“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!

 

Sharing a Win

I told you about the Women’s Retreat. And the CFCS Gala. But I also want to share a big family win that happened in the midst of it all.

Last Friday was the first night I’ve spent away from home & the kids since they moved in with us almost two years ago. We hugged goodbye Friday morning before school, and they saw me again Sunday morning before church because it was after midnight when I got in Saturday night.

When I think of what a disaster this would have been a year or two ago, I am in awe of how far we’ve come. I’m sharing this for those of you who are in the weeds of adoptive transitions right now and are terrified that the state of suspended existence you’re in right now might be your new forever normal. It’s not. 

Two years ago, if I’d tried this, the Cherubs would have been certain I was off doing something illegal. They would have been ANGRY, SCARED, and completely dysregulated (a psychology word that describes the state where you’ve lost your ability to cope and your behavior gets disruptive. The phrase, “He’s lost his sh*t?” Yeah, that’s dysregulation.) It would have been a mess, and totally not worth the damage and the aftermath.

One year ago, if I’d tried this, the Cherubs would have been mildly suspicious. The term shady would have been thrown around repeatedly, searching for a place to land. There would have been stern looks and mumbled comments about Don’t your kids matter more than a bunch of women? and I bet Dad wants you to stay home…  It would have been frustrating for everyone and probably not worth it, which would have left me ANGRY and SCARED that I’d always be hostage to their emotional ups and downs.

This year, there was none of that. The kids ate junk food they couldn’t wait to tell me about. Dad took them to Target and was in & out in under five minutes, a feat I cannot duplicate.  They slept normally, and jockeyed for who got to have their screen time first. They missed me, for sure. But they were free from worry and anger and fear, and able to continue on with regular life. That’s a gift.

It probably helps that we started talking about this retreat back in October. They saw the flyers, and the web page. They heard me announce it at church, and talk to people about logistics. They knew how stressed I was about low registration in the weeks before the event, and saw me grin with stunned relief as the registrations poured in during the last few days, putting us up over 100 people and squaring away the finances.  They knew who would be there, and a bit about what we’d be talking about. They knew it would be all women (which probably helped a lot.) A lot of preparation went into this on the family side.

But still. They were happy kids all weekend long. That is a miracle.

And on Tuesday, when we had another event to go to, and I told them “We’ll be coming home around 7:30pm”…then texted Steve’s awesome parents who were watching them at 8:25pm to say, “We haven’t even had dinner yet…” they kids were unphased. Grandma brought them upstairs and they put themselves to bed. And I had a glimpse of a world where these sweet children are truly able to launch out into the world feeling secure about things at home

I think I underestimate the role of consistency in relationships. Of being who you say you are, doing what you say you’ll do, and showing up where you say you’re going to be, over and over again.  Nothing we say can duplicate the power of trust earned over time.

I want to remember this in other areas of my life. I’m not always consistent. But one of my life goals is that whenever people from different areas of my life meet, if my name comes up, they will find that their experience of me has been more or less consistent. I spent a lot of time in my 20s & 30s (and early 40s) like a chameleon, adapting to my surroundings. I thought it was what I was supposed to do. It was pretty lonely, not to mention exhausting. At a certain point about five years ago, I sensed God (and Steve) telling me to stop, to be me, to trust that while no, I wouldn’t fit in everywhere anymore, in the places I did fit in, it would be a better fit.

I am stunned by the way this has shaped our new family. The Cherubs know this about their Round #2 Mom: I’m not that exciting. I wear mostly the same clothes, go to the same places, hang out with the same people. I like things other people might not like (such as writing books and starting a church and throwing retreats where people can connect with God) and don’t like some things others think are great (such as roller coasters and spicy food). I’m a little weird, but I’m consistent. And consistent is better than cool when you’re building a family. 

The Amish Nun Strikes Again!

Last night we went to a Gala to raise money for Cambridge Family & Children’s Service, the awesome organization that helped us adopted the Cherubs. Last year, my friend Super-G & I went. This year, Greenhouse Mission sponsored a table. (Next year we hope to WOW THE ROOM with a 40 person roller skating performance to the tune of Stayin’ Alive, but the room has carpet, so we have a few things to figure out…)

mentioned before how I had a bit of a struggle over what to wear to the Gala (and how I don’t do well with dresses generally), and that I turned to Stitch Fix in my hour of need, hoping they’d find me a certain dress. My algorithm/stylist Katelyn tried, she really did. And while I was cautiously optimistic when I opened the box and saw this pretty array of Spring possibility…

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My hopes were crushed in a brutal collision with reality.  Let me remind you…

The dress in a picture:

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The dress on me:

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You know it’s bad when your first reaction to a photo like this isn’t, “I need to delete this immediately…” but rather, “Oh I need to show this to EVERYONE!”

So last night, after trying on all four dresses I own, I went back to the Amish Nun Dress. It IMG_5654really was the best of the bunch, and I knew that I wouldn’t run into the same Everyone  else is wearing a ball gown issue I had with Steve’s holiday party. I wore cuter shoes this time. Honestly, I thought I’d be okay.

I walked into the gala feeling cute & confident. But then, out of nowhere, I was TOTALLY BUSTED.

A nice woman I’ll call D came up to chat. I’ve met her before at other CFCS events, as she’s on their Board. She’s really fun so was excited to see her. BUT THEN she told me, trying not to laugh, that SHE READS THIS BLOG. She even forwards the link to friends (Hi Kathryn!) And therefore she knew that not only was I not wearing the Stitch Fix dress, I was wearing my Amish Nun ensemble. Again.

I was hilariously mortified.

Just as I was struggling to justify my choice (I was working on a line about how Nuns help children, so it was the right thing to wear…) she confessed her own dress struggle, and mine faded far into the background. She gave me permission to share it here, and you should thank her now.

D. told me that, as she got dressed that morning, she thought she looked pretty good. She called to her husband for his take on things, and he (being a wise man of discernment and kindness) told her gently, “Um, something’s not right in the front…” She could see what he meant – things around the tummy area were bunched up in an unusual way. But she couldn’t hone in on the problem and had to get on with her day.

Later, she discovered the problem. She had her Spanx on backwards. 

Her shapewear was diligently doing it’s job in all the wrong directions, lifting and separating her tummy into butt cheeks.

I laughed so hard my face hurt.

I feel like this is a theme of my week – how, when we get together with our hopes and dreams and stories, and lift each other up by sharing the funny things that happen, the atmosphere changes. The world actually becomes a better place.

Thank you, D. for making my night! (I so wish we’d grabbed a picture!)

Here’s part of our Greenhouse Mission crew at our table.

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Behind us you can see some of the young ladies who live in one of the CFCS group homes. The money we were raising will go to support them, and the young men at the next table, as they transition into adulthood. Such a cool thing to be part of. If you want to donate to CFCS and the work they do, click here and be part of the fun.

And if you’re curious about the rest of my “Fix,” here’s a gallery:

 

I liked the purple pants more than I expected. But can’t really see them becoming a key part of my wardrobe, so back they went. I loved the off-white top, until I realized it’s entirely sheer in the back (not nearly as sexy as it sounds). Back it went. And the shorts were so cute! But huge in the waist and, well…bunchy in the front. Back they went. But I kept a blue sweater! I’ve worn it 4 times already and received at least 3 compliments, so I’m taking that as a solid investment.

At last weekend’s women’s retreat, several us us were attired by Stitch Fix, so much so that we had a running joke about getting “Stitch Fix 4 Jesus!” bracelets with the tagline, If we look good, HE looks good!

We won’t actually do that. :)

If you feel like you’re in a style rut, give it a try. (If you place your first order via this link, I get a small discount on my next Fix. Thank you!) You might get a whole new outfit…or maybe just a nice sweater that goes with everything. That’s part of the adventure. And now you know that if something looks wonky, the first thing to do is check to see if you have your Spanx on backwards!

We’ll file this post under fashion tips ;)

Trashed

If I have to pick up one more item of Cherub detritus, I will lose my mind. Last week we were all home for vacation. This week, our house is TRASHED. It’s been five days, and not only have I not restored us to a basic level of not panicking if someone knocks at the door, the filth has escalated to a point that I am holed away  upstairs in our bedroom/construction project, thinking, If I make things nice up here, maybe I can just leave downstairs to the savages…

There is scum and smell and crumbs and stuff everywhere. #1 Cherub’s room smells so bad, it’s leeched out into the kitchen. Last night I had him bring every single article of clothes he owns into the laundry room, because I’ve come to understand that his standard of “Oh, that’s clean…” and mine reside on different planets. #2 made this rice-in-a-sock thing in Home Ec that you’re supposed to heat up in the microwave to soothe hot muscles. I have no idea whose sock it was or where it came from, but it’s been on the coffee table in the middle of the living room since Tuesday, along with an earring, a hair elastic knotted with her ripped out hair, and the empty cover to Just Dance 2017.

 

Three weeks ago, #2 told #1 she would mend a hole in his soccer sock. So they left it IN THE DINING ROOM, UNDER THE KEYBOARD to await repair.

I’m not sure I’ve ever said or written this before. But I just can’t even

This is driving me to apocalyptic pronouncements. We cannot all four be home for a week ever again, because the aftermath is simply too much. Someone will have to go to camp, or on a missions trip where you’re only allowed to bring two items of clothing, or on a grand tour of mowing lawns for all the grandparents. Whatever. I don’t care. But this cannot happen again, because while I love being a wife and mom, and I love our house and the people/creatures who live here, I never for one second wanted to be a housewife. This is the worst job ever. I did not marry this building. I did not vow to love, honor, cherish, protect (scrub, dust, vacuum) it til death do us part. And yet here I am, hiding on the third floor, knowing what lies ahead.

(And before you tell me to farm this out to our good Cherubs, can I just tell you that they both have housekeeping jobs they supposedly do for allowance. But they do them with such an extravagant flourish of half-assery that you couldn’t pay me to take a bath in our hair-product/AXE gel infested tub, or sit on our dog hair covered living room carpet, even in the moments immediately following their efforts. And sadly (or not), I don’t have the energy to add intense chore oversight to my  bitchy-mom workload.  I have only so much nagging in me each day, and right now every single nagging unit is claimed by the never-ending battles of Yes, you have to eat protein and No, you cannot wear that today.)

I’m more convinced than ever that household mess is a result of the Fall, just one more thing to blame on Adam and Eve and that stupid piece of fruit. “You want knowledge of Good and Evil?” The serpent asked. “Eat this…then you’ll have DUST and GROSS FILM ON THE BOTTOM OF YOUR TOOTHBRUSH HOLDER!”

Jesus said we should take heart when the world gives us trouble, because He has overcome the world. If anyone knows of a testimony where someone has overcome the scourge out household mess by the name & power of Jesus, LET ME KNOW. I’m game for a miracle.

The Story of Our Staycation

In an Easter miracle that feels every bit proportional to Jesus rising from the dead, we managed to pull off a school vacation that didn’t suck.

Easter 2017

I am awed and grateful. I’m not even sure how to describe it, so I’ll just post a bunch of pictures with a few words to record this moment in time.

First, we had the two year anniversary of the day we met the Cherubs. We did not celebrate this, however. I tried that last year, asking #2, “What do you remember about that night?” to which she replied, “We just cried. We didn’t want to leave where we were to go live with strangers.” Yikes. So this year, we left this one right alone. Next month, we’ll celebrate Adoption Day, and then Moving In With Us day in June. But now we leave Nice To Meet You Day out of the picture. Lesson Learned.

We DID celebrate Easter, my favorite holiday.  At church we had art by Grace & Reena, and music about the incredible things we believe.

I preached about the Boston Marathon, and how cool it is that, four years after the Marathon Bombing, no one talks about who did it or why. Instead, everyone talks about the overcoming that happened in the aftermath, and how the words Boston Strong define who we are and what we love about living here. There are Boston Strong signs and t-shirts everywhere. I love it.

Then we prayed for Gwen & J.J. our two friends who’d be running the next day.  So inspiring.

Speaking of inspiring, Steve & I had a date afterwards! The Cherubs went on an overnight with their grandparents, and we went out for long relaxing lunch, after which we came home and RIPPED UP our bedroom.

And no, I don’t mean that as a metaphor.

Remember I told you about the stairs? And how that led us to some conclusions about the gross, hazmat-y rug?

Well, the project expanded in scope almost immediately. Replacing the floor somehow led to repainting the bathroom sink cabinet, pulling up all the baseboards, and taking down a wall.

Here is my inspiration photo:

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Here is what I woke up to this morning:

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Really, we’re practically there.

But I’m happy to report that there are now 10 contractor bags of gross rug down in a bagster next to the driveway, and our floor is now covered in lovely maple boards on which no dog has peed. I’m taking that as a win.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the week was watching Gwen finish the Marathon. Her friend J.J. flew up from Florida to run with her, and spoke at church about how friends run all different kinds of marathons together, cheering each other on and helping through the touch stretches. A bunch of us gathered in an office space overlooking the finish line to watched them cross, and as they crossed, we all pretended to have something in our eyes. Tissues all around for the big wins.

Finish Line Gwen and JJ

 

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Then Steve, the Cherubs & I walked back over the bridge into Cambridge. It felt like such a long distance, but our attitudes were kept in check by all the tinfoil wrapped people we passed who’d just run 26 miles, and the glorious sky over the city, and the fun of having something like this happen for people we love, in a place we love. Really, it was all the gushy feelings, accompanied by some sore legs.

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Speaking of sore legs – I went to the gym. Three times. My first session was with a trainer who is Irish and seven months pregnant, which means we looked like twins. I won’t post pictures of that. I’ll just say that I’m glad I can slide in my socks across the new wood floors as a form of travel rather than having to pick up my feet for each new step.

Happy Monday, All.

He is risen, indeed.

The First Days of Adoption

Friends of ours just met their kids for the first time!!! They’re adopting older siblings from foster care. For obvious reasons, this makes my eyes fog up. I am so excited for this new family. And aware of how vulnerable it feels to attempt this. As much as we all want to imagine these moments as beautiful scenes where orphaned children run into the arms of their new parents with bright smiles, grateful hearts, and the sun shining down on us all, that’s not exactly what it looks like.  At least that’s not what it looked like for us.

For us, it looked like equal parts wonder, awe, and terror.

I’d forgotten about this until our friends sent out a picture from the night they met their cherubs. They were on a couch together, arms around one another, looking for all the world like a ready-made family. It was GORGEOUS. It reminded me of sitting on a similar couch, taking a similar picture. And the surrealness of the whole, “Hi, so nice to meet you, I’m your new mom/dad/kid.”

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Don’t we look happy? But #1 is CLUTCHING that conversation ball for dear life. It might be the best present we brought that night. 

After that night, we started the visits and the process of getting to know each other. Our kids liked us okay. We were white, which wasn’t their favorite. But we said we’d get him a basketball hoop for the driveway, and that she could paint her room any color she wanted, and we had a dog. So that all worked in our favor.

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Steve & #1 assembling the basketball hoop. This took approximately 5 hours, at which point we could see in both kids’ eyes, “Wow, this guy might be serious about being our Dad…”

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Paint swatches on #2’s bedroom wall. She had hundreds of these, and was so excited when she found the perfect shade of lavender.  

We spent the next day with them. We shot baskets at court near their foster home, then went out for lunch. We went bowling, and for frozen yogurt. On the way home, #2 Cherub commented, “Wow, you guys spent A LOT of money on us today.” We didn’t know how to respond. She was right (who knew fro-yo could cost almost $30?). We hadn’t realized how soon we’d be navigating real parenting questions. How should we convey to them the truth – You guys are worth so much to us, of course we want to spend money on things like this, and the other truth – No, this does not mean we’ll buy you every single thing you ask for, like real Uggs or $200 sneakers – when we barely knew them? I think we said something about how we try to be frugal about some things so we’d have extra to splurge on things that really mattered.

Sometimes you just punt.

The next time we saw them was Wednesday.  I drove the 45 minutes to pick them up after school, then we came back to Cambridge to wait for Steve to get out of work so we could have dinner together. There was a weird rule I don’t quite understand that we weren’t supposed to take them to our house until we’d had a couple weeks of visits, so we ended up doing a lot of driving around and activities. I’m not good at planning activities, so this was super stressful for me.

Okay, let me get honest: this part was just awful.

I already loved these kids. But they were so unhappy to have their lives disrupted. They loved their foster mom, and her family. That was the best life they’d ever known, and they were ANGRY that they had to leave it. They hated the music I played in the car (all we could agree on were a few songs from the Jackson 5. Shake Your Body Down To The Ground will forever remind me of being stuck on 95 North in Friday traffic). They hated missing out on time with their friends and foster cousins.  On some trips, they’d both cover their heads with the blankets we kept in the backseat, just to get away from me.

This gave me lots of time to figure out activities for us, what with all the not talking.

This went on for two months.

Most transitions go WAY faster. (We have one set of friends that met their daughter on a Saturday, then she moved in The following weekend.) Often this isn’t based on what’s best for the kids or the new parents, but a more practical need: there aren’t enough foster homes available in Massachusetts, so if DCF can move two kids into a pre-adoptive placement and free up those beds for other kids? That’s the top priority. Fortunately for us, our kids’ foster mom was retiring, so there was no rush. We were able to spend two months transitioning. This let the kids finish off their school year where they were, and allowed them to process some of their feelings of loss, fear, and anger along the way, which made a little room for some excitement to creep in there.

That first Wednesday, we painted ceramics.

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Then we picked up Steve at work, ate dinner out, then drove them home. They were clearly relieved to get back.

I share all this to let you know: this takes time. It didn’t stay this hard forever. It’s been more than a year since either kid hid under a blanket on a car ride (I mentioned this to #2 last week, and she’d forgotten all about it.) But it was rather rocky for what felt like forever, as it ticked by, one minute at a time.

What helped us turn the corner? There were a bunch of things. Their foster mom did an incredible job helping them wrap their minds around the concept of adoption. We showed up on time for every visit and seemed glad to see them, which counted for more than we ever would have guessed. But the unexpected factor was THIS DOG.  The kids loved her, and she loved them. They agreed that she was awesome, even though the jury was  still out on us. And so they let her nudge them along those first few steps of becoming a family.

A pivotal moment was the night we brought Bergie with us to drive the kids back to their foster home. They got out of the car, hugged us and her, and then headed in. Bergie looked out the car window as they went up the steps and in the door, and then began to howl.

She’s part Great Pyrenees (you can read about our best guess at her genetic heritage here), bred to protect sheep. From Day One of meeting them, The Cherubs have been her sheep,  and she takes her job seriously. She was MOST UNHAPPY that night when we drove away without them.

This was, I suspect, the thing that helped the kids consider the possibility that our house might be an okay home, and we might be okay family.

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Waiting for #1 to come home. She has subdued an invading bear and has things on lockdown. 

Every family has its own unique story. Our friends’ experience transitioning will be different than ours. They’ll have their own ups & downs. Life might look long sometimes. They might wonder if they’ve ruined all their lives with this crazy idea. (Okay, I’m sure THEY’LL never wonder that. Surely that was just us…) But you do what you do in any challenge in life: you hang on, pray, and watch for small signs as things get better.

Over time, we’ve seen a cycle, where what used to feel like miracle moments of unexpected closeness become the new normal. Then we climb up on that new level and reach for the next step. This is my hope for our friends.

And for YOU when you adopt your cherubs from foster care :)

 

Laughing & Crying

I didn’t realize how schizophrenic my weekend was until I sat down to write this post.

First, the funny part:

Have you guys noticed that the way clothes look on Pinterest & style cards isn’t AT ALL how they look on a live body? I think this is a metaphor for EVERYTHING.

This weekend, Steve & I both had boxes arrive from Stitch Fix. I am incredibly in love with this service, ever since they sent me a pair of jeans that fit right out of the box. My round #2 came at the same time Steve got round #1. The results were…mixed.

Here is Steve’s face when he opened his box:

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I laughed so hard I hiccuped. You can’t really tell from the picture, but that plaid shirt looked like it had been made from men’s swim trunks as part of a Project Runway challenge. The look is best described as metrosexual surfer. It even had those loop things on the sleeve with the button!

If you have met Steve, you know that there is no way he would ever wear something like that. The man is a hockey goalie. He buys his clothes at Timberland, NorthFace & L.L. Bean. Next he pulled some grey Sperry-type boat sneakers from the bag and I had to gasp to get enough air.  He tried it all on under protest. The Cherubs were speechless.

We looked at the little style card they sent with the packages and realized something: There is a GARGANTUAN GAP between how things look in 2D, set out flat on a style card with coordinating pieces, and how they look in 3D, on a living person.
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(I’m sad to report that Steve would not let me take a picture of him wearing these items. This shows once again that he is wiser than me.)

Here’s the thing: If you’d shown me this card in advance, I’d have said, “That looks great – he’ll love it!” (Provided I didn’t notice the little sleeve loops). But there’s this collision that happens when we try to transition things from 2D to 3D. Not everything survives the trip.

Honestly, I cannot stop drawing deep metaphors from this experience.

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Yesterday, I gave a Palm Sunday sermon inspired in part by this Stitch Fix experience. I talked about how disappointing it is when something you hope might be the answer to your prayers comes within reach…and then turns out to be not at all what you expected.

At least 5 people in our congregation have asked us recently some version of the questions, “How do you deal with disappointment? How do you stay faithful to believing God’s promises when you’re in pain?” As silly as it sounds, Stitch Fix gave me a starting point. It was a low emotion example that helped me think this through, and share it in a way that we could all laugh at. Because we’ve all had the experience of seeing something in a picture and thinking, “That would be great!” only to have it collapse when exposed to the challenges of real, 3D life.

So I told them about how, in order to face getting dressed in the morning, most of us have to die to the idea that we’ll look like a supermodel, or a flat style card. We all laughed.

That was the easy part.

Then came the harder part, because some things are a big, pain-filled mystery and we just don’t know where God is in it all, or what He’s doing.

I talked about the pain of losing Princess Peach four years ago – the devastation Steve & I felt then, the hurt look I still see in her eyes when we see her, how she tries really hard not to ask why we let her go. (Two years ago we gave her a doll for Christmas and her first eager question was, “Does it smell like you?”) I’m still looking to God to make this right when it looks so very wrong.

I know it’s obnoxious to compare this loss to an unfortunate Stitch Fix delivery. But I need both examples.

Steve has already forgotten that that plaid shirt ever happened. (He’ll be quite surprised to see another box arrive in June, with selections from a updated style profile and a Pinterest board I made from pictures of clothes hockey players might wear.) This low-bar example gives me space to think through how I deal with disappointment: in most cases, I trust that there is a something better is possible, and that it’s coming.

The challenge is applying this to bigger things; to real hurts where the emotions are  too live for me to figure out what response my faith suggests, because I’m simply surviving. There are so many swirling questions when we’re in pain. How do I trust that this is God’s best for Princess Peach? For us? What do we DO? How do we move forward? Of course, learning about adoption from foster care led us to The Cherubs, which is amazing. But I don’t think God leaves one little girl out in the cold so that two other kids can have a Mom & Dad. I have to believe that the story is not over.

Closing out the sermon, I shared one special memory that helps me:

It was our last day with Princess Peach. We were in the car, driving her to where the social workers were meeting us to take her away. They were over an hour late, so we had a lot of time to fill. Steve prayed a Father’s blessing over Princess Peach, speaking love and a vision for her life. Then we drove around Cambridge, all three of us numb with disbelief. Princess Peach starred out the window and stroked the soft fur of the stuffed puppies we’d bought to take with her to keep her safe. We had the iPod on shuffle to fill the silence. Then a song came on and Princess Peach lit up. “Play THAT ONE again, please!” she said.

It was a song by CeCe Winans, called “It Ain’t Over.” It’s one of those songs where you stand up in church and stomp your feet and clap. It’s a BATTLE song. Princess Peach kept saying “Play it again?” So we did.

So you gave it all you had

And you still came up short

You’ve been faithful through it all

And you answered the call.

Keep your eye on the prize

Don’t give up the faith

God has a plan for you

That’s why we say…

It ain’t over.

It felt like God was right there with is in that awful moment, challenging us to believe.

And so we do. It’s been four years. I still cry every time I hear that song. We’ve seen Princess Peach 3 times in those years. I don’t know what God is doing, but I know this for sure: It ain’t over.

We pray for her every day.

We move forward with life, trusting that God will reconnect our dots someday.

And we take joy in small things, because they add up and make a difference.

One of the hardest things for me after we said goodbye to her was figuring out how to LIVE. To laugh at something funny, or enjoy a good meal, or be excited about cute jeans that fit…it seemed like such a betrayal of her. We lived in a suspended state for months after that, certain she’d be back.

We were surprised when Easter came, so to speak. How Jesus showed up and reassembled us, giving us new life where we were dead inside. It’s been miraculous. The pain hasn’t disappeared. But we’ve grown into the ability to carry it and live on. And in that, I trust that He is doing something similar in Princess Peach, because she loves him and so is covered under the promise of Romans 8:28 (“For we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose.“) I hang onto this verse like a lifeline. And then I entrust this sweet girl to Jesus, and get on with everyday life.

***

My Stitch Fix box turned out better than Steve’s.

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There was another pair of jeans that fit, which makes me want to hug my stylist “Katelyn,” whether she’s a person or an algorithm. I kept a top that was not at all something I would have picked for myself after Steve walked in and said, “Wow, that looks great on you!”

The other three things – a blazer like one I already own, a top I loved thats didn’t quite fit, and a wool scarf – went back (and made me realize I need to take the cold weather outfit pictures off of my Pinterest style board). I didn’t get the 25% discount you get if you keep all 5 items. But even at full price, it was worth it. I spent five minutes placing an order, rather than three hours at the mall, and came out with a new outfit. I don’t look like the perfection on the style card. But I’m a nicely updated 3D version of me :)

I’m taking every bit of joy I can out of that small, silly win.

To sum it all up…

Listen to this song. Pray for Princess Peach, and for the big questions you still have about what God is doing in your life. It’s okay to clap and have some fun with it. I think part of heaven coming to earth is that it brings a lot more joy than we expect, even in the midst of pain:

And if you need some clothes, or feel like you’re style is hopeless and you can’t face the mall? Try Stitch Fix. If you order for the first time through the link, I get a $20 referral credit, which makes jeans more affordable.

This life is both/and, you guys. It really is.

The Full Weight of Adoption

I just tried on all my summer clothes. Nothing fits. Again.

I have not worked out in any meaningful, sustained way in at least 8 months, and yet I’m shocked (SHOCKED!) to discover that I am facing yet another warm season with a wardrobe that consists of one pair of jeans and a single billowy blouse.

This, my friends, is what I’ve come to call The Full Weight of Adoption. Because another thing no one tells you when you enter this process is that it will make your body absolutely bananas in ways you never thought possible.

When Princess Peach lived with us, we were under JUST A LITTLE BIT of stress. There was learning the basics of toddler care & maintenance, of course. But beyond that, the sweet child only slept through the night twice. Total. In the whole year. Every other night she woke up in the midst of a night terror that had her screaming and kicking for anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. She kicked holes in the drywall by her bed. She screamed herself hoarse. Then, when she’d finally wake up (around month 9 we finally discovered the secret sauce was singing 492 verses of “the Holy Spirit Song” while walking up and down the hall holding her, followed by a calming episode of Peep and the Big Wide World ) she’d have no recollection of what had happened. But she’d be extremely overtired, as were we. I remember being insanely desperate for sleep. I was virtually incoherent. I read an article about the brain disorganization kids experience as the result of trauma and thought, That sounds like me… Add to that the stress of that one DCF office, where the worker and her supervisors kept accusing us of various things so they could stop the attention we were bringing to the their mismanagement of her case, and my body was burning something like 10 million calories a day.  It wasn’t pretty.

Want to see? If you have the newest edition of my book, look at the author photo.

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We took that one rare night when I felt like I kind of looked pretty good. I sat on the couch and smiled in a friendly way. Steve snapped about 19 pictures before he said gently, “Um Honey? Maybe you shouldn’t smile…authors aren’t really smiling in pictures these days, right?” I looked at the shots he’d taken. My face was so gaunt that my teeth looked like they were jumping out of my head. What felt to me like a relaxed look was actually incredibly tense, and you could see it all over my face. It was like, This is your face on foster care…

That year I learned that being thin, on it’s own, is not much of a life goal.

Our experience with The Cherubs has been very different. Enormously different, one might say. I was in great shape that first summer because we went to the Y every day to swim, I played basketball with #1 Cherub (I’d forgotten how much fun that is), and we spent a lot of time at the beach. But the sheer amount of carbs required to keep them minimally happy got to me. I don’t have much willpower around chips, pasta, rice, or bread. I’m what Gretchen Rubin calls an abstainer, which means that if I don’t want to eat something I avoid it altogether; there’s no such thing has having “just one chip,” for me. So pre-Cherub, I just didn’t buy that stuff. But suddenly, I had to.

Then #1 decided he was too cool for the pool, and #2 took off for independent rides on her bike, and I was caught in this weird position of being stuck at home – I had to be there, even if they were off in the neighborhood – Not doing anything. I wasn’t like I could fire up a pilates video while they were out. (NO ONE wants to walk in on their new mom doing pilates.) And so I sat on the couch and grew into a lump of bread.

I blame part of my stupor on how my clothes cut off blood flow to my brain.

And the other part on how, at some point, exercise just required so much more planning than before. I actually like exercising. But the planning aspect – the clothes, the driving somewhere, or the weather if I’m walking/running here, the shower afterwards, the not having anything else I need to do for two hours…it’s kind of obnoxious. I know I’ll like the results. It’s just so hard for me to want it enough to put down everything else.

(For example, right this minute, I am writing this in my workout clothes instead of going for a run. Which would have been a walk, lets be honest. Which may or may not happen now because it’s lunchtime and there’s bread and chips waiting for me downstairs, and it looks like it might rain and I’m not dressed for that, and my Fitbit isn’t charged so none of it will count anyway. Pray for me…)

This past winter, I was jolted from my lethargy by the book Eat, Move, Sleep. It’s by a guy recovering from a rare form of cancer. His approach to staying healthy is to optimize the things he controls. He does not control whether or not the cancer comes back, but he does control what he consumes, how much he moves, and how much he rests. He’s funny, and so this is not nearly as grim as it sounds.

My absolute favorite thing he mentioned was this study that showed that people who eat more fruits & vegetables are happier. I’d been feeling pretty glum for awhile, so I gave it a try; I liked that it was so tangible. I went from eating a only few veggies & no fruit, to eating 5-8 different produce items a day. The results were AMAZING. I was so very much happier, for no obvious reason, it felt like a miracle. I wanted to stand out in the street and pass out oranges.

By way of full disclosure not all the tips were so applicable. I blew right past his recommendation that we order steamed vegetables in a restaurant in lieu of french fries. Steamed vegetables are gross no matter where you have them, but I can’t even imagine what lands on your plate when the busy kitchen staff has to stop their rhythm and custom steam your kale.

Still though. I cut out the bread & chips and ate more apples & almonds. It was good.

I also tried sleeping 8 hours every night. THAT was unreal. It was life changing in all the ways you hear about when people testify obnoxiously about how they’ll never be the same: I awoke refreshed, tripled my productivity, felt love in my heart for my fellow man… It was marvelous.

Truth be told, I never did get a handle on exercise. I walked some. A lot, actually. But then the weather got bad.

After awhile, the novelty wore off and the fruit selection didn’t seem quite as exciting. And going to bed early is really hard when that’s the only time I have to talk to Steve, watch TV, and pretend I’m thinking deep thoughts when I’m really just drinking wine and zoning out.

Now, Eat, Move, Sleep taunts me from the bookshelf. And yet unless I want to spend my whole summer hiding under a beach blanket, I need to pull it back out and spend some more quality time with the author. I need to put down my laptop, get up off of the couch, get out of my head and into my body.  I need to work a whole lot harder at these three basics so I can have the energy I need to embarrass my kids ;)

***

Related: Since my post about the awesome fashion statements I’ve been making around Boston lately, some of you have asked if I really like Stitchfix. In a word, yes. They sent the one pair of jeans & flowy top that fits, so I’m a fan. I’m not sure how I’ll rock that look every day all summer, but I have a new box coming tomorrow & I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m hoping this company will be a moderate cost, low time investment help in keeping me dressed over the next few months while I pull myself out of my zone and onto the treadmill.

Power Struggles

Rough week here in Ryanville. One of our Cherubs truly believes she is maturing at a tremendous rate, such that she’s becoming more our peer than our child. In her mind, she, Steve & I form a triune leadership counsel, through which we lord power over her brother and the dog. She tolerates my place on the counsel grudgingly. But in her eyes, I’m sort of like the Queen Mum: an annoying ceremonial necessity she must tolerate as she works her way to the throne.

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I cannot even describe how exhausting this is.

In a state of desperation (and because I want to make sure we can afford Catholic school before I threaten to send her there), I’ve turned to Cesar Milan, a.k.aThe Dog Whisperer, for help.

No, I’m not kidding.

I started watching his show & reading his books after we adopted THIS DOG.  As some of you remember, Bergie came to us huge and mostly untrained. She couldn’t walk on a leash without leaping and thrashing, and she looked at the stairs to our house like they were the strangest thing she’d ever seen. She weighed 93 pounds at that point, so these were LARGE problems.

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Steve used to call her “Pot Roast.” :)

Cesar’s point of view on dog training is clear: Dogs need stability, consistency, and clear authority. To become part of the pack, he says, a dog needs to know what is expected and how to participate successfully. Nothing makes a dog more anxious than an unclear pack structure. 

Then he let fly with this gem of awkward truth: “Human beings are the only creatures on earth who will follow an unstable leader.”

Yikes and wow. Hearing this the first time, I realized how trained most of us are to ignore signs of instability in our leaders (and in ourselves when we lead). We don’t want to rock the boat or make things awkward, we don’t know how to fix what’s broken, so we double down on whatever we’ve been doing, hoping more will help. But more unstable leadership doesn’t make a healthy pack. Only good leadership does that.

Cesar’s take on this has been revolutionary for me. With THIS DOG, I realized that I had to stop being pulled around the block by this giant creature, stop talking a high pitched sweet voice trying to appeal to her better nature, and stop letting her jump all over our furniture whenever she wanted. I needed to toughen up. Not in a mean way. I needed to learn to communicate to THIS DOG exactly what I wanted her to do. Which means I needed to figure out what I wanted her to do, so I could let her know.

Which brings me back to my Cherub. I don’t know if this is true with all kids, but I know it’s prevalent in kids who have been in foster care: They don’t trust adults. My kids still don’t trust Steve & me to do what we say, or be who we need to be, or do what needs to be done. They assume we will fail, forget, flake out, or otherwise disappoint them. So they prepare for this contingency.  And perhaps because they’ve been less socialized in faux kindness, our kids are closer to the instinct-level functioning Cesar Milan describes. My Cherub will not follow an unstable pack leader. She will fight that leader in an attempt to take over the pack.

Thinking of our family as a pack is an interesting perspective shift.  I’m pretty confident her behavioral acting out is a problem in leadership, not followership.  So I need to figure out what it is I expect from her, specifically, and communicate that to her, pronto. For her to do better, I need to do better.

(And yes, this means she was right when she said that adoption is “kind of like puppy rescue.”)

I can train a Great Pyrenees mix (a breed often considered untrainable because they are so incredibly independent) to walk gently at my side, I can teach a tween to respect (or at least pretend to respect) authority. It has to be possible, right?

If you think the answer is no, don’t tell me :)