Time with my Boy

I’m having a week with Stephen. Lindsey is at Beach Week with our church youth group (Stephen wasn’t feeling compelled to attend this year) and Paul is traveling with work. We are navigating this new space just the two of us and I sort of love it. We have this natural camaraderie that is unique to the first child that made you a mother, almost broke your will to live, and then went on to rebound and become this person who makes you laugh out loud with just a raised eyebrow or a smirk. No one laughs at my jokes louder than Stephen. No one understands Stephen better than me- at least for right now.

We have settled into this easy pace, without any interruptions from our beloved but absent family members. We get up and while I go to the gym, he goes for a run. He works on his online Drivers Ed and I work on household projects. We eat lunch together (Paul grilled us so much food before he left so we would have lunch leftovers). He games online and I work on my projects. At 3:30, he drives us to whatever coffee shop we have decided to visit. He is so funny when he drives. He is so conscientious of all the driving rules but he talks nonstop out of nervousness about anything. We drove 15 minutes one way today and he recited lines from Forrest Gump the whole trip.

When we get to the coffee shop of the day we chat for a few minutes and then we read or I journal. He has summer reading to complete so he has worked on that, but he also finished The Things They Carried (Tim O’Brien) for enjoyment. When he finished that book he set it down and said, “I’m done.” I looked at him and saw the emotion in his eyes, and I set down my book. “Do you want to talk about it?” I asked. He proceeded to tell me how much he bonded with one character and then that character died. We talked about the power of a writer to create people we care about. He talked about why that character mattered to him.

After coffee we make dinner plans. We eat and then he games again with his friends. We take care of the dogs. Watch D-Day retrospectives.

It’s one week. But it’s one of my favorite weeks of 2019, so far . He will graduate in three years. He was hard work for so many years and now he is my joy. He is not the smartest, sportiest, ambitious, most eloquent, most likeliest, best Christian teenager. But he is figuring himself out. I love him with every fibre of my being.

He makes me laugh.

He makes me proud when he puzzles out what he needs to do to take his next right step.

I am excited about where life might take him. I’m also a little scared about that.

He has never been the Perfect Child but our journey has been all the richer for it.

I love time with my boy.

Endings

Lately I’ve been thinking about endings. Maybe it’s the end of school year, the graduations, or the irrational reactions to Game of Thrones in my Twitter feed, but I feel surrounded by endings. It’s the time of year, and we are captivated by the Grande Finale.

I am here for a good ending. I love a mike drop. A one line zinger that encapsulates everything. The farewell party. The long hug and squeeze. The rapid burst of fireworks at the end of the Fourth of July. I want it grand and I want it to signal to all those involved, This Is The Final Act. The end has come- you have not misconstrued anything. There will be no curtain call. You may go home and rest in the security that you experienced it all.

But what I’m learning is that not all things end with the Grand Finale. Sometimes, a thing, relationship, commitment, a phase or season of life just stops and that’s all there is. It’s like that meme that circulates on Facebook parenting pages that’s says, “One day you will set your child down and never pick them up again.” I have always had a visceral reaction to that and my flippant response is typically, “One day I will change a nasty diaper for the last time too, but nobody’s holding space for that milestone.” All snarkiness aside, I think my problem with the meme is that I hate that there is no ending to the phases of childhood. They all meld together forming this cohesion we call life. I may want confetti and balloons when I set that child down for the last time but that’s just not how this works.

Lindsey’s volleyball season ended about a month ago. I won’t bore you with the details (other people’s kids’ sport stories are never interesting), but it was so weird. Club volleyball lasts forever and it seemed we were building for a ending- a bid for Nationals. We just missed, but we left our last tournament with the hope that there would be a trickle down bid and the girls would be back in the gym in a week. That didn’t materialize and just like that, we were dismissed. I told Lindsey, “The Summer is now open. Volleyball is over.” She didn’t say much, but a few weeks later we were driving to school and out of nowhere she said, “That was so weird how volleyball ended. No goodbye. Nothing. It was just over.” I agreed with her but I didn’t have any real counsel to give.

This morning, Paul and I were taking a walk and I was telling him about the conversation I had with Lindsey. “She was right. It did seem weird without an ending.” He said, “But that’s life. There isn’t always a neat bow on things. I have had mentors and professional relationships and they just end. There’s no farewell party. No angry fight. The purpose ends and you move on. There’s not always moral value to an ending.”

I found resonance in that.

It doesn’t mean we don’t try to end well. I tell my kids to finish strong in everything and I do the same myself. I think celebrations and putting a period at the end of a season has value. But I’m learning that we don’t have to hunt down a fancy finish where there may not be one. Sometimes we live in the tension of “I guess that was all.”

And that’s ok. That’s life.

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.