Air Conditioning is Life

Every single year our air conditioning unit for the upstairs has to be serviced. It’s like a rite of spring. First the daffodils, then the tulips, then my upstairs AC unit. We hit 85 degrees and that thing freezes up and we’re on a three day wait for service. I’m not sure if you know this, but you need air conditioning to survive in Georgia for about 7 months of the year.

You would think that I would be good with some heat because I grew up in the Northeast, lived in Canada for four years, and I hate cold, but I’m surprisingly fickle about temperature. Especially when I sleep, I need it to be working at approximately 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit. My least favorite way to sleep is lying in bed without any covers on while my Big Ass Fan swirls at the speed it takes a Black Hawk helicopter to get off the ground. I was not made for this. I was made for highly developed climate control.

Growing up in Massachusetts, we did not have central air conditioning. It does get pretty hot there most summers, and by summer, I mean 7-8 weeks in July and August. My Mom had screens on all the windows so she could keep them open all day and night. I remember mosquitoes the size of C-130s would hang on those screens like the little vampires they were, hoping to get in and zoom around my ears all night. We ran box fans and oscillating fans in every single room. Sometimes we would sleep in the basement or on the screened porch, but most of the time, you took a cold shower, pointed that fan right at your bed and slept like you lived in a turbine. Some time around 6 am, the day would reach its coolest point and you could pull a sheet up over you, and pretend it was chilly.

But that part of my life is supposed to be over. The Fan Era is gone. I live in the South, dadgummit, and I’mma have me some Air. Our house here has three units to cool it and I’ve been lobbying for a fourth for awhile now. There’s just a lot of open space and high ceilings. The house is 25 years old. She needs a turbo boost. Also, her mistress is a woman Of A Certain Age, and body temperature is not to be trifled with.

Only it appears, she may need more than a boost. The Fan Era has been extended. My Yankee Summer has returned. The service tech just left and we do not have a resolution.

So it looks like we’ll be taking cold showers and sleeping in a wind tunnel.

While we dream of Vampire Mosqiutos trying to kill us.

If the heat doesn’t kill us first.

What Happened To My Chore Charts?

I just want to firmly state, that it was my goal all along to raise responsible humans who contributed to this household. The Almighty knows I have tried. When they were little, we had chores. I had chore charts. I can probably still find the ones I used on Pinterest if you need to see them. I did all the things that were age appropriate to teach them how to care for themselves, their rooms, and this home. And I did it with a color coded chart. There may have even been stickers.

It has all failed. I’m not sure when it all fell apart, but that’s where we are now. They leave clothes all over the floor. The beds are not made. No one ever screws a cap back on the toothpaste. There are currently four pairs of my daughter’s shoes lying haphazardly by the kitchen door. This house looks like the kind of houses you see on HGTV when the family thinks they have to move because there’s no space for them, but you sit there on your couch drinking wine, judging, and think, “Maybe just get your crap together for 5 minutes and you can live in your own dang house.” This is Us.

My mother used to call messy bedrooms “A Disaster Area.” She’d be like Tom Brokaw on the Nightly News standing in front of a natural disaster but it would be our bedroom, and she would wave her arm around and declare, “This bedroom is a Disaster Area.” The best was when she would just shut the door and say, “This is no longer a part of my house.” So, I guess no FEMA assistance?

Maybe teenagers CANNOT EVEN pick up their rooms. Maybe this is a frontal lobe development thing. It’s probably scientific. They cannot pull up the blankets on their bed and throw their pillows on top because they have to focus on taking 45 minute hot showers without use of any soap or shampoo. It’s probably too much for their brains to manage all of that.

All this to say, we may have had a glimmer of a breakthrough this week. At dinner on Sunday, Lindsey was researching ways to make money because she wants an IPhone X. As she was throwing out ideas that included Ponzi schemes and selling a kidney, I stopped her cold with this: “I will give you both $5 every week if you make your bed. I’ll make it $10 if you put your clothes in your hamper.” Both kids stopped and looked right at me, like I was proposing something the likes of which have never been heard of around these parts. Stephen asked, “What if I forget to throw my towel in the hamper one day. Am I still eligible for the bed making money?” (He’s negotiating with me to allow for his forgetfulness, IN ADVANCE. This is 15 years old, folks.) “Yes, bed making money is still in play.” Both kids started running analytics on their calculator app to determine what this would mean for their spending/saving goals.

We’re three days in with beds made and clothes off the floor, and I’m wondering if this is what chore charts are with teenagers? It’s not color coded with stickers and it feels a lot like bribery, but then again so does most of parenting. I’m not sure if bribery trains a child in the way they should go so when they are older they will not depart from it, but it sure does keep the Disaster Areas contained.

Imagine this but with all the stickers. I had so much hope.

Brother and Sister Stuff

Last week, Stephen had a track meet and Lindsey was able to attend. Normally she’s in a volleyball tournament or practice so she hasn’t seen him run. This is a good place to pause in our story to note that Stephen is not going to set any world records at track. I’m not sure to this day what motivated him to do it except that he likes to run and random adults, that are not his parents told him, “You should run track.” I’m grateful that he was brave enough to get outside his box, but now my Saturdays are spent watching volleyball AND track and field. Gracias, to all the encouragers.

Lindsey was pretty into the track meet, (and even before I bought her Skittles at concessions), which is news because Stephen and Lindsey are not big fans of each other. They attend each other’s events only when it is compulsory. Linds hung in there for 2+ hours (we came late, because I can’t even with these all day track meets) waiting for Stephen’s events. She thinks he is annoying most days, and has asked in the past if it is too late to drop him at a fire station, but here is what happened as time drew near for him to run…..

She was nervous. She was worried about him. She had so much empathy for him waiting to take his place on the track. “Oh my gosh, he must be so nervous right now. I can only imagine how this must feel.”

She was confident for him. “He’s going to finish OK, Mom. Look at his stride. He’s totally got this!”

She could see his positives. If they were just peers, no relation, they would never choose to hang out together. Yet she could watch him run his race and say, “He did so good! I can’t believe how strong he finished!”

Listen to me: My kids are not best friends. They do not hang together a lot (although I do think they would have each other’s back in a bar fight). Sometimes, I wonder what their adult relationship will look like. I remember years and years ago, reading from a magazine about JFK Jr and his sister Caroline….”At Caroline’s 1986 wedding rehearsal dinner, Doris Kearns Goodwin complimented Jackie on her children’s obvious bond with one another. That, Jackie told her, “is the best thing I’ve ever done.”

I never forgot that. It’s easy for same gender siblings to form a bond because of the commonality of life experience. That’s not the case with a son and daughter. Not only are they wired differently, they are physically different, and those differences are glaring at this stage of life. Today though, it didn’t matter because younger sister said to older brother, “You ran a good race today. I think you could actually finish better than that, because you had pretty good speed at the end.” Stephen enjoyed this praise from her and as we left, they walked together behind me talking about pacing and other track-y things.

While I’m not ready to call them the Kennedy siblings, and I’m still not sure what Jackie did to foster closeness, I feel pretty good that they are making a relationship tthat will matter in the long term. When I see them together, I give them their own space, and THAT might be the thing that you do as the mom. Let them build the relationship without interference, so it is truly theirs. Maybe the best thing is letting them figure it out together.

They are Enough

Paul and I always imagined ourselves with 3 or 4 kids. Since we met at 19, and married at 23, it seemed like we would have the time to make that happen. We started our careers out of college and I enjoyed teaching sixth grade, so we decided we would put family making on hold until our late 20’s. In the back of my mind, I always had fears that we would struggle to have kids, but maybe all women wonder or worry about that.

It proved to be true for us. We started trying to have a baby when we were 27. It wasn’t happening and we really weren’t in a place financially where we could investigate medically what the problem was. When we moved to Georgia in 2000, I had a doctor give me references to some fertility specialists, but it took about two years of savings for us to feel like we had any business even trying to schedule an appointment. Those years were awful. No matter where I turned, everyone was having a baby. People mean well and they say unintentionally unhelpful things to women struggling with infertility like, “It will happen when you aren’t even trying.” They would tell stories about a person they knew who as soon as she stopped worrying about it and trusted God, became pregnant. Like this was a crisis of my faith, and when I got right with Jesus I’d find myself pregnant in no time. I look back on those 3 years and I remember all the pain and helplessness. I remember ovulation kits, pregnancy tests, Chlomid, all of it. I remember missing my period in the spring of 2001, the positive pregnancy test, and three days later being in the hospital with an ectopic pregnancy. I remember the arguments we had and how mad I felt at everyone. I’m amazed we survived it. I’m grateful we did.

In late 2001, Paul had a great year of work and was rewarded financially. We finally had the money to visit the infertility specialist. I remember sitting across from the doctor as he reviewed our medical history. He didn’t offer us any cute platitudes. He didn’t give us maybes, possibilities, or percentages. He said, “Four years is a long time to try and have a baby. I’m sure you are exhausted. My suggestion is we forego trying anything else and go straight to an IVF.” I almost burst out crying because for the first time somebody understood, and was ready to act on it. We walked out of that office lighter than we had felt in years. Two thirty year olds, reaching for each other’s hand like teenagers on a first date. With hope.

IVF is a gruelling experience. So many needles, hormones, pills, almost daily ultrasounds, and a heaping helpin’ of anxiety. I won’t bore you with all of the medical details because it all paid off. Stephen was conceived, and we put 4 embryos in the freezer bank for later, as you do, in the crazy world of assisted conception. My pregnancy with him was hard, to say the least. I wasn’t sick so much as I had miscarriage scares almost every single week. I’d be at work or I would wake up and just start bleeding and off I would go to the doctor to have an ultrasound. There are no words for the fear you feel until that ultrasound wand rolls over the fluttering heartbeat of that little baby on the screen. Stephen was born at 32 weeks. He spent 17 days in the NICU. It’s a blur of days, but when I slow my mind down I can remember every detail of it.

We were living in Tampa when we decided to have a second child. My parents were in Atlanta, so we arranged to have those embryos thawed and put back. And then there was Lindsey. She was an easy pregnancy and an easy baby. We started to talk about a third, only we weren’t sure we could do another IVF. It is such an exhausting process and we had two toddlers now. We decided to look into adoption. As we gathered information, we started to feel like an international adoption from China would be the best fit for us. We started the dossier, homestudy, and training involved in this process. We assumed we were looking at an 18 month window until we would have a little girl. Unfortunately, at the time our dossier logged-in, a lot of circumstances were changing in China. The country changed the age limits and marital requirements for prospective adoptive parents and a flood of dossiers went into the system in an attempt to be grandfathered in before the rule changes. At the same time, the Chinese government became aware of the potential demographic problems with their one child policy and started to relax it. They started a domestic adoption program, and with the boom in the Chinese economy, more orphans were adopted domestically by Chinese parents. More international demand for Chinese orphans and fewer orphans available meant we were in for a long wait. For awhile we just bided our time, renewing our homestudy every year, continuing the training required for prospective parents. By the time we moved back to the USA, we were no closer to being a family of five than we had ever been. We changed our criteria for a child, willing to take on an older child or a child with certain special needs. It didn’t move the needle. Finally, we decided maybe we should abandon the international adoption and look at adopting from foster care. Our kids were now 10 and 12, we had no reason to want a baby or toddler. That stage of life was behind us. We attended sessions on foster care adoption and prepared to do the training for this new endeavor.

Until.

One day we came home from dinner, and I was teasing the kids. I don’t even remember what about, but I sat down on the arm of the couch and for some reason they both launched themselves at me and we all three tumbled back onto the sofa laughing. And God said right into my heart, and as clear as if He spoke it aloud, “They are enough.” It stung for a bit, but I started to wrestle with the idea, that we were done. That we were meant to be a family of four. I didn’t say anything to Paul for awhile. I figured he needed to come to his own conclusion, and then I’d know this was right. A few weeks later, he was out in the front yard playing catch with Lindsey. When they came in later, she went running upstairs and he came over to me and asked, “Do you ever think, maybe we’re good as we are?” I smiled. Yes.

I wonder about the why’s every now and then. Why couldn’t we have more babies? Why didn’t adoption work out for us? Why did we wander down that road for so long and never reach a fruitful ending? I don’t know. Because God is gracious and generous, sometimes He lets us know the answer to the WHY, and sometimes He does not.

This past week I had both kids in the car driving to school. “On Top of a the World” by Imagine Dragons came on the radio, and both kids remarked how it reminded them of a vacation we had taken to the Bahamas several years ago. We were listening to the song and in our own thoughts, when Lindsey said, “I love it when it’s just the four of us. Those are my favorite times.”

Mine too. I am content with four.

I think back now to those unanswered “why” questions that sometime circle around in my head.

Why couldn’t we have more babies?

Why didn’t adoption work out for us?

Why did we wander down that road for so long and not have a fruitful ending?

I’ve realized that the only explanation that matters is the one God spoke to me that day on the couch, Because THEY are enough.

We’re all people. Quite the same.

When the kids were little and we lived in Ontario, I remember taking them to a small local book shop. While they played with the collection of toys in the children’s section, I chatted with the shop owner. I don’t remember how we got on the topic, but she mentioned that she and her husband were taking a month long trip to Italy. They had a car rented and they were just going to wing it when they got there. I was more than a little impressed by the free style approach to vacationing so I asked her if she was fluent in Italian. She laughed, “Oh no, we don’t speak any Italian. We’ll figure it out as we go.” I remember standing there, having never traveled to a country where language would be an issue, and wondering what kind of crazy was she. After all, we had just moved to Canada, where they spoke English, and I was daily overwhelmed by not knowing what I didn’t know. She must have sensed my bewilderment because she smiled at me and said, “These are the best ways to experience this world- making our way out of our comfort zones. It’s how we find out that we are, all of us, quite the same. Just trying to do our best, love our families well, and be happy.”

It was one of those conversations, that as soon as the words were spoken, even as they hovered in the air between us, I knew they would leave a mark.

We’ve had some opportunities to travel since that time, and to places where English is not officially spoken. It really does make you slow down and pay attention to what people do, because you can’t always understand what they say. You notice that moms everywhere will swipe at food crumbs on their child’s face regardless of their age. That old people holding hands in Paris will tug at your heart just as much as your own grandparents do at home. Paul and I were in a copper smith shop in Tuscany trying to buy a wine chiller, and the old man and his wife who ran the shop spoke no English. We were limited to my Rick Steves guide to basic Italian phrases, and we had this crazy 20 minute visit that included pointing, gesticulating, and saying words in our own tongue LOUDER, like that was some kind of solution to the language barrier. The whole thing was so comical we were all four laughing. In that small shop, two couples separated by age, language, country, and culture, yet for a moment, quite the same.

As I’ve blogged about earlier, Stephen and I went to Europe with a school group back in January. It was part of something his school does, called Go Week, the week before they come back to school after Christmas Break. Students can take an educational trip, a mission trip, or work in groups here at home on various service projects. This past week, we attended the celebration of all of the trips and service work, where students and adults shared stories about their experiences. One of the students who traveled to Israel was sharing his experiences and talking about the diversity he encountered. He was a very good public speaker, but as he shared some of the interactions he had with children there, he said, “It just made me realize… we’re all, like… people. You know?” A few people smiled and chuckled because it sounded like a teenage summation, but I was smiling and nodding like a Pentecostal at a tent revival. This student had run up against the same truth I had encountered in that bookshop ten years ago. We’re all people. And quite the same.

As the evening went on, some of the local service projects shared their experiences and there were very similar themes emerging. Kids and adults were placed in environments they might not normally be found in, and serving these communities with fellow students they might not normally spend time with. They were amazed at the people they got to meet and how much they valued not just the service work, but the actual community they built in one week. We’re all trying to do our best, love our people, and be happy.

I love to travel, and I am game to go just about anywhere. I like the landscape, art, and culture of a new place. But I am always more fascinated by the people and their stories. My word for this year is ADVENTURE, but it applies to more than just travel. It’s an open invitation to explore and understand all the people and situations I encounter. To embrace the new and (sometimes) uncomfortable, and to rest in the truth that we ARE all people. And quite the same.

Being A Sports Mom: What I’ve Learned From The Sideline

This week is sandwiched by volleyball tournaments and track meets, so it had me thinking about what I’ve learned sitting on the sideline.

We have two kids. Between the two of them, we have tried a lot of sports. In the early years, we did this to keep them active and engaged with other kids. There are parents with different motivations, who see sports as the long term ticket to college or fame (and it can begin as early as three-year-old soccer), but that was never our intent. Along the way, Stephen fell away from sports and Lindsey fell in love with them. She played soccer, then volleyball and lacrosse. Recently, she has narrowed her passion down to volleyball, and Stephen has picked up the individual athletic pursuits of his choosing- sporting clays and track. So we find ourselves, many Saturdays and Sundays, on fields and courts around Georgia. I’ve learned many lessons (some the hard way) as the parent of an athlete, that have made sports-mom-ing a better experience for me and my kids. These may not be true for everyone, but they have proven vitally important in how we treat our kids as they compete in sports.

1. Watch my own child. Don’t be worried about other kids, other parents, referees, the scoreboard- none of that matters. This is one of the few moments in their life when I have no other demands but to cheer for them. My only responsibility is to watch them do a thing they have chosen and trained to do. I often joke that when I was thirteen, I didn’t care about anything as much as Lindsey cares about volleyball. She has given so much of her time to training so she can be valuable to her team. I watch her and I am amazed at her commitment to this sport. I am amazed by her.

Stephen told us when he started high school, he was going to run track in the spring. We were a little surprised because he seemed uninterested in sports when he was in middle school. We don’t know anything about Track & Field, so we put the responsibility of getting involved squarely on him, and he did it. He’s had two meets now, and watching him run might be the proudest I have ever been of him. My pride in him has nothing to do with his performance on the track. I’m proud because he chose this activity and he has followed through with it. He trains every day and has the funniest sense of humor about all of it. When I watch him run, more than any other time in his life thus far, I see the man he is becoming. If you see me in the stands at a meet, I will have the goofiest smile on my face the whole time, because that is my ornery toddler, my strong-willed kid, turning into a self-disciplined young man.

2. Recognize it’s a season. When I say that, I don’t just mean a spring or fall season, but a season of their life. This will end. One day they will walk away, and hopefully it’s with fond memories. I can help facilitate that by keeping it in its proper context. The sport does not define my child. Their success or position on a team will never be the deciding factor in a happy life. Not one person on their deathbed looks at their life with regret because they weren’t the starting first baseman on their high school baseball team.

It’s just a season. A few pages in the scrapbook of their life. Enjoy it and treasure it for what it is. One day I will miss all of this: watching them compete, the wins and losses, their growth mentally and physically at the sport, even the crazy schedule we keep- AM wave tournaments in a city 2 hours from home or splitting time at a track and a gym on Saturdays. I will miss the good, the bad, and the crazy, but there will be many other rewarding seasons in their lives. The best is still to come. Hold on loosely.

3. They will learn life lessons on the field or court. The learning won’t all be rules and strategy and situational play. Don’t get in the way of the life lessons. Don’t run interference for them. It’s hard to be a bystander when I see adversity or pain coming my child’s way, but sometimes the road they are called to in life will require wisdom gleaned from what they learned competing or in team dynamics. Those lessons don’t always congeal right away. Character building takes time and distance and that space is fertile ground for bitterness to grow. Don’t be bitter. Trust timing and perspective to bring wisdom and peace. No matter how long that takes, believe this experience will make them stronger.

4. Coach them how to manage their feelings and perceptions. What I know strategically about the game of volleyball or the conditioning needed to run 800 meters could be written on the head of a pin. I don’t coach my kids, because I have the dumbs when it comes to their sports. I also pay a billion dollars for them to play and so I assume their coaches are being compensated to do the heavy lifting. The pressure is off me to break down technique. What I can coach them on are their feelings about what happened. Their perspective at this age tends to be a bit inward focused, so having conversations where we can look at things from a different angle are so valuable. I’m not running any interference on the life lessons, I’m just helping them frame things in the proper context.

These are my Sports Mom lessons learned, so take that as you will. They may not be for everyone. I have seen plenty of parents coach their children from the sideline so maybe that yields the results they desire. It’s just not my business. These are the boundaries that work for us. This is the place where we can appreciate the value of sports in our kids’ lives and also enjoy the balance of family, school, rest, and play.

We’re playing by these rules. If we play this right, they succeed at life. That matters more than any game.

Middle School Romance: A Valentine Oxymoron

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought we’d revisit the purest of all the love stories- The Middle School Dating Scene. This timeless phenomenon has made millions of parents the world over wonder why they are not paying for single-gender private school through the ninth grade. I listen to the stories Lindsey tells me every single day about the boyfriends and girlfriends of the seventh grade, and I wonder anew, Were the romantic endeavors this ridiculous when I was in middle school? Well, of course they were, I’ve just invested a lot of time, life experience, and self-help books in an effort to mitigate the awkwardness of my middle school experience.

Lindsey does not have a boyfriend. We’ve been pretty clear with her that it’s completely unnecessary at her age, and she agrees. I periodically check her texts and she’s not on social media, so I’m pretty confident that there are no smoochie shenanigans going on that I am unaware of. Just because she is not engaged in these soap operas, does not mean that she isn’t privy to them playing out around her. I am blessed everyday by the tales of love and loss that occur among her peers.

Every story sounds something like this: 6 thirteen-year-old girls text Tyler because their friend Suzie likes him. Tyler just wants to be friends with Suzie because he actually likes Kylie, one of the 6 girls on the group chat. Tyler finds out that Kylie likes his best friend Jake so he decides to ask Suzie out via text (because any girlfriend is better than none). They agree to officially start dating the next morning (the Official Start Date is a real thing, it’s like establishing an anniversary before the relationship- please don’t spend a lot of time trying to understand this) only she gets to school and dumps him, via text, before first period.

As the mother of a 13-year-old girl, my job is to listen to this and take it somewhat seriously so she will trust and confide in me when the bigger deal stuff comes down the pike. My listening strategy is to be the Empathetic Mom Who Gives Relationship Advice. In reality and from the overflow of my heart, I want to say, “This is all bananas and you aren’t allowed to date until you are married,” but that doesn’t foster a strong Mother-Daughter bond in these turbulent teen years.

We recently had a talk about liking boys and as she talked her way around the whole scenario, she told me, “I think I like the idea of liking a boy, but I don’t want to be anyone’s girlfriend, does that sound crazy?” Nope. You sound like a sane teenage girl confirming what biology has long known, the frontal lobe of the brain is not formed until 25 years of age. Knowledge is power, so remember that when you enter the dating world TWELVE YEARS FROM NOW.

A lot of the power couples in middle school tend to be the same players recycled into new relationships. The boyfriends in this pool are a fascinating group. What 13-year-old boy is ready to meet the emotional needs of a thirteen-year-old girl? Or even throw his hat in the ring and WANT to give it a shot? Paul and I are the parents of a thirteen-year-old. We have a lot of education and relationship experience between us and we struggle to make sense of her emotional needs. Most days we just try and stay out of her way. Are these middle school Casanovas ahead of their time? Peaking early? Doing TED talks on relationships? WHO ARE THESE BOYS EXACTLY? I have a 15-year-old boy living in this house that I still have to remind to flush the toilet, so godpseed entrusting him with romance and emotional intelligence.

Speaking of my son, he is currently reading Romeo and Juliet in English. I am no fan of Shakespeare, but I think the bard captured one universal truth in his tale of the Capulets and Montagues that still rings true today: Adolescent romance will only end in tragedy, therefore avoid it until you are past the age of melodrama.

Or at least until you have your driver’s license.

Happy Valentine’s Day! May it be full of sweets and devoid of group chats.