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 Best I’ve Looked Since 3rd Grade

In Third Grade, I had a very special outfit, probably my favorite thing I have ever worn.

It began with forest green polyester pants. This was the 70s, so of course they were flares, and they swooshed back and forth as I walked, as if each of my knees had its own skirt. There was a matching white rayon blouse, soft and shiny, patterned with a bucolic forest of pine trees. There were small woodland creatures in those trees, at least as I remember it. The blouse would be cold when I put it on, and then warm up throughout the day in a way that is unique to synthetic fibers of that era. A white knit vest completed the look. I believe it was acrylic. It echoed the trees & creatures theme from the blouse.  My skin couldn’t breath and no sweat ever escaped. But I felt like I was on top of the world.

When I wore that outfit, I felt invincible. Sassy, special, and ready to face life. I remember walking through my third grade classroom watching my pant legs swing around my ankles, thinking there was no better person on earth to be than me.

I’m not sure I’ve felt that way about an outfit since.

In the years since third grade, I’ve had fashion highs and lows.

I was BEDAZZLED for two summers in high school when I worked for a woman from iu-1New Jersey who sold $500 sweaters in her boutique. I looked like an add for Ronco, with sparkly wonder flung across everything I owned. That’s where I learned to wear shoulder pads. And hair accessories. And big earrings.

It was this unique look I brought to preppy Wheaton College in the fall of my freshman year. I thought Laura Ashley was a girl who lived in our dorm, and kept asking, “Why would you buy a J. Crew Field Jacket when you’re never in a field?”

After college, I found my professional look when my roommate introduced me to Ann Taylor. I’ve dressed almost exclusively in black, grey, white & navy ever since. Those years were okay, but a friend from my bedazzled high school days saw me and asked, “What have they done to you???”

I went through a frumpy stage when I became a Christian. I read all these books about dressing modestly until the only attire that felt even remotely appropriate was sweaters handed down from my father. He’s six feet tall. I’m 5’4.’ I spent that first Jesus-ey year swaddled in yards of wool.

Then a few years ago, I discovered Target. It was cheap! As my body, well…GREW, I had some fashion growing pains. My no longer required Ann Taylor-level professionalism, shopping became a chore instead of a treat. I didn’t like how I looked, so the cheaper the better became my motto. Until very recently, my wardrobe assembly process looked something like this:

Spring/Early Summer: T-shirts on sale for $10 each? Great! I’ll take white, a navy, a grey, and a color like peach or green that I’ll think of as “fun” but never wear. The cut is unflattering and makes me look astoundingly wide, and the fabric both clings AND gets little holes every time I wash it. But whatever, it’ll do.

Fall/Early Winter: Sweaters on sale for $15? Great! I’ll take a grey, black, navy, off white, and something with stripes or a cardigan that I’ll think of as “on trend” but never wear. I’ll need to buy all of these new because last year’s sweaters fell apart. The cut of these makes me look like a basketball, and the fabric pills on the sides and where the seatbelt goes (and pretty much anywhere else it touches something.) But whatever, it’ll do.

I spent a lot of time untagging myself from other peoples’ pictures on Facebook.

I had ALL THESE CLOTHES, but they looked terrible. None of them made “outfits.” I understood, suddenly, that when women look frumpy and disheveled, it’s not because they don’t care. It’s because they don’t know how to make it better. Because that’s how it was for me.

So yeah, the past couple of years have been awkward. Especially once we began meeting as a church, and I was speaking most Sundays. The Vineyard is about as casual as churches come. Jeans and flip flops are common. But I just looked sloppy. When the hotel where our church meets remodeled their conference room, I was terrified they’d swap out the giant oak podium I stand behind for one of those tiny clear lucite things made popular by TED talks, and there would be nowhere to hide.

This is part of why Stitch Fix has felt like a miracle since I discovered it last month. I’m a bit obsessed. It’s become my new embarrassing hobby. I’m now a person with a Pinterest page.

My third Fix came last week. I’d asked for a jean jacket, a grey & white striped top, tops in colors other than blue, and jeans in a light wash.

This was the best one yet. My stylist tweaked some of my sizes and found the exact jeans I had on my Pinterest page. In three Fixes, I’ve scored three pairs of jeans, five tops, and a jacket. They all fit. They make outfits!

There are PATTERNS – a floral, a stripe, a sort of dot/splotch, and something a friend described as tribal); and COLOR! Okay, two tops are blue and two are grey. But one is RED, a color I’ve avoided since an unfortunate incident during the Giant Wool Sweater phase, where I donned a tomato-ish v-neck and my sister told me I looked like Gilligan.

But look: I’ve overcome!

If you’re feeling like you’ve been covering your body more than getting dressed, give it a try. Here’s how it works & what I’ve learned:

For a styling fee of $20, they send you five items selected based on a questionnaire about your style and notes you make about your current needs.  (Example: “Summer is coming so I’m looking for a dress to wear to a fundraiser, shorts with a 5″ inseam, and some fun colored tops I can wear to work either alone or with a sweater or blazer.”) In your profile you’ll have a chance to note things like “Please don’t ever send me X color or Y style.”  The more detailed, the better.

(I think of this part as handing a skilled stylist a $20 bill and sending her to the mall to do all the shopping for me. She can use the $20 towards whatever she finds.)

You pick the date to receive your Fix.

When it arrives, you will be horrified by at least half of it. Shut down your inner critic and try it all on. Let yourself be surprised. Don’t overthink it. If you turn around and can’t believe how cute something looks that you were sure would make you look like your grandmother’s couch, trust your first thought, and take a chance. That’s what happened to me with the navy blue floral top in #1. I pulled it out and thought, No way, because I don’t wear florals. But now I do :)

If the style is good but the size is wrong, you can usually exchange it up or down. I just did this with some jeans. I held on to the first pair until the second arrived, then sent back the ones that didn’t work. Quick & easy.

If you keep everything, you get 25% off your total. I’ve only done this once. The other times, the jeans & top I kept were worth the full price, even though they were more than I’d been paying at Target. Your $20 styling fee is applied toward anything you buy.

Once you decide, you checkout online, then put anything you don’t want in the pre-paid bag they provide. Hand it to your mailman or drop it at the post office and you’re done.

If you use my link for your first Fix, I’ll get a $25 referral credit when you place your order. (Thank you!)

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Have a dedicated Pinterest Page for Stitch Fix style with things you are looking for NOW. Put pins for future looks or random ideas on a separate page. Your stylist will look at this page when she’s pulling stuff for you. Update this page between Fixes.
  • Join one of the Facebook groups where people show how they style different items. It’s helpful to see the clothes on real people, and sometimes you can even trade or buy items.
  • Remember that clothes are meant to enhance our lives, not become our lives. We’re still us, whether we’re in a frumpy Target tee or a flowy red top that does not in any way resemble Gilligan. But it’s fun to feel a bit more pulled together.

If you’re looking for a fun and helpful gift for a Graduation, Mother’s Day, or other celebration? A gift card to SF would be an amazing surprise.

And who knows? Maybe you (or someone you love) will find your very own forest green polyester/rayon/acrylic woodlands ensemble, and it will make your whole world glow :)

 

 

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.

IMG_5349

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.

My Fashion Woes

A couple of months ago, I went to Steve’s company holiday party dressed like an Amish

IMG_5313

If you look closely, you can see the patch pockets! #classycocktail!

nun. I didn’t mean to.  The dress code was “classy cocktail,” which I interpreted to mean, Like you’re coming from work, only a step up. I found a cute preppy dress from Tommy Hilfiger. It was a little big, but I kind of liked that; I’m not exactly in top form right now. I paired it with a jacket & boots because it was about thirteen degrees that night. And yes, I knew that I looked a bit like I was there to serve a warrant. But Boston has a pretty wide professional dress code. I was sure it would be fine.

We walked into the venue a bit early (it’s so hard to calculate traffic across the city) and I knew instantly that I’d screwed up.

Friends, the sequins were blinding. Hair had been professionally done. Hours had been invested in mani-pedi-facials. There were GOWNS. Everyone looked elegant, upscale, and GORGEOUS.

I glanced at Steve and whispered, “Wow. I really miscalculated…”

sage party

I didn’t even realize until later when I saw this picture that we MATCHED. We look like an audition tape for The Real Housewives of Ultra Conservative County.

He looked mortified for me. We checked our winter coats, and took a picture in front of an unavoidable step & repeat that stood between us and the bar. I prayed for a camera malfunction. We walked into the mostly-empty room and I took a deep breath. I knew had a decision to make: I could ruin this night with my embarrassment, or I could figure out another way. So I decided to fight for it. I looked up at the seventeen Buddha statues decorating the restaurant and said, “Jesus, I know you’re here somewhere…I could really use some help…”

We found a place to stand with our drinks & small plates. I made it a point to talk to Steve about things OTHER THAN how underdressed I was. And when he introduced me to people, I did not say a single embarrassed word about my outfit, because nothing makes social situations worse than that.

We had a great night. Everyone I met was fantastic, and we had so many deep, good conversations about biotech, writing, faith, and adoption. Yes, I felt awkward the whole time. As much as we’re not supposed to care what we wear, and we’re supposed to appreciate each other for what’s on the inside, blah, blah, blah… my missing the cues on the dress code meant the night was way more emotional effort than I wanted it to be, at a time (right after the holidays) when I didn’t have a lot of extra fight in me. I’m so glad we went. But I’m not sure I’ll ever wear that dress again.

***

I thought of this the other day as I caught up on the blog of a fellow memoirist who had a baby last year at the age of 46. As she described her woes in getting dressed, and how her body feels lumpy and odd in ways it never was before, I realized: I ALSO have a one-year postpartum body. Only I never gave birth.

It’s pitiful. Don’t you think the benefit of adopting should be that I don’t look like I have kids??? But nope. I got dressed the other day and realized I looked like a big marshmallow covered in denim & 2-ply cashmere. But I think the problem is less about having too much size, and more about having lost my style: Last week when I wore a ponytail to church, one of the teens came up and said, “Miss Trish! You look so different!”

You know you’re in a rut when a ponytail is a bold move forward.

So you can imagine how my curiosity was peaked when that blog friend talked about her clothing woes and how she’d just received a box from a company called Stitchfix that mails you clothes. She was going to POST PICTURES of her in the new items (!!??!) I was horrified/captivated/in awe: wasn’t that the equivalent of taking the entire internet with you as you try on jeans at Target???

She has awesomely sarcastic humor, so I was excited to see how she’d skewer the experience of trying clothes picked out by a complete stranger on a body that shifted daily in all sorts of unplanned directions.

She kept every cute thing in that box. (They send 5 things. You pay $20 for the styling service, which is credited against anything you buy. And there’s 25% off if you decide to keep everything. Apparently, this is a whole thing that’s been happening for years. Enter Trish in her Amish ensemble, a little late to the party…)

(I’ll admit, I was a bit salty that she found a dress, because I have this secret theory that people who look good in dresses and like them have ALL THE DRESSES. It’s like the dresses know. The rest of us get a boy dress with patch pockets. But whatever.)

In a fit of I don’t even know what, I signed up for a Stitchfix delivery of my own. I think I was just excited to leave my problem at the feet of an expert (even if that expert is an algorithm supposedly named “Katelyn”). I knew my blog friend would get a $25 referral credit, and that seemed like a way to thank her for being so honest (her blog TITLE is “An Inch of Gray,” referring to her hairline. I love her!) and making me feel less alone in navigating my fashion challenged state.

I had LOW expectations when the box arrived. I liked that it was pretty, and I was prepared for disappointment. I’ll cut to the chase and tell you the miracle: They sent me jeans that fit perfectly. Length, width, everything. It was like they’d been tailored for me.

IMG_5260

I might even wear them to next year’s company party. If I’m going to be underdressed, I might as well really go for it.

The rest of the box was a mix. There was a blue jacket that made me look like I was there to change the oil on your car, and a pair of earrings like ones I already have. Those I sent back. There was a blue floral top that was unbelievably cute once I tried it on.

And then there was the green shirt.

I haven’t owned anything green that doesn’t say “Boston Celtics” on it since about 1975. It’s just not my color, or so I thought. But this shirt was so pretty! It didn’t fit. But still, I loved it so much that I pulled it back out of the return package (they send you a postage-paid return bag you just drop off at the post office) after I’d sealed it, just to try it again. It was still a no. But now I’m on the hunt for a different top in that shade of green.

What that box did for me had almost nothing to do with the actual clothes. It was more about how it energized my thoughts about dressing in general like nothing in recent (or even distant) memory has. The the little style guide gave me ideas for other outfits from things I already have, and I even got back on Pinterest (which I’ve decided is like going to the Mall with your friends, only while lying on the couch by yourself. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but at least now I understand the appeal.) I’m so glad I did this. It’s good for my style and my soul.

It’s good to find help when you need it, and to be reminded that more is possible in life, IMG_5282even with things that shouldn’t be such a big deal, but are. I kept the empty Stitchfix box on the floor of my bedroom for about four days after it arrived, just to remind me of how happy it had made me. That’s some pretty good return on investment.

If you’re in a style rut? Try Stitchfix here. If you use this link, I’ll get a $25 referral credit on your first go, like my blog friend received when I tried. The Cherubs thank you for making their mom slightly less embarrassing.

You’ll Need to Escape

This will seem like a lighthearted post about hobbies, but it’s actually about survival.

It’s only in hindsight that I recognize the unexpected things that kept me sane during the tough parts of our foster care/adoption process, and what I see now is that when things get tough, I pick up a random hobby. It’s never a conscious decision. I suspect it’s God. But there’s a definite pattern where periodically, some random thing will catch my attention and give me an alternative world to dive into.

Why am I telling you this? Because if (WHEN!) you become a foster parent and/or adopt, you will have NO TIME for hobbies, and you certainly won’t have the energy… but you will need them desperately. So I’m giving you permission, now, to dive into ridiculous things when they catch your eye. This will feel like you’re giving up, admitting failure, and turning your back on all your responsibilities. But what you’ll really be doing is giving your heart, body & mind some room to reset, so you can think creatively again.

Lest you be tempted to feel embarrassed by the distractions that catch your eye — BEHOLD some of the strange worlds I’ve inhabited since we began this journey:

One summer I did nothing for three months but make beaded jewelry. I had my own tools. The ladies at Michaels knew me by name. I went to bed at night strategizing multi-strand necklaces with sea green matte crystal beads as a unifying theme.

This was phenomenally  unproductive. I was not good at it, so most of what I made was really terrible. But as I planned and beaded, I wasn’t thinking about death or loss or miscarriages, or how betrayed I felt by God. So in that way, those hours of shopping, stringing, learning and vacuuming (beads were EVERYWHERE) were well spent.

To give you an idea of how deep I was: My second book came out in the middle of this season, and the main reason I remember it is because I made a necklace to wear the launch party. I was in so much pain at that time, I hardly remember anything. But making necklaces – even ugly ones – gave me a tangible thing to focus on when I wasn’t sure life was worth the effort. And I say, if your will to live can be resurrected by $25 worth of beads and a 40% off coupon? That’s a good investment!

***

This past holiday season, I read 42 works of apocalyptic fiction. I learned all the acronyms (The End Of The World As We Know ItSh*t Hits The Fan). I discovered what paracord is and wondered Where WOULD we get water if we lost power for an extended period of time? I bought a water filter. I considered installing solar on our roof. It was bananas. And so much fun. This is embarrassing, but I LOVED these books. I felt like a whole alternate universe opened up for me to escape into, and I jumped right in.

Both Steve & I LOVED One Second AfterOne Year After , and The Final Day by William Forstchen – they were intense and well written, and I’m so glad our reading coincided with the release of the last book in the series.  I was obsessed with Elle Casey’s YA Apocalypsis series about a gifted girl who befriends a young neighbor and joins an Indian tribe after all the adults are wiped from the planet.  And #2 Cherub is waiting along with me for the final installment of the Pulse series by L.R. Burked, which is also YA.

I read a few other books by well known authors, but mostly, I read dozens of fast-paced self published books that lacked some finesse but made up for it with passion. (And yes, when you eagerly hit “Buy Now” on a book with the subtitle, A Novel of Societal Collapse, you’re ready for the holidays to be over!)  One series was set in southern Maine, with a Dad trying to get to his kids trapped at Boston College; it was cool to read a book set in places I know so well.

A side benefit was how these books helped me understand the mindset of super-conservative America, a world I’m not all that familiar with. It humanized that part of our country, and gave me much-needed perspective on the unfolding political developments. My one regret is that I didn’t do the free trial for Kindle Unlimited (Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial) It would have saved me about $200. Still, the combined entertainment & distraction value? Worth every penny.

***

Right now, I’m not under any real stress, except that it’s March in New England. All of us have dry skin and weird breakouts, so I’ve been going down the rabbit hole of making lotions, lip balm, sugar scrubs & cleaning products.

IMG_5204

Mostly, I’ve made gloppy messes. But there’s one hand cream concoction everyone in our family uses, so that’s cool. #2 Cherub has asked for a strawberry flavored lip balm, so I’ll give that a try today, and I’m looking for a way to make hair conditioner. If any of this comes out well, I’ll share the details. (And if it comes out poorly, expect some funny pics)

***

One word of caution about all this: Whatever your hobby is? Do not try to become an expert at it. By all means, do not try to make it into a business – When something becomes your job it stops being your escape.  Just enjoy the season while it lasts and accept the gift of distractionI have three wearable necklaces, a bunch of good titles on my Kindle, and one non-gloppy hand cream that fixed my grim cuticle situation. And I’m still in it to win it with our Cherubs, and that’s a big deal. Sometimes you’ve gotta retreat in order to advance. I give you permission to be okay with that!

Keep Calm and Embarrassing Hobby on :)

Stop the World, I Want To Get Off

I know this will shock you, but not every moment in our household is delightful and heartwarming.

Celtics

Fun family night, right? Yeah, none of us were speaking. #2 got mad because I made her wear a hat. She sulked through the whole game. #1 flat-out refused to take a picture with me. Memories!

IMG_4854

That’s Steve’s “We should have just fed it the money for these tickets to a goat…” look. At least the Celtics won.

This was especially bad in the first year, when I so regularly found myself in situations I had no clue how to handle.

     Can you go to some random park with your friends? How should I know?

     Should I worry that you wear the same sweatshirt all week long and now I can’t get the boy smell out of it? Probably.

     What IS the consequence for yelling at me, “I AM TOO smarter than you (DOOR SLAM)”?  (And before you tell me that such statements are only made in the heat of the moment and aren’t what they really think…let me assure you that this particular Cherub doesn’t just think she’s smarter than me. She’s quite certain she’s smarter than you, too).

I’ve learned that 90% of the time, my initial response in these moments will be something I’ll wish I hadn’t said. I get into bad habits: the reflexive no to everything, the letting my thoughts come out as words (Last week when it was 19 degrees outside and my son wouldn’t wear a coat, I actually said, “Fine. Freeze your ass off. It’s your ass…”)

Here’s the funny thing: My kids are okay when these things happen. They’re no fragile snowflakes. The problem with my initial responses is that they leave me in a heap in corner, angry and exhausted, wanting nothing more than to be left alone. And it takes me forever to regroup. That’s not all that helpful when you’ve just doubled the number of people who live in your house.

The embarrassing part is NOT that I can be such a disaster. It’s how long it’s taken me to realize that the same skills I use in every other relationship in my life – marriage, work, friendships – are the ones that save me here.

When I have no clue what to do, that’s a pretty good indication that it’s time to talk to God.

But first, I need to fume. I need  time to marinate in the absolute rightness of my position, even when I’m not entirely sure what it is.

Once that is finished, I talk to God. (Be sure to check out my forthcoming prayer book, Okay God, What The %^&* Should I Do Now?)  

Then, so long as I have properly completed the fuming step, I almost always have some sort of intersecting, Gee I wouldn’t have thought of that, idea pass through my mind. Hallmarks of these ideas (the answer to the perennial “How do you KNOW it’s God?” question) are:

  1. They don’t involve swear words or threats to give my children’s unworn or unkempt clothes to some anonymous grateful child who will appreciate them;
  2. They consider the larger picture of the kids’ growth and desired development, not just this present frustrating moment; and
  3. They are so reasonable that I can say them to the Cherub(s) in a normal voice, and tell them I love you from my heart, not just my brain.

This is a good news miracle, every time.

I’m in the process right now of organizing a Vineyard Women’s Retreat for our area, so I’m thinking a lot about the concept of retreat – what a difference it makes to take a intentional breather before you move forward. It’s so counter-intuitive. And yet I bet it’s EXACTLY what my mother longed for for when we were little kids and she used to cry, “STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF!” in the middle of a particularly frazzled moment.

I’ve felt that so often in life, not just since motherhood.

If you’re feeling this sneak up on you, too, look for a retreat. Pray for one. If you’re from New England (or game to travel), come to ours. Let’s ask God our impossible questions (and pray the prayers with ALL THE WORDS) together.

Fight For It

Today’s adoption question: What have you learned about yourself through this process? 

That I hate conflict. This is not new information. But it feels newish, because sometimes  the term parenting just feels like a code word for “being mad at someone ALL THE TIME.”

I just don’t like being angry. My Dad is like this. He honestly does not remember entire swaths of our family history that were unpleasant. He’s there in the midst of them – he doesn’t check out in the moment.  But once something is over? It is OVER. To those of you with a more therapy-based outlook on mental health this might seem terrible, but I have to say, we were a pretty happy family through some heavy stuff as I grew up. I think there’s much to be said for resolving unpleasantness as quickly as possible and then moving on.

iuThe problem is that I’m not great at upholding consequences for The Cherubs the day after a major “parenting moment” occurs, because I forget it ever happened. I can’t tell you how often The Cherubs have to remind me that they’ve lost their screen time, or their condiments (it turns out denial of KETCHUP is our single most effective behavior modification tool), or will be doing some “voluntary” vacuuming as discussed the night before.

I don’t mind talking through a situation or misunderstanding, even if it’s awkward or uncomfortable. (I don’t consider that conflict, actually; that’s just having different perspectives and needing to use words to try to get on the same page. That’s life.) But I don’t like adversarial show downs.

That said, it’s a skill I’m developing…

We have one child who is all about the adversarial show downs. She will argue her point even in the face of obvious, demonstrable evidence that she is wrong. She will not back down. It’s a thing to behold. And let me tell you, what I used to view as, All that money I wasted becoming  lawyer? Now shines bright as, the best parental survival investment I ever made.

Because My Oh My, Child…if you stand in my kitchen while I point to royal blue nail polish on the counter (and lime green paint on the door frame, and pink sparkle something on the dog) and say, “You don’t know! It could have been DAD!!!” you had better believe that you will not emerge from that battle with your ketchup rights intact.

One refrain I saw in almost every recommended adoption book I read: Pick your battles carefully. Win the ones you pick.

Strangely enough, she does so much better when she is not allowed to win these stupid fights. It’s as if somehow it reassures her that the grown ups are on the job. (Which is why it’s such a problem that I forget about the consequences).

Adoption has taught me how much I hate fighting. And yet it’s teaching me to fight, because sometimes you have to.

 

Friendships, High School & Advice for #2 Cherub

fullsizerender-2

My friends (Amy, Holly, Pam, Me, Theresa, Trissi, & Jodi) in our senior year at Kennebunk High School.

Two related things happened this weekend:

First, I learned that my High School Reunion is coming up this summer (!!!). I’ve never been to one, and I’m surprisingly excited to go. And second, #2 Cherub asked if I would preach a sermon series at church about friendships. Specifically, the friendships that happen during the school years of life, when you have less control over things like who is in your class and where you sit.

This sent me on a wild trip down memory lane, as I pulled out photo albums and wondered where my yearbook landed the last time we moved.

fullsizerender-4

Senior Skip Day with my best friend, Amy.

 

I don’t remember receiving specific advice about friendship when I was a kid. We were taught as toddlers to share, not to push or call each other names, and that if we could manage an hour or so of outside play where no one came back bleeding, there was often cookies & Kool Aid in the deal to make it worth our effort.

As we got older, we were expected not to be bullies (although some kids were.) We were expected to be respectful and polite (although some kids weren’t.) There was a lot of teaching about behavior, but not much that I recall about friendship. (How you handled the former more or less governed how you experienced the latter.) I think this system served us pretty well and prepared us for life: No one was ALWAYS popular, it was okay to have friendships across different groups, and I gained a ton of abstract understanding about humanity – primarily that friendships have seasons and that somehow in the complexity, things work out.

But #2 Cherub wants specifics. She is very “have a plan and work it” in her approach to life, so I want to give her solid pieces to consider as she makes her plan.

So I ask you, fine readers: What specific, tangible advice would you give about making and keeping (and ending) friendships? 

One caveat: PLEASE don’t say, “Be Kind.”

Let me explain…

Kindness is the primary relationships narrative taught at her school right now. It looks lovely on a banner, but is not all that helpful in the depths of actual tween/teen relationships. It’s a starting point, obviously. But it’s not even close to the total skill set you need to build healthy, fun relationships.

I don’t think my friends and I were always kind to one another. We were pretty real. Caring. Occasionally b*tchy. Supportive. We had spats and subgroups and times when some weren’t speaking to others. As challenging as some of those aspects were, were learned a ton as we figured things out.  Yes, it sucks to go to school when one or more of your friends isn’t speaking to you. But it toughens you up. And you learn that these things don’t last forever, and at some point you won’t remember what even caused the rift. And how to move forward (or, as I learned later in life with different friends, to move on.)

When I look at the challenges my daughter faces now, I wonder if all this pressure to be KIND – nice, nonjudgmental, endlessly accepting to the point that there is no room to consider her actual response to people and situations – is part of the mean girl epidemic we see?

Don’t get me wrong. There have always been mean girls. But you could usually look behind it and see, even as a kid, “Oh, I bet that’s why she’s like that.” I don’t remember it being a norm, or something expected of a certain group of girls. I feel like we limit the development of nuanced skills when all the emphasis is on being KIND.  Because if you’re not KIND, you’re pretty much only left with MEAN. So you might as well make the most of it.

So now I’m wrestling with what to teach #2 about friendships. Because I think they matter so much.

fullsizerender-5

See this picture? My Dad calls it, “The National Honor Society…and Trish.” :) It’s not even an insult – just a candid acknowledgement of my priorities during those years (shopping, anyone?)

I applied to colleges primarily because that’s what these friends were doing. I first visited Wheaton because it gave me an excuse to see my then-boyfriend at Boston College. So much of life is what you wind up in the middle of because of who (whom?) you’re with. (Cue joke about needing a iufriend who loves grammar…)

I just don’t think “be kind to everyone” offers enough as a governing principle. It’s like an Allen wrench: it’s either exactly what you need in the moment, or of little use at all.

 But what’s the better advice?

Tell me…What would you tell your school-age self about friendships?

What would you tell a school-age kid today? 

Things tend to get done

I had a cold last week. I’m astonished how that became THE defining factor of 5 full days. I slept, took kids to school, walked the dog, slept, walked the dog, picked kids up from school, slept. That’s it. On Thursday I read a book, falling asleep between chapters 2 and 3, and again at the 14-15 mark.

I should look well rested. I don’t. I’m still puffy and sneezy. When I left the house for church yesterday, I put the whole box of Kleenex right in my bag.

Such a boring, normal human experience.

So why am I telling you?

Well, because it feels like it summarizes so much of life. We can be plugging along, doing work we’re excited about, maybe writing or creating in some way, finding our grove to help people…and then something really simple sidelines us for a big chunk of time, and it feels (in a way) like the tide has gone out, like everything we’ve worked for is washed away.

This silly cold is forcing me to face down the lie of momentum. There’s this false belief out there (and like all lies, it has a kernel of truth) that for new things to succeed, you need to push and pull and work so very hard until the thing gets rolling. Then you have MOMENTUM. But you still can’t relax, because you have to make sure your wheel keeps rolling. Forever.

The problem is, we can’t keep the wheel rolling forever. Things stop us from pushing it along (like my cold) or maybe the wheel hits a bump and goes flat.

In those moments, the lie tells us it’s over. The Truth tells us, “Chill out. God’s got this.”

It is much harder to believe the Truth. But the thing about Truth is, it’s unaffected by our reaction to it.  It just goes right on being the Truth.

I’m encouraged by this today: That I’ll be back to blog about adoption soon. That there WILL come a day where my head is clear enough to compile the 427 pages of scribbled chapter notes for my next book project.  That I will unwrap the games I bought to play with the Cherubs over Christmas vacation sometime between now and February vacation (or at the very latest, April.)

I’ve quoted this 1,000 times, but God keeps bringing me back to this wise truth offered by my most laid-back friend in the midst of law school finals: “Things tend to get done.”

So if you have a cold today, or are still feeling fried from the holidays, or are looking at the long stretch of winter months ahead and wondering if it’s viable for humans to hibernate, take solace. Take a break. Take a nap (or several). God’s got this. Let’s let Him.

This Is What Love Feels Like

On Sunday, the Cherubs will have lived with us for six months! Six months is a big deal in the adoption from foster care world, because that’s how long you have to live together before you can finalize the adoption.

They’ve been marking off the days toward that date with a mixture of terror (that we won’t come through, that we’ll abandon them) and hope (that we will come through, that this really is forever).

A lot has changed in six months. Not just the obvious stuff, but small things. For example, just recently, one of the kids started to hug me back. Before, hugs were tolerated well but not reciprocal. Now they’re a source of laughter as the kids roll their eyes & joke that we hug them all the time. That’s a big win. I’m glad I didn’t know it would take this long. And yet it reminds me that this bonding thing is real. It takes effort and focus, even on days I don’t have much to give (and on days I have a lot to give that the kids don’t feel safe enough to want). But love accumulates.  Over time it melts the ice holding their hearts captive.

I know many of you are thinking about adoption, so I thought I’d take a minute and share some of the things that have worked in this ice-melting process. Each one of them came from something I read before – I’m not inventing sliced bread here. But back when I read these things, they seemed so counter-intuitive, I couldn’t imagine that they’d work. But they do. So here they are, in no particular order:

Structure.  Okay, I lied already. There is an order here. Structure is the #1 thing that will get you through the early months of adoption. I don’t care if your kids are six months or sixteen years. They will be FREAKING OUT at the prospect of living forever with you (you unknown weird grown up who is now supposed to be their new Mom or Dad), and have no idea how to be or what to do. It is your job to TELL THEM and even more so to SHOW THEM. Decide what your day will look like – in 5 to 10 minute increments if necessary – and then do that, every single day.

Our kids know that on weekdays, Steve & I get up an hour before we wake them up. They’ll hear him get ready for work, and me come down for coffee, then again for a second cup. They know when I’ll wake them up and that I’ll ask them softly about breakfast while giving them a hug. It took awhile for them to trust that I wouldn’t oversleep, or forget to pack their lunch. But I’m gaining some credibility as the successful wakeups pile up. (See love accumulates, above). On weekends, they know we’ll be down for coffee sometime around 8:00 and that we make breakfast at 9:00.

Our kids are older, so a lot of our structure came from them: they like to do homework right when they get home from school while they have a snack. I added the expectation that they have some sort of “blow off steam” activity outside after that, unless we’re in a downpour or temps are in the low 20s. I hadn’t planned to limit screen time, to be honest (please don’t tell them). But they expected it, and set their own limit at half an hour. So we go with it, and try to remember to enforce this rule we didn’t create. And bedtime is EARLY. They argue with this almost every night, and almost every night are sound asleep within 20 minutes.

My hard lesson in this has been that my kids don’t want choices. Choices are overwhelming right now. They want to know what to do so they can focus their energy on doing it, and on finding their way in this new life. Even when they don’t like what they’re supposed to do, dislike is better than uncertainty.

All the good stuff comes from us. This was one surprised me: the idea that bonding is facilitated by becoming THE SOLE go-to people your kids must go to for getting needs met. It made sense once I thought about it. If kids have spent their lives cultivating a wide assortment of adult relationships because they didn’t have primary people to count on (many children in foster care are ASTONISHINGLY good with adults for this reason), that’s a tough habit to shake. For Steve & me to become more than just two more faces in the crowd, we needed to become the PROVIDERS OF ALL THE THINGS.

This was easy with stuff we could shop for: clothes, room decor, bikes, etc. It was more challenging with food. The kids are great cooks, and they love it. But I realized early on that they needed the experience of being cooked for. They needed to see one of their parents do all the things to feed them – earning the money, buying the food, planning the meal, preparing it, etc. I can’t quite explain how, but this has helped them figure out the divide between what parents do and what kids do.  We also do this with laundry. They know how to do laundry. They’re learning what it’s like to have someone love them enough to take the heaps of smelly chaos they bring to the hamper and return them in orderly piles. Part of adoptive parenting is parenting in reverse – helping kids who know how to DO learn how to trust and be cared for.

This provision theme included their birthdays (where they received nice gifts from a few others, but most came from us), and Christmas (where “Santa” will only get credit for small stocking stuffers, but all the other gifts – big & small, fun & practical – are labeled, “With love from Mom & Dad.”)

One thing that has been unexpectedly helpful in this is the rule that our kids can’t ride in a car with anyone who has not been through a CORI background check with DCF. The CORI office is incredibly backlogged – a couple of forms friends submitted over the summer STILL have not come through. Practically speaking, this means is that if our kids go anywhere, they go there with us. School drop off & pickup is ALMOST ALWAYS Mom, sometimes Dad, and once Grandma. (It felt like a huge win that when I told them Grandma would be picking them up they cheered – it seemed like a fun change of pace rather than me abandoning them for something more important. This was PROGRESS.)

Also, we can’t leave the kids alone, even though they’re at an age where they would normally be starting to be trusted with that for short periods. So if I’m running errands, they’re running errands. If THIS DOG needs a walk at an unplanned time, we’re all trudging around the block together. And while the Cherubs balked at this as absolutely ridiculous when we first started out together (seriously, they were SALTY), over time I think they’ve realized this means, a.) we’re people who follow rules rather than bending them and that feels safe; and b.) we want them with us, even when they’re sulking and grumpy.

Which leads me to…

Escape. Steve plays hockey two mornings a week before work. I get together with a friend for food & grown up beverages once a week. These are automatic activities, non-negotiable. They keep us sane.

Picking Our Worries. Our children are not learning Mandarin this week, or computer coding, or training for the Olympic rowing team. They each have a school subject they’re not doing particularly well in, and you know what? I kind of don’t care. They’re both doing better than I did, grade wise, and I believe that it will turn out okay.  Our primary focus is that they come to know that God loves them and  we love them, and that there are healthy, life-giving ways to respond to  these realities.

A song that captures this experience for me is Love Feels Like by Toby Mac:

Poured out, used up, still giving…stretching me out to the end of my limits. This is what love feels like.

It’s worth everything you put in.