through the aisles for hours, dreaming about organizational systems, getting lost in the hundreds of colors of paper I could buy, twirling on office chairs and marveling at the things that have been invented to help streamline processes in our day that we never dreamed needed streamlining. I love the vibe of potential creativity that leaps off the shelves.

So, when we were handed a bright yellow kindergarten supply list at orientation this week, I practically salivated. Finally, after years of having no purpose to enjoy the back-to-school section of Target, here we were.  A nice, orderly list of what my son would need to start his academic career off right. It looked just like what I probably brought to kindergarten back in 1984.  Crayons, #2 pencils, bookbag, glue, scissors, folders, jump drive...oh wait, I'm  pretty sure that last one didn't even exist back then nor did the possibility of a classroom of kindergarteners even having use of a computer   but hey, I guess times do change in 28 years, right? It is still beyond me to know what he'll need it for, but purchase it we did.

I spent a joyful afternoon (go ahead and judge me now) labeling all of our purchases with my electronic labeler, a device which with I would rather give away my microwave rather than part. There is something so nerdily satisfying about a nice, neat label on an unscratched and unsoiled object, even with the knowledge that after probably 2 hours in a kindergarten classroom all of the crayons will be broken, there will be marker stains on the lunchbox, the folders will be dog-eared and that little purple jump drive will probably already be missing, having been unwittingly flushed down the toilet or crammed in some kid's ear. 

So here we are. Three weeks away from kindergarten having survived a process more complicated than some experience to get to college. There are nerves abounding. There are some last minute skills to hone, not least of which is getting the poor child to remember how to spell "Ogrosky." Half the adults I know can't spell it after years of knowing me.  The smell of crayons and freshly sharpened pencils is in the air, if not the scent of fall quite yet. Time will tell how my child fares on his first day- will he throw up like his mother did? (True story, I'm sad to say.) I hope for his sake that his first day is a smidge less dramatic.

For now, we'll keep practicing our last name and pray for his teachers and new friends-to-be.  And gaze at our superhero-saturated school supplies probably once a day, dreaming dreams of how they'll be used and all the exciting new things he'll experience during this major life transition.   Kindergarten, here we come.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Learning to Like the Road

I remember the way I felt when I first got my driver's license. Driving home after that nerve-wracking test drive with a stranger and his clipboard, I felt victorious. The open road was before me.  I would head home, drop off my mom and then head to pick up some friends and grab a slurpee at 7-11. In my town, there wasn't a lot else one could do with a new driver's license but that blue raspberry slurpee tasted so good.

I'm sure the fun of being in the driver's seat lasted for at least a few months, but for as far back as I can remember I have been more than happy to be in the passenger seat. One of the best perks of being married has been that my husband absolutely loves to drive and so I can spend hours next to him, reading my book, entertaining the child or just falling in and out of a motion-induced stupor.  

However, this past week my son and I took a trip up to NY. Weeks before, I scoured the web looking for reasonable flights to no avail. So, we packed up the car, stocked it full of magic tree house audio books(to which my son is completely addicted) and a few movies thrown in for good measure, set the garmin for Scarsdale and hit the road. During the first hour I probably looked at the clock every 4 minutes. Maybe even every 3 minutes. And I kept thinking (and heavily sighing) to myself, "this is going to take forever!" I was dreading the car ride. Dreading being behind the wheel without someone to which to hand it off. Dreading the amount of time we'd waste trying to get to where we were going.

At this point, Josh was happily listening to his story about dinosaurs and I was hit with one of those moments. You know, the kind when you feel like God directly intervenes and just says "take a deep breath and try praying, why don't you?!" Right. Sometimes I am so discouraged by how long it can take me to realize that this should be the first step in problem solving and not the last. So, I began to pray. To just sit in the presence of God. I-85 is a good road for this. Little traffic and almost nothing at which to look. The child was happily absorbed in his book and so with little interruption I just rested. And somewhere, in the midst of that rest, I began to be hopeful. Hopeful that this trip, this long car ride I had been dreading for months, could be enjoyable in itself. That, for once, I could enjoy where I am rather than focus on where I am heading.

And somewhere in the realization that I might actually enjoy the ride to NY came this deep knowledge that this is usually how I operate. Finding it so hard to enjoy where I am, to live in the now and not constantly looking to what is next. Maybe it's the planner in me that makes it hard to focus on enjoying the road when the destination seems to be the important element in the journey.  And maybe all the waiting I've had to do in the past three years with no discernable destination point has made it even harder to enjoy the process when I DO know where I'm heading with something.  Probably it's yet another form of control. What a shock.

So, sitting there behind the wheel, I relinquished that need to "get there." I stopped looking at the clock every 3 minutes. I stopped staring at the miles slowly decreasing on the gps. And I found myself smiling. Relaxed in a way I have never been on a car ride before. Enjoying the rare chance to sit quietly for hours at a time and not consider that a wasted morning. Still looking forward in a joyful and expectant way to the friends and family I would soon see, but being able to just like the road. To cherish the time with my son who will, in three short weeks, start kindergarten. To savor the quiet monotony of the interstate. To not, for once, be in a rush to get somewhere.

The unexpected side effect to this epiphany was the state of my soul. Rather than arriving full of stress and angst, rather than dreading traffic or being frustrated at potty stops, I just found myself with a big smile on my face.  More patient with my son, more calm on the road, generous toward the other drivers and infinitely more full of energy when we did arrive at our destination. 

It's yet another indication of God's love for me that at a time in our life when we are still waiting, still journeying in several areas, that God would so helpfully and graciously intervene with such a powerful lesson that I am confident will reverberate down through all the roads ahead but, most importantly, help me on this road I currently travel.






Friday, July 20, 2012

Projecty

I came to the distinct realization this week that one of the ways I seek to exert control in my life in response to the complete lack of control in our baby situation is by making up projects. I look at a room, a perfectly lovely and complete room, and in my head think "Now what can I possibly do to cause a huge mess, inconvenience my husband and make it possible for me to make roughly 217 trips to Lowes all in the same day?"  Ok, I don't REALLY think that. But I might as well because from the first moment I get that little "projecty" glimmer, life becomes chaos.

Now, you might think this post is an attempt to psychoanalyze my obsession with having some semblance of control in my life but I'm pretty sure I already know about those issues and have tackled them before. Clearly, I have not tackled them well enough, but let's leave that for another post. No, today, all I am going to do is join the bandwagon of the DIY blogs and satisfy my need to feel like I finished one of these crazy ideas.

Guest bath when we bought the house.
Cue sister-in-law. She was nice enough to come down for a visit last week, fully knowing that she'd be put to work. When we moved into our home there were a few rooms that made me want to cry. Our guest bath was one of them. Brown walls, brown ceiling, brown linoleum, no windows. Really? In which decade was having a cave for a bathroom considered restful?  A few years ago I broke down and painted the ceiling in one frenzied afternoon of NEEDING that room to not feel like it was full of dementors upon entering. 


Well, hello wallpaper and horrid lights.
Then, last week, we tackled the walls. And, in an effort to change the lighting, we switched a fixture from our tiny downstairs bathroom in for a lovely 80's track lighting system that needed to find a new home in my garage. Permanently.  Then, as if that wasn't enough, I just HAD to do something about the mirror. You know those old mirrors? The kind that take up the whole wall, have no molding or edges and basically scream "Hey, I have no style! Aren't you glad I take up the whole room?!"  So, I scoured the DIY sites and found a way to switch out our mirror downstairs, provide a little molding and spruce up the scene. We encountered the deep joy of removing the mirror only to find a wall of wallpaper but it was strangely satisfying to complete the extra task of ripping that flowered yuckiness off the walls.  And I daresay my husband enjoyed the chance to use his huge saw to cut the moldings for me!

The finished product.
Now,  the brown linoleum is still there, hopefully to be switched out soon. But, I'm feeling distinctly satisfied with my little frenzy of control and have now spent whole minutes just standing in there, gazing around, breathing in the calm.  It's amazing what a coat of paint, lots of glue, a little molding and a little imagination and switching around can do!  Now, if only I could fix my need to have these little frenzied fits of "projecty", all would really be well.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Unbroken

It's not every day that you read a book that changes your life. The first book I remember having had this particular impact is The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss.  It was the book that introduced me to the story of the holocaust and it was probably the first book I ever read that really showed me that life was not fair, that suffering and pain do exist in great quantities and that hope is powerful.  I probably read it 100 times growing up and it was a strong force in the development of my love of WWII history and my own personal commitment to "never forget."

So, it was with great anticipation that I finally picked up the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand one short week ago.  I'd heard from a number of sources that this was a must read and having learned it was connected to WWII only made it more enticing.  Within 3 pages I was hooked.  Here was a story you could just tell would be life-changing.

I'm not going to put any spoilers here but suffice it to say that with each turn of the page the story got more unbelievable. Just when I thought I had seen the limits of what a human could endure, I'd remember that there were still 200 pages to go in the book and surely the story was not finished.  It touched the sport lover in me as well as that huge part of myself who is moved by all things war. It reminded me anew of the terror that humans can wreak on each other as well as the enormous capacity we are given to forgive through the power of God.  It made me laugh and cry and imagine anew what life must've been like for my own grandfather who fought in the European theater.  It pointed me, yet again, to the only One who can offer us new creation, who can take mourning and turn it into dancing, who can turn our weeping into joy, who can truly change us, heal us, give us hope. 

In short, it changed my life.  Not just because it was well written or because it's a compelling story, of which both are true.  But because when you read the story of Louis Zamperini, you can feel God at work.  And in a world with lots of awful and discouraging stories, it's a good thing to be reminded that we are not alone, that hope is still powerful, that perseverance is not pointless and that God is always hard at work in the act of redemption.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Side By Side

I still remember my first date: the eighth grade dinner dance. To this day I can confidently say that the arranging of said date is the most awkward phone conversation of which I have ever been a part. And I'm awkward on the phone, so that's saying a lot.  That poor boy never knew what was coming when he picked up the phone, right? 45 seconds of excruciating "ums" and "so" all so we could get dressed up in early 90's fashion and then be awkward for 3 hours together.  I cannot even remember if we actually talked during the course of the date. We certainly didn't get a picture together. Oh, middle school.

Dating culture was in a major transition as I was growing up.  People were still "asking people out" and you usually knew when two people were a couple, at least in my friend circles. Phrases like "hanging out" and "talking" and "seeing each other" were starting to creep in but mostly people were girlfriend and boyfriend or they weren't.  Texting didn't exist, nor did email when I first started dating, so you really had to arrange things voice to voice.  Much harder, maybe, but much clearer.  Someone took a risk, an obvious one, and someone else either shot them down or went for it. None of this "months-go-by-and-we-hang-out-and-can-you-look-at-what-she/he-wrote-on-my-wall-and-interpret-it-for-me" junk.  I do not envy younger people.

Here's the thing though. From the time of that first date until about six months into dating Reed, I was pretty uncertain about marriage.  And, yes, I do realize the inherent inconsistency of dating people when you have no intention of ever getting married.  I was so uncertain, though, that I even wrote a song in high school that involved me moving to Africa without a husband or children and living there forever with my dog.  (It is to my everlasting horror that my best friends in high school memorized and then revived this song for our rehearsal dinner 10 years later.  I have yet to repay them, but it's coming. Oh, it's coming.)  Song aside, I looked at marriage as a major loss of freedom.  A place where a man would try to rule me or wherein we'd be excited at first and then miserable for 50 years and our kids would know it. Why would I choose what I thought was certain misery, two messed up humans trying to keep a promise inherently impossible to keep?  

Yet, there was a moment when I was dating Reed when I thought, "Hey, I could marry THIS guy." No specific epiphany about marriage in general, no hidden book somewhere that had planned out my cake, bridal gown and which song I would eventually dance to, just a small, quiet moment of choosing him.  Choosing this man to commit to, to love each day, 'til death do us part.  And choosing it in the face of overwhelming odds against its success, because, let's face it, we all come into this thing with a lot of baggage and having the baggage of not even being so certain that marriage is a great thing is like bringing that oversized, misshapen bag that the airline check-in counter person just looks at, shakes his head and then starts covering with mysterious stickers.

But the thing is, success is not about luck. It's not about finding that "soulmate" or "the one" with whom we'll make it all the way, it's about that choice again and again to turn towards him in the morning, to choose honesty over manipulation, to work at what's off between us, to dream together for our future and then wait expectantly side by side, to not isolate ourselves from each other when we face disappointments, to invite others into our life who can ask us good questions about our marriage, to cause our son to giggle when we linger over a kiss in front of him (I assume this will turn to embarrassment in a few short years, but so far he thinks it's fun), to unpack those huge bags a little more as each year passes and God molds us individually more into his image and, hopefully, molds our marriage into one that reflects his love to people around us.

Today we celebrate nine years of marriage. The reason we can truly celebrate is not just because we are still together or because everything has been perfect or because he is a great husband to me(which he is). We can celebrate because we've put our ultimate trust not in each other for fulfillment but in God to fulfill us. We know we can't be each others everything, that we were never meant to be.  But we have lived out each day of these nine years in commitment to each other and whether those days have been easy or hard, good or bad, disappointing or exhilarating, they have been lived out together.  And because we are trusting in God and not each other to be perfect in this, we can also trust in "til death do us part" knowing that it is never in our own power or ability to see those words come true, but in the daily grace we are given by a God who has rescued us, changed us, loved us and taught us how to love one another sacrificially.

Here's to nine years, my love!  May God keep us ever focused on Him so we can freely love, serve, respect and challenge each other and do it all in the midst of tears, passion, laughter and, most importantly, side by side.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Art of Play

For several years now my son has been nursing a desire to grow up and be a mathematician.  When I ask him what he thinks mathematicians actually do he says that it has something to do with numbers and that he gets to work with his dad.  Ah.  The dream makes sense.

But just a few weeks ago, when he woke up at night and needed a drink he poked his head into the kitchen. There was his dad, hard at work on his computer, like he very often is just after bedtime.  Apparently this trend has not been overlooked by the child and so he asked my husband, "Dad, will I still get play when I grow up? Maybe I'll do what Mom does instead of work with you."

I could have been insulted at his insinuation that I do not work much, but the kid had just seen me "working" all day by singing onstage and working with electric guitarists and drummers. (His personal heroes.) So.  

His might seem like a cute, innocuous question. But from the moment my child wakes up in the morning until roughly 10 minutes after he goes to bed every night, every waking move of his day revolves around the possibility of play.

Morning Situation (Usually around 6:45 am. He did NOT get this from me.)
Josh: "Dad, wake up, it's time for legos!"
Reed: (unintelligible mumbling)
Josh: "Come on, we have to PLAY before school!"  (Because preschool is so strenuous with all that counting to 10 and learning to stand in line.)

Lunch Situation (Usually driving home from preschool)
Josh: "Mom, can we play before lunch?"
Me: "Let's eat first and then play before rest time."
Josh: Silent treatment. Disappointment. Probably internal rage that will come out as a teenager.

Afternoon Situation (Right after "rest" time which has consisted of a 1/2 hour of actual rest (read, sitting on bed staring at toys) and 1 hour of playing with said toys)
Josh: "Is it time to play? How long can we play before dinner? Will we have time to play after dinner? How much time can we play?"
Me: Head explodes.

So, you see, my child's entire life is oriented around the art of play.  The idea that he might one day grow up and be unable to play every waking moment of the day led to that panicked late night question.  Now, I know it's possible he'll grow up to be a Lego engineer and play until he's 90, but more than likely a lot of his life will begin to revolve around work. I assume his desires will change at least a little before it comes time for him to choose a major, although given the current state of education I wouldn't be shocked if Legos were a major by 2025 when he starts college.

The more interesting point to his question is that I think play gets a strange rep after a certain age. People like to rage against adult adolescents, those people who never grew up, who play video games and avoid responsibility and act like they are 3, but have a lot of fun while at it.  The polar opposite gets the rep of sellout, of people who have given up on fun and taken on all the responsibility life has thrown at them and they just trudge out of bed every day, have that cup of coffee, go to work, raise their kids and forget they had dreams of their own, right?  But what's the in-between?  Do we, as adults, get to have FUN apart from our kids? Apart from Disney and parks and building sand cars for hours at the beach for a car-obsessed preschooler? Is it OK to play?

Sure, a lot of us have hobbies. I love a good jog or working in my garden. I adore a captivating book.  But how often do I play? A few months ago I went out to dinner with a group of women I'm really coming to love. I've know them for about a year now and this was the first time we've all just gone out, left our kids behind and had a fun night. When dinner was over, we found ourselves lingering. Did we really HAVE to go home? The kids were already asleep, right?  So we went to a dessert place and told crazy stories about the worst dates we'd ever been on while gorging on desserts.  Or at least, in my case, on coffee.  (Incidentally, this is a great party question. I'm still chuckling over some of the train wrecks.) 

The thing was we had fun. We laughed, we had conversations that had nothing to do with our children, we played.  And then we talked about why we need to do it more often. Why it's so important for our souls in this stage of life, with work and responsibilities, with being wives and moms and owning houses and being on adoption waiting lists and dealing with aging parents, why it's SO important to play.  To delight in the beauty of life, the gifts of growing friendship with each other.  And I know that sounds cheesy, but sometimes cheesy is just right. It's so easy to get too busy to enjoy life.

So the answer, my darling son, to your question is "Yes, adults do play.  We just have to want it enough to make it happen. And we have to choose to have margin in our lives so it's possible."

So, I shall host a movie night, full of margaritas and Girls Just Want To Have Fun and I will wish once again, like I did when I first saw that movie as a kid, that I could be on Dance TV and be friends with Helen Hunt.  I may (read, will) even get up off the couch and dance along because, let's face it, I probably still have half the dances memorized.  I will ask my friends, much like my son, when we can play next and I will ask it until we make it a habit.

I will learn again to delight in each moment of the day and cherish those chances to laugh and play, to be thankful for the family and friends I have been given as playmates, not at the expense of my responsibilities or roles in adult life, but in complement to them.