Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Back to School

I sat in class last week using all the energy I could muster to keep from turning around and stabbing the guys behind me with my gel pen. With one hand cupped behind one ear and the other on said pen, I strained to follow the lecture which was being largely drowned out by the musings of the aforementioned gentlemen, musings that included their most recent foray into alcohol consumption and how they were determined to "try not to cheat" this semester. Noble endeavor. Apparently, some very basic things about college have not changed. Except, of course, my inability to focus on one type of noise (the professor) while another type of noise (alcoholic boasting) is going on in my vicinity. I'm pretty sure I was experiencing age rage due to hearing loss. I'm not sure. Thankfully, my good sense won out and I have not been arrested for a felony.

Other things unrelated to my aging have changed a lot. Just yesterday, I frantically made notes on a mitosis lecture while the people who surrounded me spent time on or texting their friends. One totally unashamed guy slept through the whole thing and another young woman kept asking me "what did she just say?" after completing her most recent text message. This is all at a very reputable university. Folks, I came of age when laptops and cell phones were still in rare use. My roommate in college had a big "car phone" that she kept locked away except for long trips or if she wanted to avoid using long distance when she called her family. When I walked across campus, people either smiled at you and said hello or awkwardly looked at the flowers on the side of the path, but they did not have earphones plugged in (unless they were carrying around their big ol' cd walkmans) and they certainly weren't chatting with some apparently nonexistent human at their side. People who didn't pay attention in class had to resort to daydreaming or writing notes on actual paper to other humans present in the room. Unless, of course, they slept like the guy next to me. We did that, too, although at a much smaller university it was a lot harder to get away with it.

The thing about school is that I absolutely love it. I loved being a student all the way through college and I love it again. It's amazing getting to learn new things and after being gone for so long to feel those synapses firing in that specific way they do only when being challenged in an academic way is exhilarating. And like pretty much every other class I've ever taken, I'm working hard and taking this seriously. Which seems to put me in the minority. When no one around me seems to be as excited about lecture, I go through a range of emotions. First, aggravation: Don't they know they are distracting those who actually want to learn and, thereby, risking impalement by gel pen? Second, sadness: Don't they know that they are missing out on an incredible opportunity to learn really interesting stuff? Third, confusion: How can they just waste their money (or, more likely their parents' money) and not care? Fourth, dawning realization of curve benefits: Don't they know if they don't do well, my score will only get better since they will boost the curve? General feeling of ashamed thankfulness toward these punks accompanies this thought. Fifth, astonishment: Are there really people out there who don't want to do their best at this? Why I continue to ask this last question over and over again in my life I do not know, but the answer is one around which I cannot wrap my mind. How can you not want to do your best at a task set before you?

So here I am, 12 years after graduating from a small, private, liberal arts university in the south, trekking the halls of an enormous, public research institution in the midwest. And just before my first test, the only test I've taken (besides the Myers-Briggs assessment) since 2001, I was nervous. I had my flash cards and had rewritten my notes. I had done all the readings and taken all the quizzes. I'd gone to the Q & A and discussion groups and emailed the TA with extra questions. And still I was sick-to-my-stomach, hands-shaking nervous when I showed up. Once upon a time, I was a great test-taker. Matching and definitions? No problem. Essays? Even better. But Scantron and I were no longer well-acquainted and that test, my friends, was 100% multiple choice.

Why was I so nervous? Well, despite my delusions that I am a recovering perfectionist at this point in my life, it seems that when it comes down to it, I still really want a 100% on a test, possibly even more than I did in college because now I feel like the old lady in the room has something to prove. I still wrestle, deep down, with needing to get the highest score possible and feeling really, really good when I do. I love being a student, which is good, but I still struggle with letting the fact that I'm good at it define who I am. Not so good.

Apparently I have not recovered as completely as I thought. I did really well on that first test, I'm not ashamed to say. And I basked in the glow of that grade for a good week. And it's ok to rejoice that I worked hard and it paid off. But it seems I still need  a daily reminder that my worth and my identity don't lie in what I can accomplish, but in Whose I am. Does God rejoice that I work hard and love what I'm doing? Sure. But he rejoices all the more when I am content in who I am in Him. Loved, forgiven, precious, even if I don't get an A+. That was a lesson I did not believe in high school.

Tonight is my second test of the semester. I am decidedly calmer. I haven't studied as long or as hard but I suspect I've still studied longer than most of my classmates. I am not going to panic if I only get a 90 (or, gasp, lower!), but I'm still going to work my hardest and go for that 100% because I believe it will reflect the fact that I know this information, have worked my hardest and have enjoyed learning it. And have spent a lot of time this last month just enjoying God and letting Him remind me that in the grand scheme of things, of life, perfectionism is an illusion and I will not always be the best at something. And at the end of the day, no matter what happens, that test score will be something (I hope) to rejoice in, but not something to define me.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What Happens in Wisconsin

We've been in the great Midwest for 4 months. And during that short time, I have observed some interesting things about life here in lovely Wisconsin.

First, everyone, and I mean everyone, asks you if you own a snowthrower (read "snowblower" for my northeastern friends) when you meet them. What is that? Is it a mark of honor?

Second, the rule at Josh's school is that they play outside for recess until it is below 0 degrees. That's Fahrenheit friends, not Celsius. I guess we'll be sending him in with snowpants and boots starting, well, next week.

Three, everyone loves the Packers. Everyone wears Packers gear as often as possible to any type of event, up to and including Sunday morning church services. If you want to experience a sane grocery shopping experience never, I repeat, never go to the grocery store in the 4 hours preceding a game.

Four, people complain when it is 85 with low humidity. I, on the other hand, run around rejoicing that I can breathe and enjoy the outdoors in the summer.

Five, people like guns. There are signs on the sides of roads promoting gun ownership, revering guns, advertising gun shows. Kids play with toy guns like it's no big thing. What's with all the guns, folks? Are we afraid the corn fields are going to rise up and attack us?

Six, aforementioned corn. Everywhere. All the time.

Seven, those crazy accents I anticipated really do exist. And my neighbor even said "Don't you know?" in that fantastically Canadian way us East-coasters imagine people out here talk. Also, someone told me to "yak it up"(read "Yayk it uop") with my hubby. Apparently that's English.

Eight, everyone who finds out that we moved from North Carolina asks us why in the world we would move to Wisconsin and then they proceed to tell us the winters aren't really "that bad." They are lying through their teeth and I can see them holding back a mixture of hilarity and pity in their eyes. My neighbor actually admitted that he wants to watch us the first time we shovel our driveway. Possibly he'll bring popcorn. Maybe laughing at transplanted southerners is a form of winter entertainment during the dark months around here.

Nine, water fountains are now bubblers. I shall never call them that. At least not with a straight face.  
Ten, and I'll end with a straight-up nice one, the people are awesome. Down to earth, friendly and helpful. Our neighbors invited us over for "brats" the 2nd night we were here and are now good friends. A group of people we'd never met before helped us unload our moving van and provided friends for my son, as well as a heavenly coffee cake, towels and sheets so we wouldn't have to find ours that first night in a new house. They are now good friends, too. How could they not be? The coffee shop people are nice, the toll booth people smile and I promise you I met the friendliest receptionist ever born at my son's dentist office. She should have an award for nicest human.

So, Wisconsin, four months down, countless months to go. I love your accents and will continue to enjoy encountering your quirks of culture and language. Thanks for providing the prettiest summer weather ever to welcome us here - surely it provided a good enough foundation for us to make it through the winter that, apparently, started today with our first flakes of snow.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Why We Wait

In church yesterday, I sat down with tears streaming down my face. I know this might be a regular occurrence for some people, but I'd rather become a dog-feces collector at the local park than cry in public. But there was this moment- just a few words in a song- that reminded me again of why we continue to wait. Why, in the face of loss, frustration and no change in our circumstances, we continue to hold onto hope that we will become a family of four.

There was a line in the song that spoke of God being the father to the fatherless. And many times I've sung that and not thought it through very far. Not thought about all the individual stories I've now heard about children out in the world who are legally or effectively parentless. Whose stories, even if they end in good, have started off hard. Have begun with loss and grief. A lot of people think adopting an infant will make it easier on that infant who never knew a different life but doctors now know that even those little ones know. They know they were taken from the arms of the woman who carried them for 9 months and placed with strangers. They need reassurance, to build trust, to learn to love. And no matter how amazing their adoptive families may turn out to be, the story of loss will still be there. It was never intended for them to lose so much so young. But it happens to way more children than we can even fathom.

So, why do we continue to wait? Not because we're amazing or particularly good at waiting. Not because this process is fun and enjoyable and we want to prolong this period of invasive questioning and interminable inaction. Some people have said to me "I could never do that." I always think first, "Well, goodness, neither can I." Who really can? God alone is really the father to the fatherless, really the only one who can fill any of us, can redeem any of our losses. By saying yes to adoption we are not saying we are amazing parents sent to heal a child. We aren't saying we have better coping skills or that we are the "right" family for a little kid to come into. We don't believe we have it more together than most of the families we meet. In fact, the whole home study process really shines a light into all the ways you don't have it together in ways you never realized. All we are saying is that there is a need that we can fill and a missing place at our dinner table. And while well-intentioned people who love us tell us whichever child comes into our life will be lucky to have us, privileged to be a part of our family, I know in my heart it will be the other way around. That this child, this one we've been waiting for, will cause us to be overwhelmed with gratitude. Just like our firstborn biological child, we'll struggle through those early feedings and sleep-deprivation and wonder (guiltily) what we were thinking. Just like him, we'll marvel at her first words and cheer when she takes her first steps. We'll agonize when she's sick, we'll teach her the abc's and soccer (which are equally as important, by the way), and we'll watch her while she's sleeping, careful not to wake her, wondering what dreams a little baby has. And we will look at each other all the time and say "Where did she come from? How did we get this gift?", just like we do with our son who came to us another way.

So, we hope and wait. Not to be someone's savior, not to change someone's life, but for the life that is going to radically change ours.