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.

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.