10 Days and counting…

We survived summer! The Cherubs aren’t in school quite yet, but #1 is at soccer tryouts right now, and #2 spent the morning at an 8th grade leadership workshop she didn’t want to attend, and we are close enough to resuming normal that I’m calling it done.

Guess what? This summer didn’t suck! I’ve shared before that I am bad at summer – bad with planning, bad with figuring out the structure our kids need, bad with attitudes that pile up as the days go on.  And while some of you shamed me (“Didn’t you ask for this?”) and a few of  you mocked me (“How hard can it be???”) most of you CAME THROUGH and told me, “Fill those days right up and don’t apologize!” So that’s what I did.

Probably the best decision we made was to send the Cherubs to a sleep-away camp several of you recommended for two weeks. We spent all their college money on hiking boots and waterproof camping gear they’ll never use again, and it was worth every penny. They got to have an experience that was exciting, structured, fun, adventurous, safe, and theirs to have without us. And Steve and I got to have two weeks to not do all the things parents are told we absolutely must do. It was glorious.

We didn’t eat dinner at a set time each night. Some nights we forgot it entirely. We stayed up late, came and went randomly, skipped church, and took a midnight walk along the beach because the moon was so bright on the water that it seemed a sin to drive by.  We talked about things at all different times of the day, not just after bedtime.

We realized some grave mistakes we’ve made in our family building endeavor…and had the energy and bandwidth to course-correct and imagine a new way forward. And we solidified our core: God first, our marriage second, kids third, work forth, church fifth.  Those ducks had been flopping helter-skelter across our pond for months, fighting for dominance. This time gave us a chance to wrestle them back into a row, and it’s made such a difference.

I know some of you are waiting for a newsletter I promised back in the Spring, and that may still happen. But trust me when I say that from an events standpoint, not much happened this summer that would justify space in your inbox. I hope this next season will be different!

I almost sent a book newsletter, because reading was THE unexpected joy of these past few months. I read a strange and eclectic assortment – a multi-book series by David Baldacci about a CIA sniper (LOVED!), the new essay collection from David Sederis (weird), a memoir by a woman who billed herself as “The Very Worst Missionary” (funny), another by a recovering drug addict (raw), and a surprisingly engaging novel by James Patterson & Bill Clinton (Who knew???). It was so fun to open up the gates and read anything and everything that caught my attention without regard to whether it would inform my thinking in some important way or generate good sermon material.

This will sound so cliche and obnoxious, but I guess I spent this summer breaking out of a bunch of patterns that weren’t working, and finding new ways to live. I’d accumulated some bad habits. Not on purpose, but because I was figuring so much out on the fly and I wasn’t sure what else to do. I’m not all sorted, yet, certainly. But I’m excited that the possibility of change is available even now, as I’m at the age where I used to believe life was set and unmovable. Thank God that’s not true. More on all of this in future posts, I hope.  For now, I’m glad to be back in the blogsphere, and curious to see where it takes us.

Happy almost-September, friends. The best season is almost here!

Update & An Idea

Happy day after Easter! It’s snowing here, which tells you why Jesus conquered death in the warmth of Jerusalem and not the nutso weather of Massachusetts.

I heard from a friend recently. She noticed that I’d stopped blogging, and wondered if that meant things were a bit, well…unbloggable. If I’d gone offline because life had gone sideways. That happens sometimes. But not this time, thankfully.  Things are good – normal, functional, surprising, funny.  Last week I was reading through a journal from 2016 and realized, Wow, I’d forgotten how hard things were then… 

Life right now is pretty groovy, comparatively speaking.

 

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Steve got a promotion!

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The Cherubs still  like me! (although #1 is REALLY not keen on taking family pictures in public – he humors me in exchange for blueberry Pop Tarts)

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This sign is still on our stove! Which I guess means that the award has not been rescinded.

In the midst of all this goodness, I haven’t been sure how to blog.

Mainly, I’m figuring out Cherub privacy. #1 & #2 are troopers about being featured in my chronicle of our life. They like the idea of helping other folks understand the ins & outs of adoption (especially in a way that doesn’t require them to stand up in front of people or speak). But we got to a point where every time I took a picture they’d ask, Are you going to put this on social media?  I don’t want them to feel that the pictures I take are always/only for online sharing, or worry that their friends might learn about their business (and bad hair days) via social media. I want them to know that I capture memories and stories for us, most of which no one else will see. (Unless they end up in the special file of  hilariously embarrassing pictures I’m saving for the rehearsal dinners before their weddings!)

Also, it reached a point where it felt weird to put some of the real-er stories (the ones with depth or tension, things that aren’t resolved yet) out there on the web for the whole world to see.

Finally, I had an idea. It’s not new or original, but it’s a viable road forward…

I’m going to experiment with email updates. It will be more private, and so can be more candid. It won’t be technologically fancy (there’s nothing wrong with fancy emails – I just don’t have time) I’ll start with once every couple of weeks, and include a hodgepodge of pictures & thoughts about all the stuff I’ve blogged about here – adoption, faith, books, fashion fails, things that crack me up (like the ongoing mystery of the American obsession with chickens…)

If you’d be interested in a test-run of the email, let me know. Obviously, no spam ever. I won’t sell your address or try to sell you stuff. This is just a way to keep communicating while narrowing the audience just a bit. Also, to tell more real stories, and push back against the internet pressure to only show the (staged) perfect moments where every hair is in place, all surfaces are clear, and the white board in the background doesn’t have two different misspellings of there/they’re/their. I don’t live in that world. But the world I live in can be pretty entertaining.

Like this note #2 Cherub left for our housekeeper at the hotel where we stayed for my nephew’s wedding:

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Adoption – almost three years

Finally, we’re a normal family.

I’m working on a guest post about our adoption for another site, trying to condense three years of intensity and insanity into a few concise, feel-good paragraphs. Holy crap, it can’t be done. I can’t make the process look pretty. But I can point to the results and say, Hey! Look! It worked! 

We had a normal start of the new school year, with #1 Cherub heading into his sophomore year like the budding soccer star that he is, and #2 Cherub beginning 7th grade with confidence that she can conquer math AND make the school musical.

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We were thankful at Thanksgiving, celebratory at Christmas, and tired of all that time together by the end of Christmas break. It was all delightfully mundane.

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If you’d told me two years ago that we’d be this normal today, back when we’d just met The Cherubs and they kind of hated us…I would have burst into tears, smiled at you politely, then fled home to drown my sorrows in Cabernet Sauvignon (it’s like Gatorade for adoptive parents – it’s what keeps you going).  And yet, here we are. At a point where I don’t even have wine in the house.  Miracles happening all around.

In the midst of this, I didn’t dare blog. I’m not superstitious, but it has felt way to dangerous to come here and say, our family is working! I guess that’s an indication of how precarious this has felt, because I can write about almost anything.

I’ve been thinking a lot about learning. Progressing, becoming better than you were before. I want that. But I hate how hard it is to recognize when you’re in the middle of it. I have friends writing books, taking on new roles at work, starting new businesses and relationships and families. From the outside, I can cheer them on and see how they’re growing – succeeding, flopping, getting back up, starting again and applying what they’ve learned. It’s so cool from the outside, and so not-cool from the inside, when it’s you. And yet…when it’s you, there are these moments that happen, where you feel like a little kid on a new bike, brave enough to yell out for the first time, “Hey Mom, Look! I’m doing it!”

Looking for a good read?

The past few months brought me two great memoirs – seriously, I am in love with these books:

iu-1Educated, by Tara Westover. This is an incredible story of a girl raised in a chaotic family by parents who didn’t believe in school or traditional medicine. She describes working in her father’s junkyard, watching her mother treat severe burns and life-threatening injuries with herbs and hand gestures, and being abused by her brother while the rest of her family looked away.  As harrowing as her story is, it has a redemptive through-line, as she discovers school at seventeen and goes on to study at some of the best universities in the world. The best part however, is Westover’s unflinching chronicle of what it cost her to walk away from her family and build a life of her own.

iuThe Book of Separation by Tova Mirvis. I’m a fan of Mirvis’ novels, so I was in line for this memoir from the moment I heard she was writing it. It exceeded my expectations. She writes so beautifully about the betrayal and heartache of leaving a tribe you’ve grown up in…and yet describes how the hope of something better pulled her, encouraged her, and helped her believe in herself and the God she was trying to find.

These books make me want to write :)

“Mom, what makes me special?”

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#2 Cherub came home from her first day of 7th grade yesterday and asked, “What makes me special?” I thought this might be a preface to her upcoming birthday, but it was homework, a getting-to-know-you worksheet from one of her teachers.  (The worksheet also required her to calculate how many days she’s been alive. As she scribbled the numbers out on a piece of scrap paper, I resisted the urge to say, “Sweetie, what makes you special is that you’re doing that math by hand right now rather than grabbing a calculator…”)

These sort of worksheets are a minefield for kids with unorthodox histories. For example, another question asked “Are you the oldest, middle, or youngest child in your family?” #2 is the youngest in our household, but has two younger brothers who live elsewhere. Trying to help, I asked, “Which feels more true for you in your daily life – that you’re the youngest or in the middle?” to which she replied with a smile, “I always feel like the oldest, but we won’t go there…”

Hilarious. And true.

Another worksheet asked her to create a timeline of important events in the life of one of her parents (“or someone important in your life”) in the 5 years before her birth. I was like, “Well, I fled from an abusive marriage, worked for a new age guru, and lived under an assumed name…” !?!?!?! Lord have mercy if this little timeline project ever became something she had to stand up and explain to the class.  Ultimately, we used meaningless neutral statements such as, “In 2001, my mom moved back to New England…”

Then she faced the same question about herself – what were the important events in her life? I was like, “Oh honey, you should THROW DOWN on this one. You list the things you’ve been through and YOU WIN this little timeline contest.” I was a bit salty at this point. We’re in the FIRST DAY of school. It’s a little early for this level of parsing to be required.

THIS DOG needed a walk, so I said that I’d think about all these questions as I looped the block. But the answer was clear: the most special thing about my kids is the lives they’ve lived in the midst of their complicated timelines. The amount they’ve overcome is staggering.

I want her teachers to know this about her. That while she has the ability to blend in, and pretend that the most special thing about her is her artistic skill or her beautiful singing voice, undergirding all of that is the truth that this kid is tough as nails.

The Cherubs have the capacity to to appear completely normal. Which is their dream in life right now. Of course, the thing messing up their plan is that when people see Steve & me, the jig is up; it’s apparent that they’re adopted. In this way, Steve & I are a burden to our children, as well as a blessing. That’s hard for them…and for us.

But when I read something like this, from Hope Heals author Katherine Wolf, I wonder if it might all be part of the plan:

“Maybe in our limitations those we love can find a new way to flourish, not in spite of their constraints but because of them. And their imaginations get baptized into a new way of seeing themselves, and the world, and us. And maybe ours can, too. And in the places where there are scars and losses and holes from what used to be, something new and wonderful can start to grow…”

Ultimately, #2 opted for privacy. Her timeline lists things like, “In 2015 I got my first dog!” I don’t blame her. Bergie is a pretty fantastic addition to any timeline she lumbers through. But it’s all another reminder that our story is different, and doesn’t lend itself to easy explanations. Which is hard at any age, but doubly so when you’re a teen.

I appreciate this Modern Love piece by Tova Mirvis. It’s about helping her son navigate her divorce, and the reality that while his father still practices Orthodox Judaism, she no longer does. At one poignant moment, when her son asks her if she’ll love him if he makes different choices than hers down the road, she says, “You don’t have to match the people you love…”

I feel like that’s the banner over our family. We don’t match on the outside. Our timelines aren’t one single line, but four wild zigging zagging scribbles that intersected and began to zig and zag together. But as the weeks and months and years go by, we match more and more on the inside. We’re on a path together. People can’t see it, but it’s there, and I trust it.  And I’m learning to live into the truth that what makes you special isn’t something you can sum up on a seventh grade worksheet.

 

 

All the Hallelujahs

The Cherubs are back in school, and I’m relaxed for the first time since June :)

Summers, historically, are not our best season as a family. This one was no different. Most of the time, I felt like this Bart Simpson doll:

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And yet, as I scroll through pictures in order to curate a perfect internet version of our glorious happiness for you, I realize that we had some nice moments in there with all the boredom and the eye-rolling. Honesty requires me to disclose that for most of the past 7 weeks, the primary way the four of us showed our love for one another was by all the things we DIDN’T say. The spiritual fruit of Self Control was in serious rotation at the Ryan household as we four introverts spent way too much time together without the structure we need to thrive. But in the midst of that…

We flew to California!

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We spent a week a the beach in my hometown in Maine!

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We ate dinner ON THE FIELD at Fenway Park!

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We used the dining room table for jigsaw puzzles (who knew we like  jigsaw puzzles?) and ate at the kitchen island.

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And we made it through.

The kids are excited to be back at school, and I’m in awe that I can hand over the academic part of their development to qualified teaching professionals. (Thank you qualified teaching professionals! I’d hug you all if my kids weren’t so embarrassed by my existence that I’m essentially banned from their schools. Still though – giving you high-fives from here!)

We do so much better as a family when we have more going on, and when we spend our days out having individual lives and then come back together to share about what we’ve seen and done and learned. I don’t know if we’ll go back to eating dinner in the dining room or if this jigsaw puzzle thing is here to stay. But either way, I’m grateful for seasons, and the sure knowledge that new life is around each corner.

Hallelujah!

 

High School Reunion

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I attended my High School reunion last Saturday. Yes, I wore Stitch Fix. No, not the Moto Jacket. (Too warm). It’s taken me four days to process the experience and I’m still not sure what to say, other than that it was so incredibly good and I’m really glad I went. But I haven’t blogged since May (sorry!) I figured I’d dive in and post something in the hopes that some thoughts will make sense as I go.

I grew up in a small town in Maine where we went to school in the same yellow building from Kindergarten through 8th grade. After that we moved up to the High School, where we merged with kids from the town next to us. By senior year, our graduating class was about 150 people. Everyone knew everyone else, and almost everything about each other.

This was the first reunion I’ve been able to make since we graduated. I’m in awe of what it felt like to be back together in the same room with people with whom I share so much of history…and yet in most cases, we knew next to nothing about each other’s current lives. I was surprised how NICE that was. Sure we did some updating. I have friends with grandkids, and friends with newborns. We’ve had moves and career changes, big wins and hard hits. But mostly we reminisced about what it was like to grow up in our little corner of the universe, and how differently we see it now.  We were all sort of staring at each other in this happy way, saying things like “this is surreal…” and “I can’t believe you’re here…” interspersed with the most common comment of the night, “WHY did we all have such ridiculous hair???”  It was so much goodness wrapped up in one event.

I realize how protected we were back then. And how privileged. We weren’t wealthy (at least most of us weren’t) and our families weren’t perfect. But the world was manageable, and there was time and space for us to grow into it. And we were just a good group of people. That makes a difference.

I hope to have more thoughts on this at some point. But for now I’ll just say, Kids: go ahead and perm your hair before your senior pictures! It will give you a great icebreaker at your reunions for years to come ;)