Category Archives: Family

It’s Not Just You

I just sent this text to a friend.


It helps to know we’re not the only ones. This is the greatest gift we can give one another, the gift of it’s not just you. I feel like I say this all the time (feel free to roll your eyes at me), but I really only write about it when I have to be reminded myself. If it happens a lot, it is because I am a slow learner.

We had a rough day yesterday here at the Circus. This morning wasn’t great either. I watched the boys clamber onto the bus with guilt-riddled relief. Some of what’s been happening is, I am certain, because of our recent changes in routine. Soccer is over. Paul and I were gone over the weekend. I want to be careful about sharing too much about my children’s demons in an effort to exorcise my own, but a quick Google about “adoption” and “routine” will turn up article after article about the way this can affect adoptive families.

When we have days like this, I am tempted to crawl into my metaphorical cave and pick at my wounds all by myself. Obviously, if I were a better parent (a better Christian, a harder worker, more physically fit … what, you wanted logic?), we wouldn’t have these kinds of days. If only I were perfect in every way, everything would be fine. It all makes sense in my head, and it feels safest to stay there, flaying myself, because at least then no one else will know about my spectacular failures.

The best antidote that I know is talking to other people. People who aren’t in your situation, who can say, gosh, that stinks, and hey, as someone who isn’t down in the trenches right now can I tell you you’re maybe being a teensy bit hard on yourself? People who are in your situation, who can say, yeah, I don’t really know what to do either, but here are some things I’ve tried, and we have that too, and it’s not just you. People who, no matter their situation, can say, whether they use these specific words or not, I love you. I’m with you. Solidarity, sister.

It isn’t always easy to reach out. It isn’t always convenient to stop and listen. But I am convinced that we need to. Really, really need to. One of the best things we have is each other.

Sicky, Sicky Boy

Elias was home sick from school today. (He’s fine. Also he’s not contagious.)

I took him to express care and let the chatter in the waiting room wash over us without taking much of it in. He sat next to me on a Naugahyde loveseat and burrowed into my armpit. I reached around to rub his back, and said, “Aw. Sicky, sicky boy.”

I haven’t said that in years. My dad always said that, even to us girls, because his older sister said it to him when he was little in the 1930s. Sicky, sicky boy conferred both sympathy and status. If there was any chance you might be faking to get out of going to school, you didn’t hear sicky, sicky boy. It made me a little melancholy thinking about it. So I thought about something else.

Upon release from the doctor’s office, we went to the pharmacy. (Can I get an AMEN for modern pharmaceuticals? Bare hours later, he’s a different kid.) Then the grocery store, which is right next door. Elias was allowed to pick popsicles and cookies, and I added crackers and Sprite. I didn’t think too much about it until I was in the car driving home. His stomach wasn’t upset, so the crackers and Sprite were probably unnecessary. But whenever we were sick, Mom gave us crackers and Sprite. So for no apparent reason, driving down Benner Road toward home, I burst into tears.

This happened to me once before, sort of. I’d stopped at the neighbor’s house to drop something off. The bus had just gone by and my hair was still wet, and she looked at me and said, “I bet you got everybody else out the door and you’re going to work and you haven’t eaten breakfast.” Well, no. I hadn’t. Connie has kids my age and she reads people pretty well, I guess. She handed me two chocolate chip cookies that she was pulling out of the oven and told me to eat on the road. I got in the car and went to work and bawled as the chocolate melted on my tongue.

All of this feels ridiculous. Who cries about fresh chocolate chip cookies? And Sprite?

It has little to do with the food, of course, and everything to do with another kind of nourishment. I told Paul earlier this week that I’m feeling orphaned again. We tried to figure out if there’s some sort of anniversary I wasn’t acknowledging, but we couldn’t think of one.

I don’t know why I’m missing my parents so badly right now. I think, a little, that I’m just missing HAVING parents. When your parents are gone, there is no one left whose job it once was to keep you alive. There is no one left who is always, always supposed to have your back. That you’d automatically get in the divorce. The person you can call about that thing that happened when you were seven, or why your turkey burst into flames in the oven an hour before Thanksgiving dinner? That person is not there anymore.

Apparently, sometimes I want someone to tuck me into a fluffy blanket on the couch and give me a popsicle and tell me they’ll take care of everything. And I want to believe it.

Because ohmygosh this life thing is hard work. And this week, I am tired, and I miss my parents.


We had soccer today, and then we came home and did our Saturday chores. There was much less grumbling this week than usual, possibly because I reached the end of my grumbling tolerance last Saturday and I was so loud the neighbors were hiding. Whatever the reason, Saturday chores got done in record time. Next up was helping Dad outside with the fence. “He says you need boots!” I hollered as the door slammed behind them. I hope to work on door slamming someday. Today I was just happy they shut it.

Ten minutes later, Elias came inside, worked up to a fever pitch. He couldn’t find any boots. I took a deep breath.

I’ve been trying more and more lately to stop taking on their problems. I don’t mean the big stuff. I’m not going to stop ordering, picking up, and paying for Levi’s medicine. I mean stuff like boots. You can’t find your boots? I’m not the one who uses your boots. Your toes are not going to freeze off today. This is not something I need to take on.

So I said, “Here are the things I know. I know there are black boots and green boots. I know they were both in the garage recently. If they are not in the garage now, you’re going to have to figure out where they went.” And Elias went out again, dark thoughts about cruel mothers swirling almost visibly around his head.

And then I went ahead and forgot all about it. I don’t reserve much processing power for boots. Whoosh! Gone. Until tonight, when Paul and I were coming home from our date, may Auntie be blessed unto the Nth generation for making it possible.

“I forgot to tell you,” Paul said. “When we were headed out to the barn today, Elias told me he wanted to die.”

I asked why, without much alarm. Listen, I know people say that girls bring more drama than boys, but I ain’t buyin’. If that is actually true, I don’t know how anyone survives girl children. The boy children we have deserve Oscars.

“He didn’t have any boots.”

Paul, retrieving his eyeballs from where they had rolled back in his skull, looked at Levi’s feet. Black boots. So he asked where the green boots were.

“In the pool,” Levi said.

Yep. There they were.

“Why,” asked Paul carefully, “are your boots in the pool?”

“I was trying to wash them off,” Levi said, “and they got away.”

Why is our pool murky, no matter what we do? It’s a mystery.

Paul fished the boots out with a garden hoe (Why is our pool murky? IT’S A MYSTERY I TELL YOU.) and Elias decided he could probably go on living.


I am going to give up asking why. There are no satisfying answers. But at the risk of surrendering entirely to a cliche, this is why we can’t have nice things. Because pool boots.

9 1/52

I’m feeling guilty about this, my Levi, and you don’t even know anything about it. I wrote your brother a blog post on his birthday. I meant to do one on yours, and the day got away from me. Then the week turned into one of those weeks, and here I am, a week late.

That’s one of the things about you, though. You forgive quickly. If I brought this up to you, you’d say, “That’s okay, Mom,” and give me a hug. I love that, though I try not to take advantage of it.

You told me the other day that you can’t wait to be ten. I’m not sure what’s magical about that number. Maybe the double digits. But I’m asking you, sweet boy, to enjoy nine while you’re here. You are learning to do all sorts of things, and you think you have way too many chores. I have bad news: the chores do not become easier at ten. Or at forty. The gross things are still gross, and there are more of them. (If you’ve never caught vomit in your hand to keep it off the carpet, are you really a mom?) Lots of things are really good when you’re a grownup, but the hard things just get harder.

Nine is fun. Your front teeth are still too big for your face, and it’s still adorable. You can do things on your own, but you are not too cool to shriek with glee when you see one of your best buddies at the store unexpectedly.

You will leave me someday, and probably all too soon. I won’t know where you are all the time, and how you’re doing, and whether anyone has been mean to you that day. I’ve joked that my favorite time of the day is bedtime, and I do treasure the quiet of the house when everyone else has gone to sleep. But I also love the knowing. I know you are safe, and I know you are warm, and I know you are okay, because I saw you there under your comforter with my own two eyes.

Don’t be in too much of a hurry for eighteen, or for ten. Please, enjoy nine. I plan to.

Cake for breakfast, on the actual morning. Because I am not always heartless.

First and Third

Here we go!

I know lots of moms are sad today, and I support their right to the sadness. But I’m good. Besides getting a nice regular routine back, this will be the first time in quite a while that we aren’t paying for regular childcare. I would make the standard jokes about it being like getting a raise, but we just started making payments on an orthodontic plan, so it’s more like just a relief.

First try at a picture.

Elias is a little nervous. I don’t know what Levi’s face is about.


Balancing their stuffed-to-the-gills backpacks on the way down the lane. I told them they’ll never be this heavy again. Until they start bringing rocks home again, I guess.

Thumbs out so the bus driver will see us.

She did.

And they’re off.

I think I recorded first-day conversations last year, and I decided to continue the tradition.

L: Mom, why do we have arms?
Me: So we can keep our hands with us all the time.
L: Oh.

E: Why do we have to wear nice clothes and stay clean on the first day?
Me: I just like your teachers to know it’s possible.


Seven years ago, in the evening, I was leaving a board meeting for a chorus I was singing with, and my cell phone rang. It was our caseworker. “Baby was born,” she said.

She’d called the house a couple of times, finally rousing Paul from sleep for a confused conversation. He’d managed to wake up enough to convey the information that I was at a meeting just a few miles from the hospital. She’d caught me in time, and I could go and see the baby, if I wanted to.

I did.

So off I went, entering through the ER department because it was after hours. A busy nurse pointed me vaguely in the direction of the OB wing, and I explained who I was to the nurse guarding the door there. There was a side room in the hall stuffed with unused-at-the-moment equipment and some chairs. I settled into one, the plastic creaking as I shifted during the wait.

And then there you were. The scrawniest little brown boy you’ve ever seen, all huge dark eyes and wild black hair and chicken legs. I could not have imagined at that moment that at five, you’d nearly be able to knock me over with an enthusiastic hug around the legs.

Scrawny or sturdy, I fussed over you from that moment. Were you eating? Were the nurses holding you enough? Most of all, would you truly be mine forever? Would all the right papers be signed, the Is dotted, the Ts crossed?

I fuss over you still, over your health and your heart and your sweet little soul. You are almost never sick, and I wonder whether we brush you aside too often because we’re worrying over your brother. You are stubborn as sin, and I wonder how to help you learn to channel it into persistence instead of petulance. You are the most curious combination of temper and tenderness.

You are seven. You love your family and your duckling and you hate not being able to do everything Levi does. I cannot freeze you here in this moment, when you are reaching and stretching and learning to do without me, but still need sleepy cuddles in the morning. And I wouldn’t if I could. Not really.

But I will write you down, and I will take your picture. And I will answer the question you ask me the same every time. Every day, every year, every decade, whenever you ask me, and whenever you don’t. Yes. You will always be my baby.

Happy birthday, Elias. Thank you for being part of Us.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame!

What a weekend we had.

It started early with a parade (SO LOUD).

We dropped the candy haul off in the car after the parade, and on the way back up the hill to the festival, the boys were holding hands. Without being prompted. My niece pointed it out to me and I snapped a few pictures. My sister wondered aloud if I’d recorded the last time it’ll happen.

Then Saturday night we had a party and there were at least a hundred kids in the pool.

Oh, fine. It was more like ten. It sounded like a hundred, though. They had quite a good time. There were lots of grownups there too, although they generally hollered a lot less.

I’d been watching the weather forecast all week because of the party, but also because we’d been offered Indians tickets on Sunday afternoon. Things were not looking good. For most of the week, the forecast was for rain the entire weekend. Saturday morning looked pretty bad, but things cleared up nicely. The Sunday forecast was still very wet, though.

Sunday morning early I checked and things had improved. Mostly sun and clouds with a probably thunderstorm at 2:00. Well, I thought, if we get a little wet, it’s not the end of the world. Around 9:30, I checked again, and the thunderstorm had shifted to 6:00. I don’t think it actually ever arrived, and the day couldn’t have been prettier.

The boys got duded up in their Indians gear, special not just because it was appropriate to the activity, but because it was all part of a previous gift from our friend John, who was also the benefactor providing the tickets for the game. (As it turned out, the guy on the shirt was pitching and the one on the hat hit a home run as we watched. Serendipity was strong for our outing.)

Not very far into the ballpark, we ran into Brayden, a neighbor and Levi’s classmate. With 30,000 people in the stadium, it wasn’t surprising that we knew a few, but it was a little surprising to actually encounter them in the crowd.

I had to encourage the boys to stop staring and keep walking, especially as we got farther into the park. These are children who still get thrills riding the one-floor escalator at the children’s hospital, remember. There was a lot of looking around to do.

I’d warned them about wandering off or not paying attention as we walked down the sidewalk on our way in. “You need to stick close,” I said. “You’re just not used to crowds like this.” They clearly felt maligned, but quieted down when we got closer to said crowds.

Still, as I craned my neck around someone to see if we’d found section 172, I called Levi by name, and a voice said, “Levi? And are you Elias?”

It was Mike. John had intended to join us, but couldn’t, so he sent someone down to greet us. With goodie bags.

These boys are absolutely not spoiled rotten, and I don’t know why you’d even ask that.

Here they are just before finding our seats …

… and here’s the view we had. Pretty great.

The boys and I missed most of the last two innings to stand in line to run the bases after the game. It was worth it. Paul stayed in the stands and watched the end of the game, and texted to see where we were and when we would appear on the field. We waited in a line stretching several floors up a concrete ramp, descended back down the ramp and then even deeper into the bowels of the stadium, and at one point we had turned around so many times I texted Paul: I could not find my way out of here to save my own life.

About thirty seconds after that, I saw daylight around a corner, and about a minute after that, the boys stepped out onto the field.

We jogged – with pauses to high-five a mascot or two – to third, where there was a bottleneck. That was fine, since it gave me the opportunity to get this shot.

The nice Blue Jays fans behind us took this for us when we’d rounded home and were standing by the dugouts.

Which is where we accidentally backed up and stepped on the grass because we weren’t paying attention and also we didn’t know it was a sin. (They were very nice about telling us to move.) Levi had some questions about this on the way home, probably because because no one in the family golfs and we have no respect for our yard, so the concept of grass with which you must be careful has never come up in his young life.

Paul’s knee was twanging hard, so I offered to get the car and come back. (I was driving anyway. I do cities, he does highways.) The boys wanted to go with me, but came to regret their choice. I walk too fast.

They did make it back to the car with me, where they fell into their seats with abject relief.

It really was quite a weekend.

And, I realized on the way home from the game, it was a really fun one. They are still young enough to be openly thrilled by cool new things, but they’re old enough that sitting in a stadium for the length of a baseball game is no longer an exercise in taking someone to the bathroom every twenty minutes and wondering what on earth you were thinking. They can do the walking, even if they whine. They can be made to carry their own snacks. They can ask questions about what’s happening on the field instead of what they’re going to eat next. (Mostly. Snacks are still very important.)

Going to the ballgame was not a chance for the children to have a new experience and the parents to manage juvenile enjoyment. We all had fun. What a revelation.

It was a very good weekend.