Browsing Tag

Motherhood

Thoughts

The truth about monsters and men

December 1, 2017

“This is getting out of control!” It was Hank, sending me an instant message in the middle of the day.

“Uh oh, what’s wrong?” I responded.
“First Matt Lauer and now Garrison Keillor!”

I knew what he was talking about right away. I knew because a friend I was close to once upon a Matt Lauer crush had text me the morning’s headline. (That crush had extinguished entirely years ago, after Ann Curry’s abrupt departure and his dickish reaction to the whole situation. I like Ann Curry. She’s that perfect blend of wicked smarts and genuine compassion.) But Hank and Garrison Keillor … That’s something else entirely.

The news of Mr. Keillor would shatter Hank. I can’t tell you how many times my husband (who I often theorize to be 87 years old at heart) made us all listen to Prairie Home Companion on a long Sunday drive. Or how many times he’s read the book “Daddy’s Girl” to the kids. He knows it by heart … “O baby won’t you dance with me … Little baby bouncing on my knee … Wave your hands and shake your feet … Ooohh baby you’re so sweet .”

He keeps it in his top dresser drawer so he’ll always know where it is, the spine soft and worn from his rough fingertips. Now I wonder if I’ll ever hear the lyrics leave his lips again. Those melodic lines, sweetened by his comforting voice under an 8 o’clock moon.

“It makes me sad and scared,” Hank went on. “For you and for our girls. That you have to live in a world where this happens. Where it’s something you have to think about.”

(That’s why I married this one, guys.)

While I assured him that everything was going to be OK. That we would raise our girls to know the boundaries of what’s right and what’s wrong and how to be strong and speak up and speak out and find power in their voice. I don’t think it soothed his burning thoughts.

And it left this interesting questions, too: What is Garrison Keillor to us now, if not a magnetic storyteller and master of words? Is he simply to be known from this day forth as an imposter? A predator? A monster? What’s to become of all those characters left in Lake Wobegon?

Comedians, TV dads, distinguished newsmen, business moguls, film producers, playwrights, media executives, acclaimed actors, presidents and politicians … their talents and contributions obliterated entirely because they couldn’t follow the simplest of unspoken rules. Because they made the mistaken, narcissistic assumption that their power would override the prerequisite for consent. Because they operated under the foolish pretense that they were desired by every woman, simply because she knew his name.

Maybe it’s us. Maybe our expectations are just too high. Maybe it’s too much to expect someone with a gift for music or narrative or business to also be an upstanding citizen of this planet. For them to share something with a woman without expecting something physical in exchange as payment for their genius or attention. Maybe it’s too much to expect that someone tick all the boxes when it comes to character and human decency.

Maybe.

But then, I know many men who tick all those boxes.

Men who expect nothing but mutual respect in return.

I will teach my girls that this world is full of monsters and of men, but more of the latter. And that it’s important to recognize the difference. I guess I started the lesson the day I married their father. The day I picked him and all his decency out of the pool of potential suitors and said, “Yes! That one! I like what he stands for. I shall do life with him, forever.” I think it has to start with strong male figures. It has to start with celebrating the men who aren’t in those headlines. The ones who respect a woman’s mind and humor over any curve or inch of bare skin.

And then you have to offer them awareness. Because their dad can’t protect them always. And neither can their mom. But I can sure as hell encourage them to use their words for justice and their breath for equality, and that they have to grow louder when no one is listening. If a time comes when I need to, I can show them the army of brave women coming forward to say, “This was not right,” and how, sometimes, though not always, consequences do exist. Victims do have the final word. They get their power back.

That’s what I can do.

And as for Mr. Keillor and his brethren of offenders, what a disgraceful party you chose to attend. My only hope is that this onslaught of accusations and dismissals might settle into a wealth of healing, for all those involved. For the men and the woman … and the monsters as well.

Kids

My village people

May 25, 2017

Spike was mumbling the words to “You’re Welcome,” which we were listening to for the second time that morning, staring at the car’s shadow on the road below and running her tiny pointer finger over her thin top lip. She always stops trying when Maui raps. I turned down the radio for my usual morning hype sesh.

“Oh man, babe … How ya feelin’ about the field trip today? The zoo is the best. You’re going to have so much fun!”

She whipped her head in my direction and said, “Yeah, did you know that of all the kids in the class there are only two moms who aren’t going?” (I knew one of them was me.)

She wasn’t being deliberately hostile. She wasn’t. She was just using her little innocent mouth to lay out the facts for me on a shitty mom platter. This would be breakfast today.

“Gosh, hon. I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah, you and Jack’s mom.” (Who is a friend of mine.)

“Oh.”

“Yeah, Ms. Kylene’s going to let us be her partner since you won’t be there.”

“Well, that’s special!”

“Yeah, it is.”

Her eyes went back to the shadow. There would be no more talk of this topic for now.

It was that she said it, don’t get me wrong. But more than that, it was the way it lingered … like a pregnancy fart in a sauna. The way the “only” just hung out there so harshly, so ruthlessly, and then it latched on mercilessly to the “mom” and the two words gripped and clawed at each other in the front of my brain.

A played out Chainsmokers song picked up where the Moana soundtrack left off. My heart was drowning in my brutal interpretation of the situation …

You are the only mom not going. The only one who sucks … In a class of 12 kids, there are 10 good moms, one other mom, and you … If good moms and bad moms played Red Rover, you’d be the only one they could send over … Other moms make animal faces on their kids’ sandwiches using grapes and basil leaves. And then there’s you … You let me down.

I couldn’t adjust my schedule and make it happen. It was one of many, many times my cape was at the cleaners and I just couldn’t pull it off. And I hate that. Don’t you hate that? I would be missing – a noticeable gaping hole – in the standard group shot in front of the ZOO sign. I wouldn’t be on the log ride or there to help little people poke the straw through their juice boxes.

And the more I thought about the juice boxes and the group shot and the stupid log ride, the more I really started to go there. You know where … That dark place where jealousy infects your character with toxic judgements and ridicule. I thought of all the mothers in their perfect boyfriend jeans and trendy sweaters pointing out the orangutan baby to my child. I thought about all the embarrassing stories she would tell, and how I wouldn’t be there to laugh awkwardly and explain them. And I thought about how there would be this depressing white space in her preschool scrapbook where her own mother’s face should be. And down and down and down I went.

We pulled in and I held her hand to cross the parking lot. I love holding her hand. Her sweet, phenomenal teacher took the torch from my weakened grip and started hyping Spikey up for the big day. I needed to tap out anyway, obviously.

“Are you excited?” she asked. Spike nodded, shyly. “I can’t wait to be your partner,” her teacher added.

I smiled, squeezed my little bug, wished her the very best of special days, and walked out, feeling heavy as hell.

Every mother who has ever written on or for any platform or publication has covered this topic to an exhausting degree. In fact, you probably aren’t even reading this because you didn’t make it this far in. Same shit, different laxative, right? But people talk about it so much because it’s such a chronic pain. We work so that we can afford to pay a babysitter so that we can go to work. It’s a gross, sad ferris wheel, where all the riders are screaming and crying their heads off on the inside, but they can’t get off. Because if you get off, they might not let you back on when it’s more convenient for you to ride.

That said, I love my job. I’m not even lying. I do. I love it. I’m one of the fortunate people who only cries and screams on the inside on occasion, and usually Mondays. I get to write about topics that typically interest me and often help people and interview amazing people and I’m hyper cognizant of the fact that I’m lucky to get paid to do that. But with that comes the restrictive straight jacket known as the 8-to-5. (Remember the good ole’ days when it was 9-to-5?) It breeds anxiety for mothers and sets the stage for disappointment at almost every turn. Most days I’ve failed before my feet hit the floor.

Now, I know it might look like it, but this is not an argument about whether SAHMs or MOPS or working moms (who have no acronym) have it worse. I’m not dumb enough to take on that debate because there is no winner. In fact, when we argue about such extraneous crap, we all lose. It doesn’t need to be said here, but I’ll put it down just so we’re all 1000% on the same page: Being a mom from any location, in any conditions or in conjunction with any occupational obligations is a bitch. A beautiful, messy bitch that we’re all thankful for every day. Not like every minute of every day, but every day.

So, it wasn’t a shiny moment for me that morning in the car (in my head). And I said to myself, “No, Courtney. No. You will stop drinking the Hate-orade and quit being a chump right this second.” And I did. But it wasn’t until later, after Spikey shared how special her day was and how special everyone made her feel, that the real deep stuff set in. That I was able to sift through the litter box and find the golden turds of wisdom in the situation.

My family is my tribe. But the mass of other people – this vibrant collage of compassionate souls and patient beings – is my village. And I couldn’t mother without the village. Sometimes it’s hard for me to ask for help. And sometimes I resent needing that help, but I do. And sometimes help just shows up, in my friends and my family, and sometimes in people I don’t know that well. And that’s kind of really beautiful actually.

The people in my village pick up where I hit my limitations, where I run out of time, and where I fall short. They hide in the houses and schools and stores I pass through like a wild tornado every day, jumping in when I have to step out. I couldn’t possibly name them all or acknowledge them all, but when I really stop and think about it, they are everywhere in force. My village is big, and it’s kind.

My village has Kay, who potty trained and taught the girls to go down stairs when they were 1 and instilled faith. It has Aimee, who teaches them to read and be modest, and Ms. Kylene who calls them “love bugs” and makes them feel special on the days they otherwise wouldn’t, and Mrs Hurley who shares her own stories of finger sucking so my daughter doesn’t feel like a freak, and Coach Kasey who made Spikey take that unforgettable shot. My neighbors in my village are these gentle souls who let my kids talk their ears off while they wash their cars and who bring over cookies and don’t say a word about the fact our smoke alarm is going off. My village is centered around courageous, selfless women – my mom, my mother-in-law, my sisters, my girlfriends – with a few fellas peppered in.

But it’s even bigger than that. There are strangers in my village who stop by but don’t stay. They pass out smiles and warm gestures that restore my hope when I fear for the state of humanity. They bend down and say sweet things to my girls in the store. They listen to my first grader read and they put the straw in my daughter’s juice box when her mommy has to work.

Listen, sometimes it gets hairy, this mothering thing. There are meetings that can’t be moved and rain dates that crap on good intentions and, to be honest, sometimes there are just days when the best thing you can do for your kids is be away from them. But don’t let all this bologna send you to that dark place. Don’t do it. Look to your village, instead. Leverage your village. Love your village. Express gratitude for your village.

Your tribe will be the better for it.

Kids

The woman who cares for my children

December 30, 2016

We sat outside on a sticky August evening – four tired mothers, spent from trying to keep all the plates spinning on our fingertips and tiptoes and the one woman who made it even close to possible, Kay. We raised salt-rimmed margaritas in celebration of our dear friend’s 59th birthday and looked lovingly upon her.

To know Kay is to know belief. She is proof that God walks among us; That He does some of His best work through others’ hands. She infuses everyone she meets with honesty and love and conviction. She has a peace that only comes with unwavering faith and firm truth and the understanding that you have found your calling. And the best part about all this? For five beautiful years, my girls have rubbed up against these rare qualities in Kay’s home, which is really their second home.

“You really need to do something nice and celebrate.” I said
“Well yeah, you know me.” Kay responded sarcastically.
“No, seriously … you do so much for everyone else.”
“Yeah, well, I have been thinking a lot about my kids and things I need to do and things I’d like to do and, well …” [pregnant pause] “… I do have a date.” [bigger pregnant pause] “I’ve decided to stop watching children around Christmas next year.”

Tears. So many tears.

And then congratulations.

And then more tears. This time with snot.

I knew this day was coming. I mean I practically promised to sell my kidneys to get JoJo in with Kay when we moved back from Indianapolis. I knew she was wonderful and I knew my children needed to be in her home and I was willing to stalk her, beg her and just start dropping my little girl and money off until she settled into the idea. But I didn’t have to do all that. After a good referral from a friend and a pleasant chat, Kay decided to take our then 2 year old. We, I was told, would be the last family she would care for before retiring.

When we had Spike she mentioned that when we were done having kids, she would soon be done as well. She told me the same after we had Sloppy Joan. She planted subtle reminders of her impending retirement along the way – pebbles for us to pick up and remember that her home, sweet as it was, would not be open to us forever.

But still on this suddenly unforgiving summer evening, with the bitter taste of the salt biting my tongue, I felt shocked. My heartbeats were thunderous in my eardrums and my eyes were drowning in hot tears. What would we do without Kay? What would any of us do?

I don’t call Kay a babysitter, a fact that has been pointed out to me by several different people on several different occasions. I’ll say, “Kay, who watches the girls,” or “Our friend, Kay” or “You know, Kay, the baby whisperer,” but never “babysitter”. It just feels so inadequate. A babysitter is a 15 year old who sneaks her boyfriend in the back door and gets gum stuck in her braces. Kay is a miracle worker. Kay speaks child. Kay is the captain and the wind and the vessel itself.

There have been so many times she’s told me something about one of the girls that should have been so obvious, but it took having her gently point it out for me to see it. She’s taught them all how to go up and down stairs. How to pray before meals. How to bump a volleyball and swing a bat. How to roll up their sleeves and get dirty and scoop up crayfish in the creek. She treats each one equally but sees the intricate nooks and folds of their little personalities perfectly.

In 27 years the woman has never taken a sick day. I’m not kidding. She doesn’t take vacations, she doesn’t get the stomach flu, she doesn’t get strep. She’s a machine. And it’s not like she just got good at connecting with kids in her veteran years, either. I rode up to Kay’s daughter’s lakehouse (because they actually want to spend time with all of us outside of the weekdays, proving she is, in fact, a saint) with two freshman in high school who grew up at Kay’s. Their stories were the best. Kay sent a snake home with them and it had 200 babies. Kay let them build a tepee in the ravine next to her house. Kay got them to do things their parents would only dream of. She was a main character in the beginning chapters of their lives, and they would never ever forget her.

And let’s talk about the food at Kay’s.

Kay shops at the exact same grocery store where we shop. Exact same. But for whatever reason (magic pixie dust one can assume) everything is tastier at her table. One of the teenagers I was with confirmed the hypothesis I’d had for years.

“So, you’re saying if I buy a gallon of Hawaiian Punch, and Kay buys the exact same gallon of juice, it will taste better at Kay’s house?”
“Yes.”
“But …”
“I know! I can’t explain it! It’s just better. The fruit snacks are chewier, too.”

Her cheese sandwich is one slice of white bread with a Kraft single on top microwaved for 22 seconds and folded over. The kids go nuts for it. I make it, and nothin’. No love. But the gleaming cherry on top of the sundae that is Kay’s, is the crumbs. Imagine if you will, the broken shards of fried potato that reside in the bottom of a grease-soaked bag of plain potato chips. You’d toss them away, right? Consider that a crime at Kay’s. At Kay’s, everyone has an assigned crumb day. When the bag gets down to potato pieces, she spoons one tablespoon of chip dip (a special Kay kind of chip dip that I have purchased but did not taste like Kay’s special chip dip) into the bottom half of the potato chip bag, which she has cut in half for convenience. She then uses her hands to push and massage and squeeze the dip/chip components together to form the ideal consistency. She hands the crumb day child the dip spoon and gives them the green light to shovel their prize into their watering mouth as the other children at the table look on in complete and utter jealousy. That, my friends, is the crumbs. And it is the holy grail of Kay’s.

Seasons passed. That summer gave way to this past summer and before we knew it, it was fall.

Every year over Fall Break Kay has a wienie roast and bonfire for the kiddos. They push leaves into giant piles and roll down her perfectly sloped hill and laugh and play and torch marshmallows. When I came to pick up the chicks on this special day, Kay called me over to show me pictures on her phone. The kids had found an owl sitting in a tree down in the ravine. How fitting, I thought. An owl, a universal symbol of learning, would preside over this, their final autumn gathering. The lessons learned in this yard, in this home, around that kitchen table, from this woman, are lifelong. She has been their greatest teacher in the years when the rules really matter and the instructions aren’t always clear for tired mothers and well-meaning fathers.

When you make the decision (or the decision makes itself) to be a working mom, you accept the sacrifices but they still keep you up at night. Agony is wrestling with all of the things you’re missing and the precious time you’re losing. Your greatest wish is that you can find a place to take your child where they will be safe and loved and understood. I know people who search and search and search for that kind of environment. We were lucky enough to have it for this short time and our girls will be better people because of it. Kay’s house is an extension of our home. It is warm and welcoming and her entire family has carried our children in their hearts.

Another season passed. And now, here we are at “Christmas time next year”.

It’s time for me to be an adult. (Let me go on record as saying I despise such occasions.) I’m so thrilled for this beautiful woman who’s dedicated so much of herself to other families. She deserves – more than anyone I know – a day off, a vacation, an impulsive decision. She deserves to sit with her grandbabies for hours and share her gifts with other people and to let others stand in her light. I tell the girls why it’s so important we support Kay and celebrate this time for her. Then I turn away from them and cry like the giant woman-baby I am.

I cry every time I think about Sloppy Joan missing those summers down in the ravine, when I pull up to find them sitting on the driveway barefoot with vanilla ice cream running down their sun-kissed arms to their elbows. Or the girls begging to go to “Kay-Kay’s” in footie pajamas with their blankies under their arms. Or Kay giving them kisses on their cheeks and telling them she loves them after they had a tough day. Or all of the 8 million things that only the families who went to Kay’s can appreciate, that won’t be part of our routine anymore. Our days will be a little less full without her.

A few weeks ago she had all of our families over for a Christmas dinner. Kay gathered the children around her dining room table, where they’d sat for so many meals, and she invited them to pray, just as she had so many times. As they folded their precious hands and followed her in making the sign of the cross, I felt those steamy tears I’d felt a year and a half ago rolling down my cheeks. No one could love our little tribe of misfits the way she had. What will we do without Kay? What will any of us do without Kay?

The night Kay told us she would be moving on, I went home and wrote this:

The woman who cares for my children is not a babysitter.
The woman who cares for my children is a maker of memories.
The woman who cares for my children is a friend to me and a light to all.
The woman who cares for my children is the wisdom through trivial tears.
The woman who cares for my children is a compass at the crossroads.
The woman who cares for my children carries them in her heart just as their mother does.
She is a light and a guiding force and a selfless soul whose role in this village will never be forgotten.

I feel it more today, on your last day with our babies, than I did on that August night.

We thank you Kay.
We love you Kay.

Kids

Motherhood: Praise-seekers need not apply

December 21, 2016

During my awkward but beautiful NKOTB elementary school years, my family spent a lot of time camping. Biannually, usually spring break and once in the summer, we would take a big trip to Myrtle Beach or some other southern spot with great historic locations my father could hike up his tube socks and take us all to. There were five of us in that travel trailer. Sometimes, it was cozy and could hardly contain our Griswald family contentment. And other times …

People hit each other.

The details have faded as the 20+ summers since this one particular event have passed, but I still recall the bullet points. There were these sunshine yellow melamine dishes tucked away in the cabinets of the trailer. For whatever reason, I loved them. We’d unhitch and level off and my mom would go about her routine; putting groceries away and optimistically teasing the amenities. “Those swings look like they go pretty high guys, I don’t know …”. She would hum the latest Top 40 hit from Genesis. Dad would cuss through the setup outside and go find wood. (He was always finding wood.) But of everything in this waltz we watched a thousand times, there was something about those canary dishes that signaled we were really staying. We were on vacation.

One warm afternoon, after the melamine coffee cups had been washed and the Sunbeam bread used to feed the local ducks was tucked away, my brother came in and took a giant proverbial crap right in the middle of everything.

Back then, Matt hated being with us. He barely spoke and when he did it was to complain about what we were eating or where we were or who was there. It was super obnoxious. My parents were just trying to be memory makers, right? They carted us around to check off the snapshots every family had in their photo album in the 1980s … kids on a beach … kids in front of a roller coaster … kids on a hike. It was never enough for him just to stand in formation, put a smile on his face and pretend to relish the thrilling rides at Dollywood. Oh, no. Not Matt. He had to make his disgust and general dislike for the people who grew him known.

Anyway, on this one warm afternoon, after Matt nudged her and nudged her and nudged her, my mom, the sweet lady who weeped at Casey Kasem’s long distance dedications and introduced me to the Shoney’s breakfast buffet, God bless her … well, she completely lost her shit on my brother. Right there in the camper. Her arms were swinging and sounds were coming out at triple speed and didn’t quite form all the way and my brother’s eyes were wide and wild as he succumb to her fury. He had walked across the limb so many times, and on that day, in the camper of family dreams, the limb snapped.

I watched it. The whole thing. So did my sister. So did my dad. I don’t think any of us took a breath for the entire 56 seconds my mother spent physically and verbally retaliating against her almost-teenage punk of a son before storming out of the trailer in tears. Huh, I thought. I guess Mom went crazy.

Then I grew up, had kids of my own and realized we’re all just one forced fart, recorder recital or “She hit me!” away from crazy.

Being a mother is a thankless, soul-sucking, humbling, disgusting, exhausting occupation. I used to imagine my mom pulled everything out of her ass. I needed something for a school project, she got it. I was sick and wanted saltines with peanut butter, she made them. I wanted to try gymnastics, she signed me up. She drove me. She watched me. It all just got done. I never thought about why she needed to take a hot bath and pound peanut M&Ms by 9 o’clock every night. I just never considered it.

And neither do my kids.

I babysat for my niece one summer break during college. She had this little car she could ride on. It had mermaids and fish all over it and sang this stupid song … “I’m a happy mermaid, down in the sea – something, something, something – and dance with me.” She used to scoot around on that thing pressing the button on the steering wheel every 2 seconds. So to my tired ears, it was just, “I’m a, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a …” for minutes on end. The funny thing was, she loved the end of the song. Whenever she got distracted and made it to “… and dance with me,” she laughed with joy. And then she’d go back to pressing the button with the hope of hearing it in its entirety. Of course her rapid trigger finger meant, “I’m a, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a ….” The insanity! But now, I am that mermaid car. I am the button on the other end of a child’s fingertip – constantly trying to get it all out, to get to the end, to the point.

The number of times I repeat myself in a day can clock in at no less than 900.

“Get dressed, please … Get dressed, please … Get dressed, please.”
“Eat your breakfast, please … Eat your breakfast, please … Eat your breakfast!”
“Get your coat on, please … Get your coat on, please … Get your coat on, please.”
“Tie your shoes, please … Tie your shoes … Tie your shoes, please.”
“Come on, please … Come on … Come on.”
“Eat your dinner, please … Eat your dinner, please.”
“”Stop jumping off the couch, please …”
“Clean your room, please …”
“Brush your teeth, please …”
“Go to timeout, please …”
“Get in bed, please …”
“Stop talking and go to bed, please ….”
“Go to bed!”

No one hears me. At some point between when they exited the womb and they started using more than 3 words together at a time, my voice was tragically muted. I know, and you dear reader likely know, that if I don’t move the circus along, no one gets where they need to go. No one gets to the bus stop on time and I get yelled at for chasing it down a few stops away. No one feeds the dog and she dies. No one gets their library books and the teacher sends a scathing note home. I’m just trying to help! “I’m a, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a …”

And yet, the gratitude tank runs dry most days. Living in a home with young children means you better be prepared for prison rules, man. Because only your child would take a giant deuce in the middle of the dinner you spent 3 hours making. And then tell you they hate what you made anyway. Only your child would rub her hard moss-colored boogers against the only white shirt you own. Only your child would headbutt you when you’re trying to kiss them, or kick your nose during a friendly tickle or pee on your bath rug or vomit in your hair on your 30th birthday (that really happened). Kids are cruel. They don’t know and they don’t care, and when they do know, they still don’t care.

You have to go into it knowing you won’t collect on those gratitude IOUs they’re leaving all over the tubs they’re pooping in and rooms they’re trashing for at least another 18 years. And that might be ambitious. And you aren’t really allowed to care. You’re expected to be durable and flexible and resilient. You’re expected to be both Betty Draper (in the early seasons) and Sheryl Sandberg, depending on the scenario, and settle for a fart vapor’s worth of appreciation for both social archetypes.

I’ve spent hours planning my menu on Pinterest only to have Sloppy Joan turn her plate over and throw it across the table more times than I care to share. I’ve had chicks climb into my Epsom salts detox bath because they were cold and it looked fun. I’ve walked in to find every item of clothing from the bottom bar of the closet ripped off the hangers and thrown around the room just minutes after I finished putting them away. I’ve had more little people watch me poop than a pony at a county fair.

But we love them.

Sometimes it looks like rocking ourselves in a corner with drool streaming out of ours turned down mouths, but we love them.

It’s an abusive love. Like the way people with ulcers love flaming hot Cheetos. We love their toots and boogers and ridiculous requests and come back for more day after day after day. We plot our escapes and then crave their sticky, sweaty, vaguely pissy scent the second we drop them off.

Being a mother is thankless 23 hours out of every day. But man … they really reel ya in during those 60 minutes when it really counts, huh?

It’s rarely with words. Though sometimes it is sweet, silly, wonderful words I reach into the air, grab and write down somewhere to relive later. But more often it’s a little warm body climbing into my lap while I’m distracted with another conversation. Or a drawing that comes back in a folder from school with stick figures holding hands, the taller one labeled “Mama”. Or a cheerleader. Or an impersonation. Or a cry in the middle of the night. It makes me feel needed and seen and responsible. Yes, it’s a thankless job. It isn’t for the weak or the praise-hungry. The pay is shit. But if you play your cards right and keep your eyes and ears open, the benefits can be pretty sweet.

Thoughts

Do you have the time?

September 23, 2016

“I myself am full of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” – Augusten Burroughs

When someone finds a way to say what you’ve been feeling, in a way you never thought to say it, but wish you had, it is the most bittersweet validation. Hearing your shortcomings echoed back through someone else’s voice and experience is like a doctor telling you that weird sperm-shaped mole is totally normal. Of course the bitter is the bite of not coming up with the words yourself.

If you follow this blog, you know I’ve been ingesting a healthy amount of non-fiction gospel lately, crafted by the minds of, among others, Shonda Rhimes and Glennon Doyle Melton. More often than not, you read these amazing works and then they leave your mind just as swiftly as they swept in and shook everything up. They get pushed out by PTO meeting notes and potluck dish assignments and lyrics from the Storybots song. But I’m finding the messages that were truly meant for me always seep back in.

Driving home from the gym this morning, I watched the sun beginning to rise and started ticking through my lists: The things I didn’t get done yesterday. The things I needed to do today. The things I would most certainly put off until next week. The shortcuts I could take. And I was reminded of sweet Shonda. In her commencement speech at Dartmouth College, she spoke about motherhood and working.

“Shonda, how do you do it all?” they would ask. And she would respond, “I don’t.” The truth according to the TGIT maven, and every mother, I think, everywhere, is that if we are succeeding in one area of our lives, we are likely failing miserably in another. She said it. She spoke my truth with words that I will likely borrow a million times from today until forever.

I am most certainly experiencing success in several areas of my life at the moment. And just as certainly, I am experiencing some failure … or rather, I am failing. I will not only own that last statement, I’ll pay for it outright in cash. If I were to take the personal and professional buckets of tasks, both mandatory and aspirational, that fill my days, and put a penny in the ones where I felt like I had killed it, I might have enough to buy a pouch of Big League Chew by the end of the month (Do they still make that?).

Did I handle that presentation well? Yes. Drop a penny into the professional bucket. Did I spend enough time with the chicks? Never. No. Skip that bucket. Did I get dinner on the table? Yes. Penny. Did I get my 5-mile training run in? Um … skip.

Then, as if someone were pouring cake batter over Swiss cheese, the voice of Glennon Doyle Melton oozed into my brain and filled in the holes. (I should mention here that I’m currently listening to her audiobook, Carry On, Warrior. I don’t just randomly hear Glennon’s voice.)

“There are two different types of time. Chronos time is what we live in. It’s regular time, it’s one minute at a time, it’s staring down the clock till bedtime time, it’s ten excruciating minutes in the Target line time, it’s four screaming minutes in time out time, it’s two hours till daddy gets home time. Chronos is the hard, slow passing time we parents often live in.

Then there’s Kairos time. Kairos is God’s time. It’s time outside of time. It’s metaphysical time. Kairos is those magical moments in which time stands still. I have a few of those moments each day, and I cherish them.”

time

And I was struck, right then and there, with more beautifully bittersweet words! The lights came on and I said, “amen!” out loud so the whole empty car could hear me. I am a creature who crowds herself with hours of toxic chronos time but so, so desperately wants that divine, illusive kairos time. You might be, too. Let’s work through some examples.

Laundry is chronos time.
Staring at your baby sleeping is kairos time.

Wiping baseboards is chronos.
Cuddling is kairos.

Monday morning staff meetings are chronos.
After school stories are kairos.

Making a grocery list is chronos.
A glass of wine with your husband is kairos.

The morning routine is chronos.
Hiking through mountains at sunrise is kairos.

My initial assessment has revealed that these two classifications of time, defined by the Greeks however many years ago, so accurately describe the divide between pleasure and pain that they were obviously intended for me to discover on this dark September morning. The worst part is, in many ways, it’s self-inflicted. I offer. I raise my hand. I sign up. I put my name on the line next to, “volunteer”.

Where does that come from? Am I a pleaser? Do I fear I’ll get bored? I mean … I should know I am NOT going to get bored.

I can not do it all. Shonda is right. I can not succeed in all of the areas that matter to me all at the same time. But now I know who to blame.

I blame the chronos.

Kairos means, “the right opportune moment”. And maybe that’s the problem. When, dear sisters (and brothers) in your day does it ever cross your mind that this, yes this, is the right opportune moment to stop everything and look at your sweet little girl’s endearing chocolate-covered cheeks? Or notice that dimple in your husband’s chin? Or admire a tree with particularly interesting branches? I know … right between picking up your middle child from daycare and burning dinner. If that time is too tight, you could always squeeze in some kairos while picking clothes up off the floor or replying to that 20-response-long email thread or prepping food for tomorrow’s friendship day snack.

agenda

In my world, and I’m guessing in yours, there doesn’t appear to be any kairos (opportune) time. But, as Glennon would say, that’s why you have to make it. No one is going to make it for you. No one is going to grab your feet and put the roses under your nose. The world is always going to go as fast as you let it. You might not set the pace, but you choose to keep up or just let it pass right by.

They’ve said it so well. In so many ways. In so many words. These beautiful women who sat down at their keyboards and were courageous enough to spell out the struggles of trying to do it all and trying to savor it all. They lent their voices to so many who want to scream but don’t know what it sounds like.

I can’t do it all. I can’t succeed at home and kill it at work. Or dominate in the office and still be the mother I want to be. Most days. But it’s the trying that they see … those little girls of mine. It’s the trying and the reaching and the ambition that they notice. All I can do is try to settle into a good pace, sprinkle in a bit more kairos, put pennies in the buckets and pray they’re lucky.

Some Kinda Superwoman

Some kinda Superwoman: Ashlie

September 13, 2016

I started this blog more than 2 years ago with a narrow vision and fingers full of sarcasm. I wanted to document our lives and share my musings on everything from raising strong babies to the Bachelor to books I believe can change the wiring in your brain. But as the posts have gone up and with them, the readership, I naturally started daydreaming about this being more. It’s a modest platform in a sea of similar platforms, but this one is different, because this one is mine. And I can do with it what I want. And what I want is to tell other people’s stories on here, too. Last week, I said I pursued a career in journalism because I love finding and telling stories. My life is beautiful, but it is small in comparison to the life I can discover by listening to other amazing women. Other women struggle. Other women conquer. Other women blaze trails and let their hearts bleed for the less fortunate. Telling their stories makes me stronger, better, more alive. So, naturally I believe that reading them can do the same for you.

The first Superwoman to step up and volunteer her story is, without a doubt, one of my ride-or-dies as Shonda Rhimes would say. This girl and I have been through some things. We’ve seen some things. She stood next to me on my wedding day and caught my tears on her shoulder on more than one occasion. For the past several years, I have watched her walk a path of heartbreak and self discovery. She has bravely navigated a series of joyful highs and unthinkable lows on her journey to motherhood. Even as a dear friend I never knew exactly how she felt until I read the words you’re about to read. They stopped my heart. I saw a clip from Super Soul Sunday last night where Gabrielle Bernstein told Oprah that the messages we need to receive find us when we’re open to them. I hope this one finds the people who need it most.

*******

familyocean

Hi Superwoman seekers! Let me start by saying that I am humbled I was asked to write this. I was grateful to be given the platform to speak on these topics that have so significantly altered my life … but also felt a lot of pressure to make even a small impact for the vulnerable children in the world. I immediately prayed for the right words – and a lot of words came. All that to say, this post is long. Sorry, I’m not sorry. The path to my happy little life took a while. And so did writing this. Please do contact me via the comments below or email (ashliehartgraves@gmail.com) if you have any questions. I’m more than happy to help Courtney’s readers out. (Isn’t she the best?!)

The infertility and loss part.
Every family has a story. Some people get married and bam! Three years later they have two healthy children – one boy and one girl, of course – a goldendoodle and a minivan. While this familiar foursome likely drove about 5 miles to the hospital down the road to bring home their little bundles of joy, some people go further. Like 21,186 miles further. And that’s after 5+ years of marriage. As you can guess, my scenario was the latter. I did get the goldendoodle though. And right away.

After many months of not seeing double lines on the ol’ pee stick, my husband and I learned that I apparently am not so fertile.

Infertility is such a turd. Close your eyes for a second and imagine it’s March, and you’re stressed at work, and all you want to do is sit on a beach and have someone bring you shrimp cocktail and margaritas. But you don’t have any vacation days. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, everyone on your Facebook feed seems to be on spring break with frozen concoctions in hand, and you start to get jealous, which is out of character for you, and then you get angry and, before you know it, you can’t think about anything but sand in your toes and limey-salted-tequila-goodness in your belly because everywhere you look, everyone is partaking. And then say someone, with no ill-intention, posted a photo of them on a white sand patch of paradise with the caption, “Would be better if it were just a few degrees warmer,” and you want to jump into the picture, Mary Poppins style, and steal their vacation because they aren’t appreciating it to the degree you would? Yeah. Infertility is kind of like that. Only way worse.

I’ve blocked out a lot of the infertility process because it was long and physically and emotionally painful. The burden became too much to bear. We did nearly three years of it. We did multiple IUIs. I often had an arsenal of medications that I had to poke myself with (mostly in the gut and butt). For me, infertility meant scheduling my every move around when the eggs would be hatching. It is a terrible and paralyzing way to live.

Finally we decided nothing was working and it was time to pull out the big guns: In Vitro Fertilization. I remember praying, “Lord, if this pregnancy will go poorly at all with IVF, please do not let me get pregnant. My heart can’t handle a loss like that.” (<-- That is what they call foreshadowing.)

A few weeks after the transfer I was in so much pain that I almost went to the ER, but instead paged our fertility doctor. He thought I was overstimulated. We did some Googling and realized that likely meant I was pregnant. He told us to come in first thing in the morning for a blood test. They called and a voice on the other line said, “Ashlie, I have good news … You’re pregnant!” I fell to the floor crying. I never thought I would hear those words.

Finally.

It hurt to breathe and I could hardly move, but I didn’t give a rip. I was pregnant!

I am a woman of faith. Before these moments, I did the routine church on Sundays and Bible study with some girls on Mondays. God was there. But I didn’t need Him all the time. And then we started having complications. You know, the “This is rare, it doesn’t usually happen” kind. I spent my 30th birthday in the hospital, slanted at a 45-degree angle with a catheter and a magnesium drip. I would say I’m predisposed to be a positive person, but at that moment, I wasn’t. I was angry and uncomfortable. I was released and put on strict bedrest. I was allowed to get up to pee and that was about it. I could shower but I had to get a shower stool. I had just turned 30 and got a shower stool for my birthday. Awesome.

I’m not sure how to get through this next part.

I can talk about all the details for days and I often relive them in my mind, but, for the sake of not getting too deep with strangers, I will just say this … After nearly 2 months of bedrest, my body couldn’t hang onto the pregnancy anymore. I gave birth to our son, Jacob, on June 22, 2013. I was 23 weeks and 1 day pregnant. I couldn’t believe I was in the hospital, holding my son whom I knew we wouldn’t be bringing home. We held him for two hours before he was swept off to heaven. He was beautiful and he is loved. He is thought of every. single. day.

infertilitypart

I know. Life is hard, eh? Those few days in the hospital were like a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. Even though I didn’t feel like I needed Him (God) a whole lot previously, and it was a very one-sided relationship, God was there. He showed up on my darkest day. I was held by Him as I was holding my child that would not be placed in his new crib in his freshly painted room. He gave us strength and wisdom to make some really tough choices we faced in the scariest moments of our lives.

But the question remained, how could this have happened? I thought we had an agreement. I told God to prevent this exact scenario. I prayed constantly. I was scared every second of every day, but I still prayed. We had faith. My heart was not just broken, it was shattered. Shattered to what I thought might be beyond repair. But God is able.

After I gave birth, I knew I had a couple of choices: I could get mad and turn from church for awhile. (To be honest, I feel like that would have been completely justified.) Or, I could give myself the grace to grieve and let God do what he does best: Take something broken and make something ridiculously radical out of it. I didn’t know what that would be, but I didn’t want to live a moment without God. People always incorrectly say that He doesn’t give you more than you can handle. False. I couldn’t have handled this. I needed Him by my side to dredge through this pain. I also didn’t want to be a fraud; This Christian woman who spent her whole life going to church (with the exception of a hiatus in my college days) who at the first sign of a tribulation, went running from the only source of redemptive healing.

We took some time. My husband and I took a vacation. We grieved and we processed. Our emotions were so frantic and varied, but we were anchored by a shared belief that God had something more in store for us. I had some pretty rough days mixed in there. I felt like I had a scarlet red stamp that said “Broken” on my forehead. I felt like people looked at me different because I was different.

Slowly, I learned to accept the new me, with my new story, and trust in God’s plan for something(s) more. I was meant to be a Mama.

The big decision.
We began fertility treatments again, but they went haywire and failed, and when we discussed circling the wagons once more, I knew I couldn’t do it. I was so done. My husband was done, too. So I called my fertility doctor, whom we’d seen multiple times a month for nearly 3 years, and I said, “Hi. I’m going to be canceling my appointments. We’re adopting.”

And that was that. We picked an agency (MLJ Adoptions out of Indianapolis) and we picked our country (Bulgaria) and we started pounding the paperwork.

The adoption process.
This process is no joke. I have been fingerprinted in Ink no less than 5 times. I’ve been fingerprinted electronically 3 or 4 times. I’ve had background checks by every county and state I’ve lived in since I was 18 and also 2 or 3 fingerprints and background checks by the FBI. I’m clean.

When it came time for our home study, I told myself I wouldn’t stress. But I am a liar. I cleaned my house top to bottom. We filled those walls with fire extinguishers and smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. We gave information on our income, tax info, investments, debts, life insurances, wills and all that fun stuff. We were questioned in our home for 4+ hours. We were questioned on our parenting style (which was hard since we didn’t technically have a parenting style). We were asked about every bad/good thing we’d ever done. We were asked about how we wanted to raise our future kids, how we argue, how we would discipline the children. Just so much stuff. We supplied tax records, insurance records, medical records, dog records.

safety-collage

Then, once our home study was approved, we started working on our dossier, which is a document that consists of the approved home study and a bunch of other information that you send to the country in which you’re trying to adopt. We had to have approvals by the USCIS to even begin the process overseas. Then we sent our dossier over and a couple months later it was registered, which meant we were on the list about 2 months after they received it.

There was one big decision we had to make right before sending in a paperwork update. We needed to decide if we wanted to elect to adopt 1 or 2 children, or 2 children exclusively. I prayed for a sign. I didn’t make this next part up, I swear. One night after dinner, we took a detour so my husband could look at a truck. On our way we got behind a minivan and Tom said, “Look at that!” The minivan had a vanity plate that read: “ADOPT2”. So, we decided to do just that.

adopt2licenseplate

Then we waited.

The wait.
This wait is a wait only someone who has experienced it can understand. Basically, you’re a mom. Only you have no idea who your kids are yet. You love them dearly, but don’t know who they are. You think about them. You wonder if they were fed enough that day. If they were hugged enough that day. If they smiled enough that day. If they are sick, is someone bringing them soup and giving extra snuggles? You ache for them because they aren’t home yet, but you have no idea who they are. It’s a bizarre feeling. You want so bad to start nesting, but you have no idea what gender or age they are. So you just sit and wait.

And then one day, your agency calls and you know they don’t call unless it’s THE call. And you finally know who your kids are. You see their faces; Their 18-month-old and 4-and-a-half-year-old sweet little perfect faces. You read the little info you have on them multiple times over because that’s all you have. At the end of the week you get an email telling you that these are the dates you’re flying out to meet them and to book your tickets. This all happens so quickly you have zero time to process before you’re packing your bags and preparing gifts for caretakers, social workers and translators … and, of course, your children!

The scenic route.
Every country is different, but in Bulgaria you travel twice. The first trip is to meet your kid(s) and the second is to bring them home. In case you haven’t thought through this, it means you go there and meet your kids for a week (great) and then you leave them there (not-so great). My stomach just dropped again reliving it in my mind. The only thing that made this bearable, was the fact that our kids were both well cared for. There are some orphanages where it’s not that way. Children can be extremely malnourished and neglected. I don’t want to go into too much detail about our kids and their stories (because they are their personal stories to tell), but our son was in an orphanage. No orphanage is a good enough substitute for a loving family; however, if he had to be in an orphanage, his was pretty great. Our daughter was with a foster grandma who was absolutely amazing through this whole process.

villagecarvedinmountain

We returned from our first trip on July 4, 2015. We would not return back to the States with our kids until October 30 that same year. In that time we had Adoption Showers to help us prepare (you need a lot of stuff for 2 genders and 2 age groups!) and we did a lot of shopping and painting and prepping. The wait between trips was the hardest thing. It was excruciating, actually. But, we tried to stay busy. We did get to Skype with our daughter every Saturday. Our very last Skype call was from the IND airport, when we said, “We’re on our way!”

These little characters.
Our son is simply one-of-a-kind. He turned 2 just 2 weeks after being home. We were so thankful he only had to spend one birthday without us. The kid is crazy funny. He’s wild. He’s always getting hurt, always into something. Loves snacks about as much as he loves Mickey Mouse and music. He’s got these big brown eyes and eyelashes that make his mama jealous, and an adorable smile with a dimple. I’ve never seen a 2 year old with so much swagger. He was well-known at his Child’s Day Out Preschool within a couple of weeks. He walks into any situation like he owns the place. He’s a total ham and is full of confidence.

alovestodance

He’s not the kid we met on our first trip to Bulgaria.

The kid we met in Bulgaria on our first trip was completely different. That little boy was fearful of life and people. He only giggled a few times the entire week we were there. Sometimes he’d smirk or smile. He didn’t really dance or play much without being prompted.

When we first brought him home, he didn’t know how to hug or kiss. He didn’t know that we were his people for life. He didn’t know what a Mom or Dad was. The change was pretty immediate. This boy broke out of this orphanage like Andy Dufresne, and he never looked back.

Seeing the change a family brought to our son’s life has been one of my greatest joys. It has made the 3+ years of infertility, the 2 years of the adoption process and the mounds of paperwork worth it all. He plunges at us with open arms for hugs and plants big wet kisses (because he knows what a kiss is now). He has grown probably 6” in less than a year. They say that love from a family and some extra grub, cause children to shoot up once they are adopted. He’s so happy and healthy and growing so much in every way possible.

Our daughter, well, she’s the bravest person I know. She was fluent in Bulgarian. Left her foster grandma and every single thing familiar to her. Her beautiful country and town that was beautifully carved into the side of a mountain. Her bed. Her toys and her best friends. One day she woke up and got on a plane with two nearly-strangers and she came to America. Everything in her world was completely different.

kfirstdayofk

She is such a little rockstar. The courage it takes to do all of that was nestled somewhere in the tiniest little 5-year-old. She started preschool without knowing a language. She couldn’t talk about her feelings to anyone because we couldn’t speak Bulgarian and she couldn’t speak English. I can’t imagine how frustrating that has been for her to be completely unable to process or have helpful words of wisdom from your Mommy in one of the biggest life events she will ever have. She also started kindergarten this year. I didn’t want to let her get on that bus, but she was so excited. So I had to.

I’ve never witnessed a more empathetic 5 year old. She genuinely hurts when others hurt. She prays for people I mention that she has never even met. She’s such a good big sister. Our little guy is quite demanding, and she shares everything with a smile. I have actually had to stop her from sharing and caving into little dude’s “I wants!” because he can’t go around thinking he gets everything if he whines. If you bump your head, she’s diving for the Doc McStuffins ice pack and before you can even tell her you’re okay that cold boo boo bag is plastered on your face.

There are things that I do not take for granted as a mom. One day I thought our son said “Mama, I want a samich (sandwich),” and I responded with, “We’ll be eating soon,” or something, and he said “No. Mama. I said I wuv you soooo much!” I cried. It was the first time he said he loved me unprompted, without me saying it first. And he even added in a soooo much to it. I will never think of a sandwich in the same way again.

Our daughter told me just the other day that she was sad while she was in Bulgaria because she wanted Mommy and Daddy. She said she kept looking for an airplane but she didn’t see one. We met her and then had to leave to not return for about four months. And in that time she searched for us and wanted us to bring her home. The weight of those words rolling off of my little girl’s tongue broke me. I hope she knows or grows to understand that I would have picked her up from day one if I could have.

We all have adjusted well, considering the loads of adjusting that needed to take place. My husband and I have not had children in our home before. All of a sudden we were parents to a 5 and a 2 year old. Go ahead and try to figure out how to raise them. Oh, and PS, you can’t discipline them very well because you can’t speak to each other. Okay. Cool. This should work well.

I’d had a lot of time to think about the kind of mom I was going to be. I was going to be amazing at it. I was going to have tons of patience and do a Pinterest craft a day. Turns out, I wasn’t very good at the mom thing at first. I’m not the best now, but I’ve come a long way. There have been many times where I wasn’t the best version of my mama self. It’s hard. We were learning how to be a Mom and Dad. They were learning how to be in a family. It takes time, lots of patience and loads of grace.

img_5450

What I want people to know about adoption
1) I want people to know that adoption was never a plan B for us.
Our kids were always meant to be ours. Always. I have prayed for them for so long before I even knew them. Life just took us on a wild ride to get the kiddos that were always supposed to be in our home, home. We’ll call it the scenic route. We were always supposed to adopt them from Bulgaria. As tough as it is to admit, our son Jacob’s life was not intended to be lived in our home. I don’t know why that is, and it is still painful at times, but that is how it was always supposed to work out. Those two little giggling Bulgarian-Americans were without a doubt, born to be in our family. They had a rough start being without a family and we had a tough go at trying to start a family ourselves.

2) Being an adoptive family isn’t always easy, but it’s also the most fulfilling thing you will ever do.
A hard thing for me to realize is how much we have missed out on by not having them with us from birth. When I think of them living the orphanage life, it wrecks my soul. All the days they spent without us make me yearn for those days back. I try to push those thoughts out of my head. While I said his orphanage was decent, he still lived in a room lined with toddler beds. He didn’t have anything to call “his” since everything was communal. While our daughter lived with a wonderful foster grandma, she still wondered where her mom was and why other kids had a mom and dad, but not her. She asked her foster grandma just before we met her if her “new mommy was going to love her?” YES. A thousand times yes. I loved you without knowing who you were yet, my sweet girl! Hurts me so bad that her little mind had even thought of asking that question. One of my biggest prayers was that God would tell their little hearts that we were coming for them. That their mom and dad were on their way. I still didn’t know who they were yet when I prayed that, but I prayed it from the start.

Wise friends of ours told us at the beginning of our process that people will look at you with a microscope because adoption isn’t all that common. Boy were they right! We are not all the same color and people quite often stare. A lot. People are so curious they can’t contain themselves and often assume that they can ask us any question they want, often in a not-so -tactful way. Please remember, that they are “real” brother and sister, we are their “real” parents and we are a “real” family. I get being curious, but perhaps when you see a potential adoptive family, don’t ask things when the kids are present.

The language barrier is extremely difficult. There were lots of tantrums and frustration (parental tantrums and kid tantrums both) from not being able to understand each other. The word for “give me” in Bulgarian is pronounced like “die” Think about how many times while walking in a store your two-year-old wants something. They’re yelling, “Mama, die!” and I’m just rolling my cart like no big deal.

One of my biggest struggles is this: Sometimes I look at my children in awe after they do something so silly/sweet and my heart flutters because I just love them so. I become flooded with gratefulness that I get to be called “Mommy” by these two beautiful children of ours. But then I remember, in order for them to be my children, they had to go through a loss. They were once orphaned and had nobody to call their family. I struggle with that. I wish with every ounce of me they never had to have those traumatic events happen in their little lives — but if they didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be their mom. It’s a bittersweet realization really. They had to lose everything so we could gain everything. That’s a tough one to swallow.

Our lives are so full of joy from our children. I love when they bicker like siblings. I love when they giggle so hard that they put their hands over their faces. I love when we snuggle. I love when they use the wrong English word, like “Look mama, snack!” when they really mean, “snow” (hey, English is hard). I love when they conquer and learn. I absolutely love being here for some of their firsts. And I love that they get that we are theirs. They know what a family is now and we are blessed enough to be a part of theirs forever.

Lucky?
People often say (and it’s very awkward) that we are such great people for adopting and our kids are so lucky. Truth be told, I’m pretty darn average. There is nothing special or extraordinary about me. It doesn’t take a saint (or a superwoman) to adopt a child. It takes a person/couple who have a void in their family photo and some love to give. And some funds. Because well, gymnastic sessions, animal crackers and college aren’t going to pay for themselves (especially since Bernie is out of the race).

Hear this: My children are not the lucky ones. We are. They were born into circumstances beyond their control. They did not initially have a voice or a special person. They left everything and gave up everything they ever knew to be a part of our family. Are they happy? 100% yes. But we are the lucky ones. Our children are healing wounds from our infertility battle and losing our Jacob that we weren’t even aware we still had. God took our broken hearts and our tears and wove them back together with these incredible children from across the ocean and now we are a family. Forever. And just like that, there are two less orphans in the world.

What can you do?
Did you know there is a bit of an orphan crisis out there?

· Every 18 seconds a child becomes an orphan.
· If all orphans were a nation, they’d be the 10th most populous nation in the world.
· If only 7% of the 2 billion Christians each cared for one orphan, the orphan crisis would be ended.

When I started this process I was so naive; Ignorant to the fact that even in Europe, there are orphans who die from malnutrition. Have you seen an 8 year old weigh less than 20 pounds? It’s heartbreaking. There are children who do not get out of their cribs all day long. Their referral photo, the one that is sent to a prospective parent, was taken through the crib railings because they didn’t bother to even get the child out of the crib for a photo.

The Bible calls us all to care for the orphans and widows, the vulnerable. That does not mean that everyone should adopt, but everyone should help in some capacity.

You can first pray for vulnerable children across the world who have no voice. Literally. Did you know that sometimes, the baby room in an institution is quiet because the babies have lost their cries? Nobody came when they cried so, eventually, they just stopped. Be their voice.

You can go to Orphan Sunday at one of your local churches to figure out how you can help on a local/global level. Showhope.org also has great information on how to get involved.

If you’ve ever debated adoption but were too afraid to go for it, I say shut up and do it. Do not let finances or fear stop you from such great joy. There are grants, fundraising and tax deductions out there, and it isn’t all due at once. You get to chisel away at the fees until you get the referral. Then you can go ahead and get that checkbook out because from referral to home that money really flies (literally. Flights are pricey!).

I spent a lot of years trying to simply be content. I have always appreciated and loved this blessed life I have been given. My husband is one of the greats and we have always been so happy, but have also felt like someone(s) was missing from our family. I am overjoyed to proclaim my heart officially content and full. The extra bedrooms that sat empty for so long are now full, too. I don’t feel like anyone is missing from our family photo. Arriving at this place of just being for a moment is momentous. It’s emotionally freeing. If you’re searching for your own route to a content and happy place, I pray you find it. Consider looking where you wouldn’t expect it. Like say, across an ocean. Don’t let fear stop you.

Happy seeking!
-Ashlie

ocean

Kids

Being a mom is kind of scary

May 9, 2016

For an unhealthy span of time in my younger years I had a doll that I swore to everyone who would listen was real. I used an old wooden high chair (I want to say it was my dad’s when he was a baby) and sat Crystal at the table. I would airplane tiny spoonfuls of applesauce toward her sweet plastic lips and then whip it into my own mouth quickly, so everyone would assume it was consumed and now sustaining my real baby’s body. Over time, my little angel started to succumb to the wear of overuse. Her foam midsection would sometimes peek out from the back of her dress. Her supple scull popped off from her body on more than one occasion, revealing her artificial core, but still I held her close. I took my care for Crystal very seriously. Care when I swaddled her. Care when I rocked her and sang to her. And care when my older siblings and their friends came to torture her and me for the sake of their own jollies.

I can remember fragments of the scene on the day Crystal lost her magic forever. My sister and I had matching white wooden four post beds with spindles that screwed on and off. So many times those posts served for happy memories; mainly as our microphones for our private Wilson Phillips concerts or reenacting the opening sequence from Adventures in Babysitting. But on this particular afternoon, there was no singing. My brother, who was in high school at the time, had some of his buddies over. These guys were over a lot while our parents were at work and Matt was “watching us”. In the frenzy and noise of the typical annoying little sibling torture proceedings, one of my brother’s friends grabbed Crystal off my bed. He squeezed her head, which opened her mouth and gave him a perfect opening in which to impale her face on the spindle. I looked on helplessly as he hit her body, making my baby doll spin around the bed post, her head the axis and her manufactured limbs the propellers. And I remember feeling both emotionally demolished and relieved at the same time. As much as I loved Crystal, being her mom could be a real bitch sometimes. The charade had to stop. I just didn’t expect it to end so violently for her.

My time with Crystal, a.k.a. Baby Alive, was an adolescent teaser for the gravity of motherhood. Now that I have 3 real, living, breathing daughters – yes, they really are real this time – I feel a constant weight on my mind and my shoulders. One day they aren’t there and you’re just walking around making moronic decisions and eating Taco Bell at all hours of the damn night, and then, boom! these little humans are in your home, asking for water and screaming at you from the toilet seat. They come out bearing nothing but a buffet of messy fluids and loads of massive responsibility for you, and it’s overwhelming, I don’t care who you are.

Me and Spike

With girls, in particular, I find I place a lot of importance on how I raise them and the example I set. I don’t want much for them, just that they be independent, confident, strong, determined, direct yet receptive, resolute yet relaxed, wise and empathetic, compassionate, kind, respectful, noncompliant when it counts, forward-thinking, environmentally conscious, always driven by admirable motives, modest, unapologetic, ambitious, positive, adventurous and curious, noble and just a little bit gutsy. I want them to chase down their dreams like the succulent prey they are and be continuously reaching for more than what they’re given. I want them to explore every beautiful corner of this world, but always come home for Christmas. I want them to surprise themselves with what they can accomplish, but never at the expense of another person’s pride or joy. I want them to be aware of their character and the character of the people they surround themselves with. I want them to stand for what’s right and respect God’s will. I want them to investigate and question and refuse to settle. I want them to excel, to climb, to love big. That’s it. Just those things. And when I think about how I can help mold them into these people, or worse yet,the 8 million things I do a day that potentially steer them away from being these people, I suddenly get very, very tired.

I often try to salvage my sanity by parceling this list down into digestible, manageable goals. Some of these include, but are not limited to: Getting Spike to quit hitting and Sloppy Joan to quit biting, reduce the volume of fart noises at the dinner table, get Sloppy Joan to stop saying, “don’t like it!” about absolutely everything (even the things I know she likes), convince Spike that boogies are not a delicacy, and get JoJo to stop hoarding. If I think about how I can use my influence to just start chipping away at some of these habits, it seems a little less daunting.

MeandGirls

But all of these anxieties pale in comparison to the ones I have about just keeping them alive. These little creatures might not be very refined, but they are awesome and they are on loan to me. Sometimes that fact scares the shit out of me, I’m not going to lie. Right after I had JoJo, I would randomly just start crying on our way to the sitter. I think it was the fact that my hormones were on a Tilt-a-Whirl 24/7, but I also think it was the sheer terror that if someone crashed into our car something could happen to her. It was the heart-halting fear of loving something so much more than you love yourself, or anything else. I’d only felt love like that for one other person, and he pretty much took care of himself.

Suddenly I was forced to think about reactions to dairy and what the consistency and frequency of someone else’s poop means and if there’s a separate heaven for ants and goldfish. Being a parent is like a constant game of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and you start back at the bottom every morning. So, she wants to know if Sloppy Joan came out of my belly button. Should I phone a friend? Go 50/50? They need answers. Answers to questions that, quite honestly, I often haven’t even considered. The questions are just part of it, too. They fall and break open. They get violently ill. They wake up with rashes for no apparent reason. You aren’t just the teacher, you’re also the healer.

All of this being said, mothers are some badass multitasking fixers. We make up songs on the spot and kiss scrapes with magic lips and pull snacks out of our oversized purses and chase off the monsters and smooth everything over with our masterful body sway and face petting. Scary as it all is, I don’t know many moms who aren’t up for taking a baseball bat to the things that go bump in the night if that’s what the job calls for. The only feeling that’s greater than fear is love, and Lord knows we all have plenty of that.

Thoughts

Giving a great performance

November 12, 2015

A friend who I’ve long adored and admired for her ability to maintain her sacred social life in the midst of motherhood, sent the sweetest text on my birthday:

“Happy National Holiday! I am so thankful for our friendship. U amaze me at how easy u make everything look. U are kicking ass at 33! I know this year will be even better for u!”

I put down my phone, smiled and had a little bit of a laugh. Isn’t that something … Just when you feel like you’re drowning, someone pops by to admire your breaststroke.

text

Of course, I didn’t respond. If I’d sent a text back, it would have been something dreadfully playful, pathetic and truthful like … “LOL, if by ‘easy’ you mean ‘chaotic like a kangaroo with her hair on fire’ you’re right on target, sister-friend!” or, “Bwahahahaha … That’s me! Mayor of crazytown, population 6.” (I always feel like I should count the dog.)

Because that is my truth. Regardless of what it looks like through the Instagram lens, honestly, do any of us ever actually feel like we’ve got this shit down? Is there ever a night when we crawl into bed, put in our bite plate (just me?), look at the clock and think, “Good heavens above, I freaking made it,” just in time to hear a knob turn and a little voice reach out of the doorway and down the hall for you?

It doesn’t matter how intentional you are the night before – go ‘head and lay out those clothes, mama … pack that lunch, girl … – those unpredictable little creatures in your house are still going to fall asleep on your brand new chair and pee like a horse hooked up to a hose. You’re still going to get asked to give a 20-minute presentation at the Monday morning staff meeting on Friday at 2 o’clock. There will still be carry-ins and all-about-me poster boards and bake sales and smelly vomit and dry cleaning you forgot to pick up.

If it ever looks easy, it’s because I am sparing you the saga of my microcosm. When we chat, I am giving you the highlight reel and leaving the messy parts on the cutting room floor. It might not earn high marks for transparency, though I’ll tell you if you ask, but it’s a helluva lot more enjoyable leaving out the tantrums and takeout than it is reliving the pandemonium play by play with someone who’s just trying to push off their own pandemonium. (At least when drinks aren’t involved. Over a couple of cocktails I’m spilling my shortcomings and preaching from the pulpit of failures and frustrations.) It’s like when you pass someone in the hall. “Hey! How are ya?” “Good! How are you?” “Good, thanks.” It’s all about sparing the messy parts. No one wants to hear, “Ah, shitty. My baby is cutting teeth and her ass is redder than a baby lobster, I’ve developed a tolerance to melatonin and I’m getting a zit that feels like a gunshot wound.” But, again, that is my truth.

And what of the text? I chalk it up to one woman telling another she’s killin’ it; even though that woman might know that the recipient of that text (me) rides the struggle bus most days. Sometimes we just need to clink our martini glasses, give each other a wink and acknowledge that the battle is real and, while we all have weak spots in our armor, at least we put up a good fight.

 

Kids

The thing about this baby

June 3, 2015

IMG_8882

Today, my baby turns 1.

This. Is. Tough. Sloppy Joan is our third baby, and we’ve always planned on having three babies. This time, we’re not putting bottles and bouncies and Boppies away, we’re giving them away. It’s surreal.

When you’re 17, and you sit around with your girlfriends and talk about “10 years from now,” it’s kind of like you’re speaking your dreams out into the universe with the hope that God is listening, will take note and, as time passes and He sees fit, they will be distributed down to you one by one until you have everything you’ve ever wished for. So now, as I watch my baby girl smash bright pink frosting into her perfect little face, I’m realizing that my heart is full of all the wishes I had for my “10 years from now.” And that’s kind of … I don’t know … scary … overwhelming … beautiful.

3 girls

I know eventually it will feel liberating – the thought that one chapter of my life is closing. They’re all here. I will [more than likely] never be pregnant again. It’s not that I have nothing to do now. We are in the throws of the next chapter, which is raising humble, strong, capable young ladies; a task booby trapped with a frightening level of estrogen. It’s just that I put so much energy into planning and anticipating and carrying these little lives, and now I have all of those emotions, without the control. My friend Kelly says that having children is like having a piece of your heart living outside your body. Sometimes I can physically feel that sentiment. Like, you know In Madagascar when Alex looks at Marty and he’s a talking steak? That’s the level I’m talking. I picture these little pieces of my emoji-looking, bright red heart, walking and crawling and dancing away from me. Torture.

Sloppy Joan had a rough first year, much of which was spent in the clutches of various ailments, the worst of which being the longest case of the flu ever and RSV. I rode, sitting on a stretcher, in the back of an ambulance at 2 o’clock in the morning holding my naked little angel, both of our hearts racing – mine from a fear like I’ve never known and hers from the virus – and I prayed in the most direct conversation I’ve ever had. I pleaded for this birthday to come. I begged for her beautiful, long life. So, I suppose I shouldn’t spend too much time analyzing the wrapping paper on my most amazing gift, now should I?

This little girl is the brightest ray of sunshine and the happiest of all creatures. She loves buttered noodles, waving and dancing. She’s finding her voice and rocks one prominent tooth on the bottom. Her butt crack is, I promise you, one inch longer than any other butt crack you’ve ever seen on a baby, and her daddy loves to hold her up before bath and say, “It’s been a long-ass day.”

hattie1 collage

If the sentence that is our growing family ends here, she is the perfect punctuation mark. Happy birthday, my sweet Sloppy Joan.

birthday collage