Saturday, August 16, 2014

36 and thankful

Happy Birthday to me!

I'm 36 today and happy to be here.  I love birthdays--they are a time to celebrate that we're created.  I have to be careful on my birthday.  I was adopted as a baby and if I think too long about the fact that this is the day a woman I've never met birthed me and gave me away I get a bit sad.  Instead, I focus on the fact that this angel chose to sacrifice motherhood so I could go to a family ready to love a little redheaded girl.

We spoke of my adoption regularly as I was growing up and I'm so thankful my parents were brave enough to do so.  It's part of my identity and I think that's why I've never had a huge issue with it.

They told me on the application form, one of the questions was if they would take a redhead right along with if they would take a black or Indian baby.  Now I see why--people ask a lot if my parents have red hair.  I don't look like them, or act like them.

Sometimes that's a lonely place to be.  I find myself asking Aaron if a redheaded actress looks like me.  His response is usually no and he'll tell me she's too tall or her face is too long or whatever.  Part of me just wants to feel like I belong somewhere.

Yesterday I met with my new boss and the meeting went really well.  All my questions were answered and I left with a renewed sense of purpose and excitement about teaching Spanish.  I've never done parts of this job before and I'm excited to take it on.  I'm confident I can bring something really fantastic to this job and I'm ready to do it.

For my birthday I really thought about gathering up a bunch of my girl friends to have dinner.  When I turned 30 I invited 30 of my friends to join me for a paint the pottery afternoon.  I was amazed at how many showed up.  We had a fantastic time.  6 years later I'm at a different place.  I love being with my friends but the energy and drama it takes to coordinate that many women wears me out.  I'm going to head over to the big city tonight to do some shopping at some of my fave stores:  Mardel, Container Store and Half Price Books.  I had hoped to go with a good friend, but she had to be out of town today.  So, I'll take Aaron tonight before we go dancing.

Dancing!  I love going dancing and we've not done it much since kids came along.  We went in Luckenbach for our 10th anniversary and were reminded how much we love it.  Aaron is such a good dancer and I love dancing along with him.  There's just nothing like it.

When I start down the adoption path it's easy to get a little sad.  There's a woman out there that 36 years ago made the decision to say good-bye to me because she loved me.  That's amazing.  I would love to meet her and say thanks.  I've heard that it's normal for adopted children to have a dream that their birth mother is this beautiful, magical person.  I used to think that Reba McIntyre was my birth mom except that she's the wrong age and way too tall.

Why do I not pursue meeting her?  My parents asked me not to.  I remember my dad simply asking I not do it, way back when I was about middle school age.  He told me it would hurt my mom.  Of all they've give me, I can give them that.

Besides, the reality is that I'm full.  I have loving parents and a kind brother.  The family on Aaron's side is wonderful and I find acceptance there.  I have fantastic friends and a church family that I adore.  And I have Christ who loves and accepts me no matter what.

Part of me is afraid to find her.  What if she's not like Reba?  What if she's someone I don't want to have a relationship with?  What if I don't want her to have a relationship with my sons?  For now, it's just best to leave that door closed.  I haven't researched it, but from what my parents told me long ago, for us to be reunited we would both have to contact someone--the adoption agency or I guess the courthouse that sealed the adoption for us to be reunited.  Perhaps today she's thinking of me and has contacted them.  I would love to just say thanks today for lovingly caring for me for 9 months as I grew inside her womb and for choosing a Christian family to raise me.  They did a great job.  She made a great choice.

But today I choose to find my identity in Christ not the fantasy of who I might be related to by birth.  The best parts of me are the ones I've allowed Christ to create in me.  Yes, I still find myself feeling on the outside sometimes and wishing I looked like someone, but it's OK.  Aaron loves the way I look and I'm so much more than my outward appearance.

Friday, August 15, 2014

People pleasing

People pleasing is a funny thing.  I was raised to make everyone around me happy.  To me, that's just what considerate people do.  Enter my husband, who wasn't raised that way.  I remember I was nervous to meet his parents for the first time.  Afterwards, I asked Aaron if he thought his mom liked me.  "Of course she did."  "How could you tell?" I asked.  His response was priceless: "Because she knows you make me happy."  Wow.

I'm reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Kathi Lipp.  I enjoy her books very much and she bravely writes about many of the struggles I find myself facing. This book is entitled The Cure to the Perfect Life.  It's about choosing not to let the bullies of perfectionism, people pleasing, performancism and procrastination rule my life. 

Later today I'm going to meet up with my new boss to iron out details for my job.  I'm nervous.  I'm scared and I'm a little sad that this day is here.  For a long time now I've been home with little kids.  That chapter isn't closing, but the page is definitely turning.  The irony is that the staying home with kids years haven't been the absolute joy of my heart.  Yes, I've enjoyed it and I truly believe God called me to it, but I've known it wouldn't be forever.  And I'm somehow surprised that moving into this next chapter isn't all rainbows and lollipops. 

So, instead of dealing with these feelings head on, I stewed for a ridiculously long time about what to wear today.  It's not an interview;  I have the job, but yet I'm still nervous about her liking me based on the clothes I wear.  Very silly.

This would be people pleasing.

Yesterday I went to a huge consignment sale and bought some clothes for my biggest boy and one board game.  I had a limited amount to spend and I felt really good about how well I used the money I had to spend.

This morning, Aaron sees the one non-clothing item I bought (Pictionary-Man) and went off about how much he hates board games.

A few years ago I would have cowered under this tirade and apologized about buying it.  Not today.  I told him I didn't buy it for him and I got an excellent deal on it.  The boys and I love board games and we'll enjoy it together. 

And then a few minutes later, I apologized for being snappy with him. 

Now I look back on that conversation and I realize I didn't need to apologize for having an opinion different than his.  I didn't need to apologize for anything.

I have to remind myself that my worth isn't based on the opinion of others and that my husband has strong opinions.  I thrive on affirming words, a currency that doesn't come naturally from him.  I will say he's gotten much better at this and I've gotten better at asking for it, but we still have a ways to go.  Even more than that, my value is in Jesus Christ, my creator, Savior and king. 

As I head into my future, I need to bravely lean of God's promises to be with me and lean into his courage.  And enjoy the heck out of Pictionary-Man when I get to play it.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A new griddle

Today marks 11 years married to my sweet husband.  I liken our relationship right now to a griddle. 

When we married, we received lots of goodies, many of which I barely knew how to use.  If you would have told me 11 years ago I would grill pork chops on a griddle so I could cook 8 at a time, I would have laughed.  I also wouldn't have known how to do it.  Now, I do it without a second thought.

The griddle we received was a basic model and one we registered for.  It made pancakes, French toast, grill cheese and pork chops.  One day I noticed the nonstick had come off.  So, I buttered it well before I would cook something.  Aaron noticed the sad look of the griddle and suggested we replace it.  I looked around and only saw really fancy models that were expensive and way more than I needed.

And then, one day, a shiny new griddle arrived on my doorstep.  He had found the perfect replacement on Amazon for me.  My new one is still a basic model, but it's sleeker and totally comes apart which would make it perfect for camping (provided that we have an electrical outlet). 

Marriage is like our griddle.  We started out with a basic model and were happy with it.  When it came time to update the griddle, we did.  My analogy breaks down a bit in that I didn't get a new husband when the nonstick wore off my old griddle.  But go with me here--the first version of us was good.  We were newlyweds, figuring out how to become one.  During that time, we worked through expectations, miscommunication and conflict resolution.

An example--just this last Christmas I finally figured out why putting out Christmas lights is super important to me and not a priority to Aaron.  Growing up, we always did.  He didn't.  It took 10 years of marriage for me to figure out why I had to nag Aaron every weekend after Thanksgiving to do something that was really important to me.

I've learned a lot about listening, being that I am a gifted talker but not a gifted listener.  I've also learned how to be heard.

Now, we're at a great place together.  The boys aren't a cake walk, but they're much easier than they were.  Aaron has a job he enjoys and is more rested than he was a few years ago.  We have a year of the big boys in school behind us and it went really well.  I have a peace that they're going to be OK academically which was a real concern for us with their premature births.

And I like who I am.  Motherhood has refined me and softened my hard edges.  I'm still a work in progress, but I'm happy with who I am.  And my husband loves me more now than he did 11 years ago.  And I him.

In our wedding, I remember Dr Brown prayed that we would grow to love each other more each passing year.  At the time that seemed an odd thought because the love I felt for him was so big.  Little did I know that love grows in beauty with time.  The moments of silliness when we laugh together.  The serious moments when we open our souls to each other.  The painful moments when he holds me when I cry.  The mundane moments of eating pork chops at family dinner.  The sum of all those parts create something really beautiful and I'm so thankful I get to be a part of it.

Long live marriage!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Milking the cow is holy

MOPs sent me this year's theme book about being brave.  It's challenging me to step back and look at how bravely (or not bravely) I choose to live my life.

Today's chapter mentioned a Celtic proverb:  "Milking the cow is holy."  What a beautiful thought.  The small, mundane things I do every day are holy.  Each day I spend with my family matters.  It's so easy to feel like if I'm not doing something extraordinary that it just doesn't matter.  How refreshing to be reminded that each task I do matters.

I've had a busy summer.  Lots of taking kids to different activities and not much rest.  My husband's grandmother passed away suddenly and we were all taken by surprise.  We had VBS right before and even though I love VBS, it takes a lot of energy.  I've learned that after big energy drains I need to take some time to just rest.  Rest wasn't available this time.

Instead of taking the time to journal and rest a bit, I found myself all upset about school starting. I was feeling sad that the time had slipped away.  So what did I do?  I picked up my sons' rooms, purging toys and getting angry that no one was helping me.  When I got to a stopping place, I told my husband I had done the part I don't mind:  compling all the stuff into bins and throwing away the stuff that was broken.  That felt good.  But now, I had to do something with all this stuff.  He didn't volunteer to help with this next step but he listened nicely while I told him my elaborate vision:  sort all the toys and put them in labelled boxes.  Make a check out system so the boys' rooms wouldn't get so out of control as before.  He sweetly agreed that was a nice plan. 

But I didn't want to do all that work.  I had to go to the grocery store and I took along #2.  He's my most organized so I told him about my pick up and check out system.  He told me it sounded like lots of work and we shouldn't do it.  I told him of a friend of ours who uses this system and it works well for them.  He wasn't sold.  He told me we shouldn't do it.  We shopped and returned home where the boxes of various boy toys were on the play room floor where I had left them.

I put away the groceries and went back to my husband to see if he wanted to help sort or organize.  He didn't.

And that's when I had my moment of brilliance:   I didn't have to do it.  Where is the law that says toys have to be organized?  Clearly, this wasn't a good fit for us.  There's no organization police that will be visiting my home checking to see if our toys are organized.

So, I made a new rule:  most of the toys live in the bins in the play room.  Boys can have some in their rooms.  They need to keep their rooms picked up.  The play room needs to stay picked up.  They accepted those terms and went back to what they were doing.  My house looks much better and all is right with the world.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Choosing kindness

For Christmas I received a wonderful gift:  the book Wonder by RJ Palacios.  Today I'm going to write about it as well as the follow-up chapter, Julian.  If you haven't read Wonder, here's the spoiler alert:  I will be writing about the whole story.  It's a marvelous read.  I would suggest you go read it and then check back in.  When I write about "Julian" I'll give a spoiler alert for the same reason.

Here we go.  I read Wonder very slowly.  I read little chunks while I sat in my car in the dismissal line at the elementary school.  My youngest son, age 4, sat in the car with me and would ask me about the book I was reading.  It intruiged him because I would cry as I read. 

The protagonist, Auggie, has a facial malformity.  I've never known anyone with the kind of issues Auggie faced, but I have a very sympathetic heart.  It was hard to read about the kinds of challenges Auggie faced as he started school for the first time as a 5th grader.  Kids are mean.  Heck, this world is mean.  Watching the meanness unfold was hard.

As the book goes on, we see different characters.  Some help Auggie and others make his road tougher.  I've always been one to fight for the underdog.  I wanted to jump into the pages of the book and be Auggie's champion.  I loved watching how his parents loved and guided him.  I aspire to be the kind of mom who has the courage to let her children go out into the world and make their way while being a safe place for them to come back home to.

There are books that are nice to read and there are books that make your human experience richer.  Pride and Prejudice, Les Miserables, Redeeming Love and a quirky book called Flies in the Butter make my short list of those books.

Choosing kindness.  The central theme to take away from Wonder is to always choose kindness.  What a beautiful concept.

Julian is the bully of the story.  He made me mad.  I have very little tolerance for bullies.  While I lived in Spain I was working on my Master's degree.  I did a kind of informal student teaching in a small village about an hour outside of Madrid.  While there I saw a form of racism I hadn't previously known about.  At that time, immigration from central and South American countries to Spain was a big problem.  The Spaniards didn't like these newcomers.  A teacher I worked with made no secret of her feelings. 

It was a 2nd grade class and this teacher would tell the children not to hold hands with the child from South America, we'll call her Maria.  I don't even remember the game now, but it had to do with holding hands and walking around in a circle.  I couldn't tolerate this meanness.  I took one of Maria's hands in mine and put myself into the circle with the kids.  The teacher was surprised but Maria was overjoyed.  That moment helped shape my empathy for children on the outside.  As a teacher, I worked hard to not let my biases hold children at bay.  I know I'm not perfect, but I did my best to love all children.

SPOILER ALERT FOR "JULIAN"

After reading Wonder I read the author's pages.  She answered questions.  One was one I had thought of:  why didn't Julian get a turn telling the story?  Her answer was that bullies don't get a voice.  I liked that.  I was surprised when my husband told me he saw an ad for an ebook for Julian's chapter.  When he told me I said he was mistaken--RJ Palacios said she wouldn't give Julian a chapter.  He showed me he was right.  I was mad, but my interest was piqued enough to read it.  I'm so glad I did.

I believe in the core of my being that all people are able to change.  My favorite part of teaching was being on the ground floor as the little people in my care grew into their potential through learning to read, think critically and make choices that made them positive members of our classroom family.

I had thrown in the towel on Julian.  He was a bully.  The kind of kid I pray my boys will never have to deal with.  I had some Julians around while I was growing up.  I remember being put in a trash can when I was a 9th grader by a football player.  Not my favorite memory, but I count myself lucky that I was never a target of mean girls.

Zacchaeus comes to my mind.  He wasn't a cool kid.  He was very unpopular, but Jesus made time for him.  Jesus came for the sick, not the well.  Julian is easy to dislike, but Jesus would make time for him, too.

As I read "Julian," I was afraid we were just going to see that Julian was a victim of a mean mom or something akin to that.  I was thrilled to see how Palacios brought a beautiful sense of closure through Julian's grandmere.  Her experience of experiencing such kindness through a child she had been unkind to really touched me.  Her understanding that true beauty comes from within was such a powerful message.  Seeing Julian feel repentence about his ugliness towards Auggie was very satisfying.  It restored my hope in humanity.

My boys want me to read them Wonder and I've told them that they're a little too young to really get it now.  In May, the school had a bullying program that the children watched.  Child #1 came home and tried out all the bullying techniques he saw on child #3.  Lovely.  Thanks for the how-to, school.  We've talked through it and he gets that bullying is wrong, but I don't want to give him more to try out.  I look forward to reading this book to them and discussing the themes of the book.  Even at their tender ages, they know what bullying is and they know it's bad news.  It's my prayer that they can be strong when a bully comes along and help others be strong as well.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Snack bar lessons

Last week the boys and I joined my parents for a trip to the beach.  Wonderful.  Maybe I'll write about it another day, but today I'm focusing on an interesting moment from this week.

We live in a sporty area.  My husband and I don't dislike sports, but neither of us played in high school so it's just not part of us.  Aaron chose band and other things instead of sports while I tried out for sports and just wasn't good enough to make it.  I'm good with that--I'm short and not very fast.  I also fouled a lot when I played basketball.  Being not very athletic while still competitive just makes for a bad combination.  So, I found my niche at church as well as being on the competitive acting team, in the musicals and choir.  Life was rich and full while just cheering the sports teams on from the side lines.

Enter motherhood.  So far, I don't think we have an all-star quarterback on our hands.  One of them really isn't very interested in sports.  The other I could see liking individual sports like cross country, golf or tennis.  Doesn't have the build for football.  The other little guy, we'll just see.

So this week they're all giving sports camps a try.  The one most interested in sports is doing basketball camp.  It's 3 hours long and a good taste of what the sport is--drills, fundamentals and games.  He's having fun.  The other 2 boys are doing tennis camp which is much shorter in duration and it's their first experience with the sport.  They watch me play against the garage door and sometimes try to join me, but this camp is specifically designed to introduce them to the game.  Super fun.

At basketball camp, parents can send money with kids for the concession stand.  Aaron and I discussed it--$8 for 4 days sounded very generous when I would have chosen to send a water bottle and keep that $8 for drinks at Sonic one afternoon instead.  We told #2 to buy only 1 drink and 1 snack a day.  Today was the end of Day 2 and from the basketball court during a game, he yells to me in the stands, "Mom!  I need more money!"  Hmmm.

He spent $8 in 2 days.  I'm just glad they didn't let him buy on credit.  There were 2 snack breaks a day in which he felt he had to buy a snack (candy bar) and drink (Sprite or Gatorade) at each, even though he hadn't drunk the drink from before.

Tennis camp offered no such opportunities for spending money and somehow the fact that I provided snacks was completely forgotten when #1&3 saw #2's haul.  Tears.  Yelling.  Yes, even fists in the minivan.  I pulled #3 off #2 and got him settled enough so that I could get him seatbelted in.  We went home.  I cooled off.  At lunch I told them that we would be heading to Target where I would get Gatorade for the rest of the days of camp and #1&3 could choose a candy bar.  Not #2--he had already had his.  I would also buy a snack for all 3 of them to have during their camps since #2 had run out of money.  This made them all happy.

Geez.  I didn't realize I would be teaching an economics lesson about scarcity when I woke up this morning.  After lunch, I had a quick chat with #2 about money.  I told him that he had spent his $8 and he wouldn't have more for the 2 remaining days of camp.  He would take his snack and Gatorade but would not be purchasing more.  I braced myself for tears that didn't come.  He felt badly that he hadn't obeyed what I had told him.  I assured him that I still love him and this is a good opportunity to learn about discipline. 

Discipline is hard.  For me, too. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Summer bucket list

I'm funny.  I'm a planner in a world that makes planners feel guilty.  My husband is a let-life-happen kind of guy.  It works for him.  The truth is that if I just let my boys "be," they will happily tear stuff up, fight with each other and think this is normal.  I'm their mom--it's my job to civilize them and not allow them to enter polite society thinking this is OK.

I would happily plan every moment of every day to bore the evil out of them, but I know that a balance is important.  If I structure every moment for them, they won't learn to entertain themselves--constructively.  They would also rebel and it could get ugly.  Quickly.

Henceforth, the summer bucket list.  I follow Kathi Lipp's blog and I got a 100 things for my summer bucket list from her.  I went through and highlighted items that will work for my family this summer.  After that, I got out my sunshine notes that I bought for this purpose back in April.  While the boys had a snack, they listed many ideas for our family bucket list.  Only 2 didn't make the notes:  go to Disney Land (not in the budget this summer but I told #1 I would discuss it with Dad and maybe another summer) and run around naked.  I told #2 that just wasn't a great one for the list.  Sorry.

After they told me all their ideas, I wrote dollar signs showing if it cost a little, lot or a whole lot.  I then drew a car if we had to go somewhere or a house if we could do it at home.  I then hung them up on our hutch.  The ones on the sides happen at grandparents' houses, the bottom row is stuff for home and the second row is stuff around town.

In my mind, when we do something I'll put a little sticker on it.  I resisted the temptation to put up more ideas from Kathi's list or other sites I've found.  I decided to store those just for me so that when I plan the week or have one of those Yikes!  How much time do I have to fill before my husband gets home? moments I can puruse the list and find just the thing.

I'm still going to have a rough schedule through the summer--play outside while it's nice, have a time when I read from a chapter book (hooray, Hank the Cowdog!) while the boys do some kind of table time activity and room time/DEAR time will be strictly enforced.  I'll also have to feed them breakfast and lunch and I'll happily let them watch a show while I prepare dinner.  Geez, with all this food business it's a wonder any of us every leave the kitchen. 

Before school days, I had a routine that was similar to this and it worked well.  After room time, I let them play together for a while with their chosen room time activities.  When I decide that time is up, they have to pick up their rooms and then they get to watch a video.  During that time, I fold laundry or iron while I watch one of my shows.  Alone.  It's nice.