Sunday, May 10, 2015

Good Mom/Bad Mom/RAD Mom

Today is Mother's Day.


It's a good day, unless it's not. And there are too many that I know or think of who struggle with parts of motherhood--being one, not being one, living in the shadow of a mother. As our pastor said this morning, "Motherhood is complicated." Amen.

All this week I've been thinking about Mothers. So has everyone else.

Earlier in the week, the local Christian radio station was asking listeners which TV mom they most loved. And in the few minutes I listened, the answers were predicable. Caroline Engalls. Mrs. Walton. June Cleaver. Claire Huxtable. Even Jill Taylor from Home Improvement.

Each of those women were characters who exemplified the best of being a being a mother: patient, grace-filled, providing, strong yet weak, good humor, God-fearing.

I wondered where the mention of Roseanne was.

Come one, you remember Roseanne, don't you? I can picture her sitting on her couch calling Becky to bring her something from the kitchen. I can see the plaid shirts of the mid-90's.

Of course no one mentioned Roseanne. Because although she was doing the best that she could with the tools available to her, she still yelled, her kids were fallen, her marriage was rocky. No one aspires to be Roseanne. (Quietly, we might even say she was a bad mom. Or at least that she isn't the mom you ever wanted.)

That is what has made me most sad this week. Why? Because I am Roseanne.

See, as a mom of a traumatized kid from a super-hard place, I am not the mom I want to be. I want to have the humor of Jill Taylor, the grace and hard work of Caroline Engalls, and the immaculate life of June Cleaver. But I'm not.

Yesterday, I read a post be a RAD dad who summed it up well. It be best if you went to read it (here), because this is how I feel about myself. That I am hard and mean and a great big "B". Rigid. Without laughter. Much too stern and serious. All. The. Time.

This isn't the mom I EVER wanted to be. I don't want to yell or be stern or controlling. I never wanted to have to fight to love my child. I never knew another's brokenness could so break me (or that I was that fragile.)

But it is the mom that I am. This is the life God has gifted me. My four littles are some of the tools of his grace and his sanctification in my life.  He is using it to refine me.

And for that I am trying to be thankful.

To all the moms out there that I know: working moms, homeschool moms, stay-at-home moms, toddler moms, longing moms, grieving moms, adoptive & foster moms, to all of you who wear your heart on your sleeve but shield it with armor, to you who work tirelessly for your children or to achieve your dreams, to you who wipe away tears and kiss boo-boos and let too-big kids sit on your lap, I salute and honor you. You are an excellent woman! One of Valor and Worth. Happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Starting Over

Two years ago, I was opening my heart to the reality of my new daughter. By this time in 2013, we knew her name and had a single picture and were just two weeks away from being legal and forever family.

I was preparing as any expectant mother would: reading the books, getting her room and clothes and toys ready, packing and preparing for a trip overseas that I knew would change my life.

I opened my heart to love a perfect stranger, who had a past, a personality, a life I didn't know about.

May 15, 2013

This day changed my life. We welcomed Mali into our arms and family. She plopped into my lap as if she knew we were hers.

So when we came home we did all the right things: we stayed with her at bedtime, we tried not to ever leave her alone. We opened our hearts to this new little stranger.

But after what should have been a transition time where the beginning bonds of attachment started, where the gossamer strands of trust should have begun to bind us together, they blew away with the breeze. It didn't take long for us to realize that there was something seriously wrong, that I was clearly not equipped to handle. So we sought help, we learned the right words to say, we were encouraged how to love and care and support this one who was so obviously hurting from a very deep and fundamental place in her spirit.

Her wounds are deeper and more fundamental than we ever imagined. And for the past 22 months, life has been challenging.

I have been spit at, hit, kicked, head-butted, pinched, bit. I have had to hold my daughter to keep her safe from herself. I have had virulent ugly words spat at my face--her hurt and anger and fear poured out on the nearest, safest person she could find. Usually me, often Eric. Both of us.

So slowly, ever so slowly, after dark nights of regret and whispered prayers of desperation, I closed my heart off. I couldn't handle the manipulation, the abuse, the anger and then the desperate need. I had three other children who also have strong emotional needs. It was easier to love the ones who loved me back, who craved my touch, who wanted to spend time with me, who apologized for their ill-treatment, than it was to love the one who has openly hated me.

Summer 2014
Mt. Rushmore National Monument.
After an hour long tantrum--in public
To the place we are now where my soul is weary, where I am so weary all the time. My emotions are shot. I am empty and it takes more than a night out to restore me. I have second-guessed and doubted my abilities as a parent, a wife, a mother. I have chided myself for not being able to better deal with this life, faulting myself for every issue in our home. I feel old, care-worn, and heavy-burdened. I was beginning to resign myself to the simple fact that this was going to be my life and try to make the best of it.

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
I remember them well and my soul is downcast within me. 

But now, we've started making some headway for our sweet girl. New therapies seem to making a tremendous difference. I don't think she's had a serious tantrum in at least a week. Although I don't know this child in front of me, I think this is my only chance at starting over. She seems open to hear the messages of love, safety, family, and attachment. But now I need to learn to love her. To treat her with tenderness and devotion. To open my heart to her as when this was fresh and new and life was full of possibilities.

But with tears in my eyes, I tell you that I'm not sure I want to. I'm not sure I'm willing to open my heart up to this little one. I'm scared. I don't know that I can handle having my heart raked across the coals again. I don't know if I can.

As the person reading this, perhaps all this makes you uncomfortable. You are uncomfortable with the idea that love isn't natural or that a parent could close their heart. Maybe you hear blame--that I am blaming my daughter for all these things, which I am not. I am one who has made mistakes, yelled too loudly, disciplined unfairly, put an undue burden on a child unable to bear it. Maybe you just don't like knowing how messy and broken I am, my daughter is, my whole family is.

So why am I telling you? Why am I putting this deep pain on display? I know that I am opening myself and our family up for judgment, just talking about this is in a public forum is frowned upon. Someday my kids will probably read this and have their own questions and a few accusations.

Because I need to believe that redemption is coming and I want to remember where we've come from.
Because I know that I am not alone. Sitting on their own couches, holding back tears, other mothers and fathers, struggle with similar pain.
Because I am tired of not having people understand, of people doubting my exhaustion and experience.
Because I have to believe that I am capable of healing, that God is capable of healing me.

Yet I call this to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love, I am not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is Your faithfulness. 

So today is a day of starting over.
Tomorrow probably will be too.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Puppy Love

Let me start with this.

I don't like dogs. 

I've had a few unfortunate experiences with dogs in my life. One centers on three nasty German Shepherds who lived two doors down from my childhood home.

One includes a neighborhood dog that bit me...and still growls whenever I see him. I think the feeling is mutual.

My brother was injured when a dog charged at him and he ran, and tripped over a spike and tore his knee open.

I don't like dogs.

Josh has been asking for a dog since he was little. I always said I wouldn't potty train a dog while potty training kids.

Then the kids were potty trained. So I used our then-upcoming adoption as an excuse. But Mali has been home for almost two years now (and the issues we're facing aren't going to be made better or worse by the presence of another pet).

But really, I don't like dogs. 

They slobber, poop in the yard, you have to walk them, they sit on the furniture, they chase you.

But OG has wanted a dog desperately for a while now and we thought it would be a good solution to a myriad of issues in our home. We tried an older dog at first (who was a wonderful dog, but didn't mesh well in our home). The girls were devastated when he needed to find a new home. So we were searching, for the right dog, the right time, the right breed, the right amount of training (housebroken at least).

And then this little guy fell into our laps.

This is Scout Balto Beuker. He's an 8-week old Husky. He has piercing blue eyes, soft cuddly baby fur and a fleur-de-lis on his forehead. He came to us through an unusual set of circumstances, visiting two other homes before settling in ours. He's just a baby, only been away from his mama for a week. 

But I don't like dogs, remember?  
In the past 5 days since he has been home, I have not had a solid night's sleep. I think that we are up, on average, 3 times a night with this one. He's nippy and rambunctious and he poops on the floor. 

But I'm pretty sure this little guy has stolen my heart. He makes me so happy. With his puppy kisses and exuberance. And the fact that he needs a mommy, to love and protect him, to give him boundaries. His enthusiasm to see me, his obvious preference of me over the kids, the way that I can understand some of the things that he needs. 

So I guess this means that I have a 5th child. 

Because, you remember, of course, that I don't like dogs. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014--A Year in Books

"A simple wind of despair will easily break them. What must we do, my friends?"
All the faces in the crowd became serious.
"We must live in the radiance of tomorrow, as our ancestors suggested in their tales.For what is yet to come tomorrow has possibilities, and we must think of it, the simplest gift of the possibility of goodness. That will be our strength, that has always been our strength."
         --Ishmael Beah, "The Radiance of Tomorrow"

I'm beginning to think that I can tell a lot about my year by the books that I read, particularly the quality of the fiction and the topic of the non fiction. And also by the type and quality of the books I started, but didn't finish.

But the quality of my fiction I can tell if I wanted to work hard to get into a good book, whether i had the wherewithal to stick with it--or if I just needed to escape in an easy read.

The topics of my non-fiction speak for themselves. There's been a lot to learn this year.

And the books I haven't finished. These titles grieve me a bit. As in, I started it, enjoyed it for a night or two, but found that it was work and easily slipped back into something easy (those were often the times that i "had" to read one of the books the kids wanted me to read). I think a goal I may start with are the books I didn't finish this year.

Also, I don't know about you, but as I set out to choose/read books, I try to vary the topics and authors and perspectives that I read. Some of my titles were chosen with that in mind. But others were chosen just because that's what looked good on the library shelves.

A few notes before I start.
(YA) means Youth Fiction--but it's still good stuff. Sometimes I read it because my kids are reading it sometimes because it's fun.
A bolded title means I really, really loved it. And if you have a chance you should too.
And for the benefit of those really out there books, I provided a brief description (mostly because that's what I put in my own notes.)

2014 in Books

  • Beautiful Fools--R. Clifton Spargo (A fictionalized account of the the last affair of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, set in Cuba, 1939)
  • Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, & lead--Brene Brown
  • A Wrinkle in Time (YA)--Madeleine L'Engle
  • A Long Walk to Water--Linda Sue Park
  • Sister of my Heart--Chitra Banerjie Divakaruni
  • Song yet Sung--James McBride ( I couldn't put this one down. Interesting voices and topic)
  • Still Alice--Lisa Genova
  • Orphan Train--Christina Baker Kline
  • State of Wonder--Ann Patchett
  • Sycamore Lane--John Grisham
  • Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend--Matthew Dicks (A book from the point of view of autistic Max's imaginary friend.)
  • Parenting a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder-Auer/Blumberg
  • The Husband's Secret--Liane Miorarty
  • Revolution (YA)--Jennifer Connelly
  • Rescuing Julia Twice--Tina Traster
  • Written in My Heart's Own Blood (#8 of the Outlander Series)--Diana Gabaldon
  • Radiance of Tomorrow--Ishmael Beah (READ THIS BOOK!)
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings--Maya Angelou
  • Where'd you go, Bernadette--Maria Semple
  • The Bitter Taste of Time--Bea Gonzalez
  • The Bookseller of Kabul--Selerstaad
  • Feed Me, Love Me--Katja Rowell, MD
  • Tim Gunn: A guide to Quality, Taste, & Style 
  • Your Fathers, Where are They? Your Prophets, Do They Live Forever?--Dave Eggers
  • Blink--Malcom Gladwell (Non-Fiction about how we make split second decisions)
  • The Language of Flowers--Vanessa Diffenbauch
  • The Invention of Wings--Sue Monk Kidd
  • Caleb's Crossing--Geraldine Brooks
  • Artemis Fowl (YA)--Eoinn Colfer
  • Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind--Ann B. Ross
  • The Invisible Bridge--Julie Orringer (A WWII book from a Hungarian point of view. Haunting in a different way)
  • The Light Between the Oceans--M.L. Stedman (Primarily set on a remote lighthouse island--This is a sad book)
  • Wonder (YA)--Palaccio
  • Choosing to See--Mary Beth Chapman
  • The White Princess--Phillippa Gregory
  • This is How you Lose Her--Junot Diaz
  • The House on Mango Street--Sandra Cisneros
  • Lies Homeschooling Moms Believe--Todd Wilson
  • I Saw the Angel in the Marble--Davis
The Books I started but didn't finish:

  • Guardians of Ga'hoole: The Capture (YA)--Lasky
  • The Day the World Ended at Little BigHorn--Marshall III
  • Unglued--Terkeurst
  • Sing Me To Heaven--Margaret Kim Peterson
  • A Sand County Almanac--Aldo Leopold
  • The Undertaking--Thomas Lynch
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me--Loewen
  • Flora & Uylesses (YA)--DiCamillo

So that makes my total: 39 books completed. 10 Non-fiction, 29 fiction, 4 Young Adult.
(I didn't include my repeat reads--I may be guilty of re-reading Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books. A Couple times)

Here's to a great year in books. Typing this list brought many remembrances. To me, that is the mark of a year well-read.

Happy New Year to you and yours.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Half-finished thought...

[Full Disclaimer: I started this post on Sunday. Then I put it aside to add pictures later. And now it's Tuesday night and there are still no pictures. If I want you to ever read it, it'll just have to be the words!]

It's gotten quite bad lately. The kids have started to chastise me when I loose track of a sentence.

"Mom, what were you saying?"

I whip my head back toward my original intention, pulling my attention away from the one who stole it in the first place.

A blank look crosses my face. "Uh....I forgot."

Or I start to sweep the junk off the floor under the table. I make a nice little pile. I go to find the dustpan when someone needs me or I get distracted or something happens. And I totally forget about the sweeping and the pile of dust and food crumbs waiting in the middle of the floor. Until some child (or I) step through it and spread it everywhere again.

And that seems to be the story of this past year.

It's been the year of unfinished thoughts, projects, intentions.

As I type, there are four Christmas gifts that I cannot finish while the receivers are out of bed.

Looking on my bedside table, there are a couple books that I started, but have never finished. Not because they aren't great, but I just didn't. (Honestly, the ones I haven't finished have all been non-fiction.)

At my feet in the office, is a stack of soon-to-be discarded rough drafts of my novel, which although received so well, has stalled (and died?) in the middle of a major revision.

Throughout the year, I've started diagnosis/medication paths for children, to have them go nowhere.

I've started life changing conversations, only to not be able to have the time to finish them well.

A box of half-addressed Christmas cards sits on the dining room counter. (Consider them New Year's best wishes.)

If there has been anything that has characterized this year, it is the un-finished-ness of it. The things I haven't been able to follow through on, the things I've started, but not yet completed.

I want to think that this is a phase, that there will come a time when everything is completed, where projects and thoughts and intentions are brought to fruition. But I don't think it's going to be for a while.

So the question i have, how do I live life well in the middle of this: life unfinished, rough cut, unedited? I'm sure there is wisdom and patience to be found even in the midst of these stops & starts.

I'll go look for it in just a minute....

[If you've gotten this far, then let me wish you the merriest of Christmases, full of the traditions and events that warm your heart, the quiet moments of reflection and pondering that refuel your soul, and a reminder that our greatest gift isn't wrapped under the tree--He was born in a stable. Blessings. -S]

Friday, November 21, 2014

Foodie Fail

I spend a lot of time thinking about this blog: what's it's focus should be, what I know a lot about, what I'm passionate about.

And I think I stumbled on something: food.

I love food! It's so yummy. I like to prepare and eat it. I'm not big on presentation or pictures of food. But that's a skill I could learn right? Food blogs are a big deal: I spend a great deal of time gleaning my recipes from other food bloggers. I'm sure the world could use another one.

And I like to think about food--but not in the way that you think. Food has the power to change a life: to make one sick or make one well.

And food inequality.

And real food versus junk food.

And how the poor often don't have access to quality food.

And the difference an adequate diet has on health and learning and thriving.

The piece de resistance: how much food we waste. A recent report I heard on NPR said that our country's food waste is equal to our waste of paper and plastic combined.

This statistic has certainly borne itself in our home. Last year, as a science experiment, we kept track of our trash output for an entire week. What we found was humbling: about 40 pounds of waste (which includes the amount that we recycle). But of that total, about 1/3 was food waste. Of course, that included peels and ends and a chicken carcass. But it also included the remains of the cereal bowl, the gross remains from the fridge, the second helping of dinner that was put on a plate, but not eaten. One third!! 13(ish) pounds of wasted food. That's disgusting.

I was sickened.

So, as I thought about a blog, I thought, "I could do some stuff with food stuffs that we would generally waste. Find a useful and yummy way to prepare it, so it wasn't wasted." Wouldn't that be great?

Luckily, my wonderful neighbor often picks up bulk foods for our family. This week I got a huge bag of bananas. They were still perfect, just a bit spotty. Delicious. But I also know that there was no way that our family would finish eating them before they turned bad. There is already a significant number of bananas and mush waiting in my freezer. (Honestly, putting more in the fridge would just be my way of wasting by not wasting. I probably wouldn't use them).

Looks good going in.
Then I had an epiphany. I stumbled across a recipe for homemade banana chips. Sure, they aren't the family's favorite, but I could spruce them up, toss them in homemade granola, right?

So I heated the oven, prepared the pan, and sliced the bananas. To add a bit of 'extra.' I made a mixture of cocoa powder and sugar and sprinkled all over the banana slices.

Doesn't this sound yummy?

I let them bake for almost two hours--I wanted crispy little pieces of banana.

When I took them out, they looked...okay. Then I tasted one. It was gummy. No worries, I thought, they just need to cool. Gave them a few minutes to cool. Try again. Weird and gummy. "Well, maybe it was just that one." Try a smaller one, a bit crispier. Hopeful. Taste. Nope.

I let them sit on the counter until Eric came home. "Hmmm, those look interesting." One taste. The look on his face was confirmation. This was a food fail. Two pans (and a couple bunches of bananas) went straight into the trash. My attempt at not wasting...sigh...resulted in wasted food.

The lesson in all this: I don't think I'm going to be a food blogger. It was fun for about 10 seconds.

It was more fun and challenging and real to think about how we use food and what we waste and our part in the system. And how much we take for granted. There has to be a niche in that, right? For me and my thoughts?

But next time I have extra bananas, I'll just stick to banana bread & muffins.

I kept sampling because I hoped that maybe they would get better.
They didn't.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Maybe you've noticed,

My house has become a bit lighter in the past few weeks.

No, if you've been here, you probably wouldn't notice right away.

It's a bit vague, but I can tell, in every room that I've terrorized, I walk into it and feel calm. The cupboards close, drawers are not overstuffed, every thing has a place--a file, a basket, a drawer, a holder.

It's as though I've had an invisible hand pushing me through my house, forcing me to ask the usefulness of the things that are in it. I've been through parts of my kitchen, the entire office, the craft supplies upstairs and my sewing stuff all over. We've even started cleaning/sorting/selling/purging things from Eric's shop.

Part of this stems from the fact that we are drowning in stuff--meaningless stuff. I know this problem is not unique to our family.

But lately, I've been asking myself some tough questions: what does the stuff in my house say about me? (And since we're studying archeology and ancient history) I wonder, if we abandoned our house and someone came to study us by what was left, what would they decide? And, in the final analysis, is this really all that important?

By and large, I've been able to free myself by freeing my connection to things I thought I would need again. The couple years of Cooking Light and Eating Well magazines, the CD games that we haven't played since the kids were born, the leftover documents from our adoption.

This hasn't been an entirely cheerful process. I've come face to face with my wastefulness and my lack of follow through. Today, as I cleaned through my sewing stuff, I found a pinned and cut-out dress pattern that all of my girls are too big for. It is humbling to realize how much I have and how little I really need to be content.

But, on the plus side, I discovered stuff for two Christmas presents. One of which I can complete in a day or two--and will be the best gift for a daughter who loves to dress up.

So maybe, you might want to do this too--to be freer to live instead of tied to your stuff.

Let me tell you where I started: with this list from the becoming Their main idea is that you don't have to live on nothing, you could probably make due with less: less vases, less mis-matched cups, less meds. It simply gave me permission to start, to not feel bad for having too much, and to get rid of stuff that was too much. (And no, I didn't need 10 vases--I whittled it down to the five I use most. Do I really need five? Probably not. But this is a journey and I'm at the beginning).

Next, I've also worked hard to find good places for my stuff. Just because I don't need it doesn't mean that it would be a huge help to someone else. In a few instances, the things that I am purging have been perfect for another's need. I love that: God's provision at my obedience.

Of course there are the good old standbys, Goodwill and the Salvation Army. In our area, there are about 25 non-profits that re-sell as well. Find one whose purpose you admire and go with that. Of course, you could always go the selling route: craigslist or whatever. But that created more hassle for me--so not for this clean out.

But here are some fun organizations that i have found.

Now that my kids are past the baby blanket and 10,000 stuffed animal stage, SAFE (Stuffed animals for emergencies) will clean and redistribute those items to fire & police departments, hospitals and other first responders to be given to kids in a time of crisis. There may be a chapter near you.

Old electronics waiting for recycling
In our area, the local county recycling plant accepts a huge amount of electronic material for recycling. Like old VHS and cassette tapes, VCRS, broken handhelds, old CDS, and random cords. I would much rather them be salvaged and re-used than just sit in a dump for the next 10,000 years.

This last one is one that I am a bit conflicted about. I like the idea, but it has issues. There is an organization in California, Donate your old Shoes, that accepts used shoes and redistributes them throughout the third world. It was started as a small project by a family and has grown into something bigger. On the one hand, I like this. Our shoes aren't worn out, they are just grown out of. BUT, I understand that it's not good to just give my old crap to someone in need just to make me feel better. That person has dignity and deserves respect, not my crap. In the end, it was too expensive for us to justify, but, hey, maybe it works for you.

Maybe you can help me too. I have extra office/school supplies: three-ring binders, file folders, rubber bands. They need a new home. I can't use them. (Like seriously, two full boxes of decent-shape, various-sized three-ring binders) Who needs them? Who wants them? A school? A non-profit serving the city? A church? An after-school organization?

I have to admit, I never quite finished the office. And right now it's covered in the pen stuff that Eric is selling, but even in this frenzied state, it's calmer than ever before.

And I could get used to living like that.