Getting away from it all: Don’t forget Respite!

The night I sat on the couch with a bowl of ice cream and started the first episode of the first season of the “Gilmour Girls” and felt guilty that I wasn’t on my computer doing “work” at ten o’clock at night was the night I realized I really really needed a break.

It was also the week before I flew to Seattle and drove north for a couple hours before crossing over to a small island by ferry for a few days of respite. My aunt’s sister had just purchased a house on the island and offered a weekend away and I jumped at the opportunity. For the first time in over ten years, I slept in a queen-sized bed all by myself for TWELVE HOURS without the possible interruption of small two-footed or four-footed creatures. It was amazing!

My friends asked, “What did you do while you were away?”

“Absolutely nothing,” I replied, “and it was glorious! I sat on the couch with a cup of coffee and watched the clouds blow off the peaks of the neighboring island and examined the fishing boats and ferries as they passed by.”

That’s it. Sleep. Rest. Good conversation. Coffee. Food. Two books that had a higher ratio of words to pictures in them (okay, they didn’t actually have any pictures in them and that was fine).

For the first time in over ten years, I spent three days as me. Just me. Not as a parent getting boys ready for school or bathed and into bed at night. Not picking up Legos and dirty clothes from the floor. Not at work making decisions on grant writing or presentations or people’s health. The only decisions I had to make were whether I was hungry or not and what I wanted to eat.

I’m a firm believer in “respite.” I spent my entire college, grad school, and medical school years taking every Sunday “off” as respite. I consistently counsel new parents to build in respite to get away with each other, and I have many times watched children for the weekend for parents to get away. I also co-founded a “crisis nursery” in our community a few years ago to provide respite for every and any parent who needs it. And yet, it took me ten years and near exhaustion and a wonderful person to say, “Can someone watch the boys for a few days? I’m serious” to get me to apply my philosophy to myself and get on a plane.

guemes1I have absolutely no regrets. I actually relished having six hours on a plane where no one could reach me and all I needed to do was read a book and munch on some pretzels. I woke up on the second day feeling rested and refreshed. When a winter storm blowing in caused us to push back our flights by a day, I fretted for a while about how my eldest (and least flexible) son would handle another day without mom, but soon realized that clearly I was the one who needed that extra day to sit on the couch and watch the boats go by.

My mom is my joy. She willingly moved into my little home for a few days to juggle the boys, get them to basketball games, handle the push-back of not wanting to go to church, deal with the major emotional complete melt-down of Super Tall Guy before school on Monday morning, keep the dog alive, coordinate the babysitter and my sister’s kids’ after school care, all with a smile and grace and love. And my sister lovingly filled in to give the boys a few extra hugs and attention while I was away. I am so grateful for the support of family and friends to make this happen and the chance to meet new friends on my trip.

If there’s one thing I learned – it won’t be ten years before I take my next break. In fact, it’s been rolling in my head for years to get away with some other moms on a regular basis in January or February. This experience reinforced the importance of making sure that idea becomes a reality. Parenting is exhausting even when you are getting sleep. Sanity is maintained by getting breaks!

Who’s with me in 2018?

 

 

 

Activation of the Extraction Code

He activated the “Extraction Code” and then realized he didn’t want to.

It was 8:54 pm on a Saturday night. Super Tall Guy was at a friend’s house where he enjoys countless hours of Minecraft, more junk food than his body needs, and stays up later than I would ever allow. But it’s a friend and he needs friends.

He has spent the night with this friend numerous times and always seems to like it, but this night he texted and asked me to come pick him up. He didn’t want me to tell his friend why. He didn’t want me to tell his friend’s mother why. He didn’t want to tell me why.

And I commenced the extraction.

Popped over to my neighbor’s house and asked their thirteen-year-old son to come sit in my house with my younger two and my nephew (who was planning to spend the night, but that didn’t work out either, which is another story for another day).

Texted my son over the course of five minutes to confirm the pick-up as his last message seemed unsure. Never heard back.

Texted the mother and “explained” a family emergency.

Jumped in the car.

Drove 5 minutes down the road.

Texted that I was in the driveway.

Super Tall Guy got in….and broke into tears. There had been a scuffle. He had been kicked (not sure if on purpose or accident) but what he really wanted was just to talk to me. He had decided to give his friend another chance….but there I was.

We drove off; him sobbing and me explaining the extraction system. At any moment, at any time, I would be there. No matter what. No questions asked. But if you activate the system – the system goes into play. There’s not a thing in the world that’s going to stop a mom from going to rescue her baby. Ever.

But I sit and wonder this weekend, who’s activating the system for the thousands of people stranded in airports or stranded overseas with fear and terror? Who’s running to the aid of immigrants and refugees? Thousands of people have arisen to protest the ban. Hundreds of lawyers working hard to overturn the discrimination against people based on their country of origin and their religion.

I sit and explain to my sons the extent of my love for them. It passes all my understanding. It is a very imperfect reflection of the perfect love of the Creator of the Universe. And it is the Lord who calls His people to love the homeless, the orphan, the refugee, the least of these in this world. Just as I love and protect my sons, I am called to love and protect the vulnerable.

May we all join the fight to carry out the extraction code which has just been activated by those in need.

 

 

 

Love matters.

I don’t remember how old I was, six or seven perhaps, young enough to still be holding my mother’s hand as we crossed a street in northern Thailand. A small group of blind men crossed opposite us and I looked up at my mother and said, “Look, Mom, three blind mice.”  To this day, I cannot remember what she said in response. I don’t remember her face when she looked down upon me. But I do remember the intense emotion of disappointment and shame I felt with her response. Forty years later, as a woman who has grown so much since then, I am embarrassed to share this story, but I do so for one reason. It was a defining moment in my life. The moment that my mother taught me that under no circumstance, absolutely no circumstance at all, will you ever mock, demean, or disrespect another human being. Each and every person is created in the image of God and therefore shall be treated with utmost respect as if looking upon the face of Jesus himself. Forty years and counting, I try to hold to that teaching.

Sure, I get annoyed at people. Sure, I am snippy and rude sometimes (especially when driving). Sure, I have a temper that flares, particularly at the boys (just ask Super Tall Guy this morning). And I have made some very egregious mistakes in relationships. I am sorry for that. I realize that even as an adult I am still developing; still learning self-control and wisdom; still learning to take another’s perspective; still learning to be a better person. Still learning how to love my neighbor.

The key thing is that I’m learning because it matters to me. Love matters. loveRespect matters. I want to be better. I want to do better. Which means that I will also expect that out of others and I will stand in the gap whenever there is injustice and maltreatment of the innocent. And, I will expect my boys to be learning about love and kindness as well. I don’t expect them to be perfect. I know they will experiment with rudeness and meanness. I know they will tease others. I know they will say hurtful things without realizing it as well. But I expect them to reflect on those moments and learn from them with my guidance. I expect them to gradually get better. I expect them to learn the power they have in the choice of their words and actions. I expect them to value love. I expect them to respect others. I expect them to be a light into their world, to walk as a child of God. And I expect myself to model that for them and do the hard work of teaching them.

I’m not sure I have the power to change my sons’ perspectives in an instant as my mother  did so clearly years ago. And I know that I have not always lived up to her expectations nor emulated her Christ-like behavior and neither will my boys. But I know that we will keep on trying each and every day to make this world a better place. To stand in the gap. To be a light into the world. To be faithful and courageous.

Love matters.

Choose love.

Goodnight Home

The windmill stained glass window caught your eye the moment you walked in the front door. Sure you may have stumbled over the uneven flooring of the front porch, but isuoyn2bqy677e0000000000inside…inside the house was stunning. Over a hundred years old with built-in bookshelves, dark hardwood floors, and a back “secret” staircase, the most important thing about the house was that it first held our boys (and a couple foster girls along the way as well….one dog…countless not very hardy goldfish and a beta named Lightning McQueen who had amazing stamina).

A house is a house. Bricks are bricks. Wood is wood. But when a baby enters, a special kind of mystery takes place and memories are laid down deep within your heart.  The location of the bassinet. The crack of the bathroom stained glass from a well-placed kick. The corners where the boys hid. The games of hide-and-seek and monster’s going to get you! The walls become a home. The ceilings, the skies of your dreams. The kitche, the center of life. The bedrooms, the source of peace.

is6abdz8in5vad0000000000And yet, when a baby enters a dwelling, the world shifts. The priorities change. The once “easy access” street becomes the dreaded high-speed danger trap. The easy to maintain stamp back yard quickly becomes too boring and inadequate. And the worry of school choice and the need for better options gradually stalks close enough to you that you suddenly you wake up to boxes and plastic bins and moving vans and men who don’t really know anything about safe moving except that they needed the job that day.

After years “on the market,” my sister and I closed on the old Victorian house today. The next rambunctious little boy entered tonight. He’ll pick his room. He’ll unpack his “loveys” and his little cars and scatter some Legos across the hardwood floor to help his mom feel right at home. He’ll probably fuss for a bit. He’ll probably need some lights on for the ceilings are high and the shadows are deep. But soon he’ll find the scratches on the doorframe. Soon he’ll hide in the front closet. Soon he’ll wait for the wild raspberries out back to ripen. Soon he’ll know that those walls are his home. Soon he’ll be laying down memories to cherish and share and laugh about with family.

Goodnight great big house.

Goodbye wonderful home.

Thanks for the incredible memories.

Thank you, dear sister

Our Family
A circle of strength and love
Founded on faith….
Joined by love
Kept by God
Together forever

 

To my sister,

Thank you for the Willow Tree figurines of my three boys this Christmas. More importantly, thank you for my three boys.

You started this journey eleven years ago during whichour-family we fell into adoption and flew into love. I still remember nervously standing around a bassinet of two-day old Super Tall Guy, waiting for the social worker to find some clothes for him to wear out of the hospital. We walked to the car swinging him in the car seat unable to talk other than whispered “Oh my goodness.” I stared into his eyes while you ran to the store for bottles and formula and diapers and baby wipes. What had we gotten in to? Leaping by faith to into a family.

I broke your heart once. Probably more times than that, but once in a big way. It was the day I was sitting in my office chair and looked up at you standing there innocent and announced that I needed clarity on being a mother. I couldn’t share mothering. I wanted Super Tall Guy to be mine despite having both of our names on the adoption certificate. I needed there to be just one mother. I was naïve. I was strong-willed. I pushed the limits of our love, but you held firm. You sacrificed and continued to love me. We learned to be independent yet together.

And I divorced you once in a house of five young boys. We sat on the hard wood floor of the second-floor bedroom and divided the children’s books into yours and mine piles. We clung to memories of books that mattered to our mother-hearts. We snapped softly at each other. We made lists of books we were determined to replace as they clearly meant so much to us. It’s been two years. I haven’t found my list. I haven’t replaced the books, because it wasn’t the books that mattered, it wasn’t the toys that mattered, it wasn’t the Christmas ornaments that mattered; it was the sadness of separating. It was the reality of beginning to parent on our own. It was the fear that dug deep within us. And yet, two years later, we hold together as a family. We rely on that bind. We trust that bind. We are still in it together.

boy-figurines2“The Caring Child” – Super Tall Guy – strong and huge with occasional explosions of rage, but deep within there is such a soft tenderness.

“The Inquisitive Child” – Mr. Ornery – always wondering how to push the limits and whether that line in the sand was really meant for him or for someone else.

“The Kind Child” – the Little Guy – overflowing with love and kindness, ready with a smile and a story, eager to meet the world and charm the skies with his eyes.

Each beautiful boy a gift of God. Each beautiful boy a gift to my life. Each beautiful boy so touched by the love that you share with them as well as with your own three boys. Each of us touched by being part of our larger family.

Thank you for my boys. Thank you for being my family. Thank you for being in this together forever. No matter what.

Love,

Your sister

Advent Week Three into Four: Fighting for Joy

 

adventChristmas is always my favorite time of year. I think I just like lights…on trees, on bushes, on houses, on boys’ bunkbeds. They seem to emanate a feeling of peace and comfort. But the end of this year has been pretty bumpy and it’s been hard to capture any peace.  It could be the endless roll of medical visits for my three boys (two fractures, bead in the ear, strep throat, medication checks, flu shots) or the endless saga of behavioral crises that my sister’s boys are wrestling with as the year comes to a close.

It could be the pervasive sense of sadness that settled in in early November when less than half of the voters still triumphed. It’s impossible to see any Joy in the one who is to be our new leader, yet who is so far from a Christian role model that I want to shield my sons from all news until this crisis is over.

It could be the deluge of photos showing the reality of hundreds of thousands of innocent people dying in Syria. It could be the feeling of powerlessness as a hurricane wipes out lives and livelihood for thousands in Haiti.

It could be the unpredictability of violence in the neighborhood, the financial drain of a house still sitting on the market, the uncertainty of funding at my current employment.

It could be a lot of little irritants throughout a day. It could be all-consuming disgust and annoyance. It could be boys who squabble, or whistle in the car, or throw remotes in frustration, or roll around on a kitchen floor to trip over when trying to make dinner. It could be the slow slow slow plodding march every….single….night to shift three little brains from alertness to dream state. It could be any of a hundred of weights in a single moment.

But it could also be moments of Peace. (Nah, that’s only when they’re asleep). It could be moments of Love in the notes Mr. Ornery writes to say he’s sorry. It could be elfmoments of Joy in watching Super Tall Guy in his first performance playing the saxophone. It could be moments of Hope in the excitement of The Little Guy waiting for Christmas (and expectantly looking for the elf that the babysitter likes to hide).

 

It could be all these moments if the focus is in the right place. For there is only One from whom Peace passes all understanding, Love surpasses knowledge, Hope yields eternal life, and Joy fills the soul. Only one.

May we all seek and find that Joy, Peace, Hope and Love this moment, this day, this year and into the next.

Merry Christmas to All!tree

 

 

Advent Week Two: Who is in control?

The Candle of Preparation

“Do you or do you not have a bead in your ear?” I asked the 7-year-old for the hundredth (almost literally) time. I couldn’t decide which side of dragging children to the Express bead-in-ear-wpCare again I wanted to lean on. The otoscope at school apparently wasn’t working when the school nurse called me Thursday to explain the situation. My 25+-year-old otoscope also wouldn’t charge up so I couldn’t confirm Mr. Ornery’s story and given his orneriness, I couldn’t read his face. Was it worth going out another evening this week to check the ear?

The problem was, the week was just not going the way I had hoped. My idea was that it would be my final week of “preparation” for my once-every-ten-years required pediatric recertification examination. Having taken the internal medicine exam in October, I had been studying almost every day of the week since summer when I sat with a thick book in my lap at the pool. Now I had just a few more days of cramming small details into my brain and I wasn’t feeling ready.

Does he look like he ever slows down?

Does he look like he ever slows down?

But Monday was consumed with the fact that copper pipes were stolen from the basement of the house we’re trying to sell, necessitating quite of bit of work that my sister coordinated. Tuesday was the Little Guy’s orthopedic appointment (“When the cast comes off after 4 weeks, he’ll need to lay low for another 4 weeks” Um, have you met my Little Guy?!?). This was followed by a grand-slam knock-down homework battle prior to heading to a friend’s for dinner. Wednesday evening was karate. Thursday was going to be our evening at home so Mommy could settle and prepare for her test…..or head to Children’s Hospital Express Care.

Friday morning, the day of the test, started with running late to the bus stop due to having to rescue the neighbor’s locked-outside dog, followed by cleaning dog do-do off Super Tall Guy’s shoes, and culminating in finding out there was a conflict with the babysitter’s schedule at the end of the day which needed some childcare juggling as I would still be in my test. Keep it coming.

As hurdle after hurdle rolled my way, I realized that the preparation I was supposed to be doing the second week of Advent was laying all those burdens before the Lord. God was reminding me that there are many things in this world that I have no control over (and most clearly not the 3 little ones who live under the same roof with me!) and yet, He remains in control. As the things of this world – the big and the little – whirl around us and push and pull us, there is one thing that remains true forever. God is in control.

Advent Week Two – Preparation for what God has in store.