On being lonely, a year and half after a move.

There’s this crane that always sits on the edge of our dock. Every day I see her multiple times a day by herself just looking out on the water. I finally had to do a little research on cranes because I was so curious if it was normal to have a crane be alone for so long. It’s not, as it turns out, and yet there she sits-by herself for the last year and half.

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For anyone who has moved somewhat recently you know when I say I’m lonely that it doesn’t mean that every hour that passes I lament moving here. Most of the time I am caught up in our day-to-day life, one that wouldn’t look a whole lot different if I were still in Iowa actually. Wake up, meditate, hustle kids to school, teach a few classes, grocery shop, dog snuggle, Snapchat lunch and dog snuggles, homework, post-school activities, husband snuggles and bed. All the same no matter the state.

Anytime I cried myself to sleep thought about how badly I’d miss my sisters and friends before we moved to Michigan, I would tell myself that in this stage of life we really didn’t see each other much anyway. It’s the ebb and flow of life, right? I think perhaps nowhere besides motherhood do you feel that so succinctly. When my kids were little I needed my girlfriends in a desperate sort of way, in a bring-me-coffee-and-come-over-quickly-so-our-kids can-play-together-and-we-can-speak-about-anything-but-kids kind of way. It’s no coincidence it was during that flow of life that the idea for the first Wine to Water event was borne.

But this ebb? Even in Iowa a good portion of my friendships were handled via long text conversations while seated at a baseball game. Some of my best friends live on the west coast and I only see them once a year yet we make up for lost time as soon as we are together again. That was all the proof I needed to believe I would be ok not living close to friends and family.

What I failed to realize, though, was that I was able to enjoy my long distance friendships because I also had no distance friendships. I couldn’t possibly have foreseen that when the vast majority of my friendships were on the long distance side, it would tip the scales and send me reeling-even 1.5 years later after the move.

I couldn’t possibly have known that investing all of my time into creating friendships that were deep, powerful and so very life affirming would make it so much harder to see women in my new state and have to talk about stuff like the weather or our kids (we are so much more than mothers, no?). Though I haven’t dated since I was 19 (!) I imagine dating feels remarkably like trying to make new friends without the additional perks of make out sessions and free dinner-and really, who wants to be dating without those?

I went to an acupuncturist a few months ago. When she was doing her typical assessment she hovered her hands over my heart and said simply, “You have deep sadness.” Even after I tried assuring her that I felt pretty great she interrupted me with, “You have deep sadness, it is not my business whether or not you choose to acknowledge it but it’s there and it’s undeniable.”

I’ve always been one of those “make the best out of any situation” kind of people. I recognize that it can often be annoying but it’s kind of my set thermostat. Only recently have I realized there are some cases where that might be a crutch with which I lean when I’m too scared to admit that I’m a little sad, maybe a little lonely. That even though life is terrifyingly good in so many ways, I just miss the hell out of my support system. Perhaps that’s why when the acupuncturist told me I had deep sadness the first face I saw in my head was that of my sister’s and then in quick succession my best friend and other sisters.

I’ve been lucky though, to have made a few friends here who are my kind of people. I was at lunch with a few of them the other day when I turned to one and said, “I’ve always been teased about how quickly I eat but the first time we had lunch together we finished at the same time and I knew we were going to be friends.” And it was true. Though I buffered the sentiment in a joke, what I was really saying was, “You have no idea how good it feels to have so much in common with someone geographically close to me again.”

But I’m realizing that being happy and hopeful about certain aspects of life in MI doesn’t negate the fact that I cry every time I leave Iowa to head back home. Spending time with those I miss the most almost makes it harder, which honestly surprised me to learn.

Zach will sometimes make comments about the time I spend on my phone texting/checking in with social media. I admit it’s gone up over the last year, though I’m currently doing better about putting it away thankyouverymuch. I have no problems admitting I maybe overuse it as a way of staying grounded to a life now gone, that checking in with the people I miss on social media gives me a false sense of being there being in their lives in a more tangible way than I currently am. It’s a long cry from sitting next to them sharing a plate of chips and guacamole and a bottle of wine but for now I’m giving myself time to ease the transition.

I know if my life were a romance movie I would be looking deeply into Zach’s eyes telling him that wherever he is-is home for me, and it’s partially true but it’s missing the big picture. Because most women know in any happy family photo if you zoom out you’ll see the best friend who just helped with hair and make up, the sister who just dropped off the one kid with the suspicious looking chocolate mustache and the various other women who all played a part in making the woman in the center of the picture smile broadly with her chest proud. If you look closely enough you’ll see the tension between the woman and one of her little children and then, upon even closer examination, you’ll see one of the friends quietly lifting mom’s arm to put around the shoulder of that child. Bridging the gap of humanity and brokenness one encouraging word at a time.

The longer I live the more I’m convinced we were never made to live in isolation. If the last year and half has proven anything it’s that naiveté really does favor the young. So even though I’m sure it will get better, today I’m just admitting that it’s hard. And maybe I’m just a little too old for this shit. 😉

This morning after my meditation I was slower to open my eyes than usual. I could hear the kids starting to wake up and I just wasn’t ready to enter into the madness quite yet so I sat there and just breathed in the silence. After a few minutes I heard a weird bird call that wasn’t familiar so I opened my eyes to place the visual with the auditory and there she was-the crane on the edge of the dock.

Though this time there was another one with her.

National Bridge State Park/ Red River Gorge

National Bridge State Park/ Red River Gorge

Summer kind of got away from us this year. The kids were involved in baseball/softball until mid July and then I was trying to squeeze in a “laid back summer” for the rest of the weeks. I’m sure this will come as no surprise to you, but a forced laid back summer didn’t feel so laid back and so it was that Zach recommended we take a family camping trip before school started.

During the school year I can sometimes fool myself into believing we have our stuff together because the kids are gone at school for most of the day and then activities at night. But summer? Oh summer comes at ya with all the problems and issues that have been pushed down or run over from the crazy of the school year.

I think particularly with our babes who have suffered trauma-the unscheduled-ness of summer can sometimes be really scary for them. Scary for them often means intense parenting for the mamas and the papas.

All this to say, our camping trip came just at the right time. Our plan was to head to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan but a few days before we were to leave we noticed it was supposed to be 60 degrees with 90% chance of rain so I we made the executive decision to try the National Bridge State Park in Kentucky instead.

It had been a few years since we last went camping and, since then, have adopted a plant based lifestyle so I was a little nervous about what exactly we would eat for our 4 day vacation in nature. More on that later…

 

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The kids are now of ages where they can put up the tent by themselves while I organize/read my book. It is bliss.

We arrived much later than I was hoping so part of dinner was prepared by flashlight. Fajitas (sautéed on my new pan. I physically danced when this little lady and her dutch oven sister were delivered to my door.)

Vegan Fajitas

Onions, peppers, garlic, zucchini, squash. Buy the refrigerated tortillas at Costco, they are so good and have only 5 ingredients! We added guac and salsa for obvious reason.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day called for oats with almond milk and honey. Cooked to perfection and overwhelming praise by all. So easy, so delicious.

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Our first hike was up to the National Bridge. I had forgotten my nice camera but remembered my selfie stick so not all hope was lost.

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Even though we live at a camp in the middle of beautiful wilderness, it’s so easy to take for granted just how beautiful nature is. When you’re on a hike with no distractions other than your 5 children playing an adorable game of follow the leader and your husband’s calves flexing in the sexiest way possible-it’s easy to be reminded just how big and beautiful this world is.

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Dailah was often behind the other kids just chatting with Z and me. At one point she turned to me and remarked, “I think I’ve been talking the whole time we’ve been walking mom!” And then carried on before I could give her confirmation to the fact. She may look like her daddy but I suppose there’s a piece of me in there somewhere. 😉

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The lead up to the natural bridge was a teeny tiny staircase. Hiking with Binyam is no different than hiking with other children until we get to cliffs and tiny spaces. He stumbles often in his walking, so every stumble is a little bigger of a risk and my anxiety tends to get a little out of hand. I don’t think he knows I feel this way as I usually overcompensate the fear with effusive love, praise and picture taking.

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The top of the bridge is just gorgeous, both the views and the actual physical bridge.

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I posted this picture on Facebook and the commentors had a great time trying to find Binyam. He’s there, but he blends in perfectly with the foliage.

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Zach taught the kids how to safely get to the side of a cliff to look down and I sat down in the center and shit my pants prayed.

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Tariku was pouting about something or other, I was a safe distance away from the side and Dailah had found a rock to climb. But I loved this shot of Z and 3 of his boys.

I love all things yoga and meditation and when I’m in nature, it always inspires me to move my body in a way that reflects that. Natarajasana (Dancer pose) is one of my favorites because of all of the angles it creates, plus it just feels awesome.

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It could be said that sarcasm is our family’s love language and so when that’s the case, it comes as no surprise to find one son meditating on a rock during the hike and another imitating my love of yoga. I love all the things- their budding senses of humor in particular.

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From the natural bridge we could see another cliff (over Zach’s shoulder in the shot of the two of us) that the kids wanted to check out as well so off we went.

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We didn’t get a whole lot of sleep the night before so we headed back for some lunch/naps.

Lunch was veggie burgers and some grillin’ beans. Zach bought himself 6 cans of these things and I think we ate every one. It is legit the only time we eat baked beans but there is certainly something about the taste the open fire gives them. (Make sure you get the vegetarian/vegan kind. Most have some sort of pork in them so check the label!)

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Zach and Dailah chatting in the hammock during chill time.

Have I mentioned how much more relaxing camping is when your kids can also start fires? This is particularly enjoyable when I have a book that I can’t put down. (Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a must read, truly.)

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The next morning I did a tofu scramble for breakfast with a little tofu, garlic, cayenne pepper, turmeric, nutritional yeast, spinach and tomatoes. Mmmmm might need to make that tonight…

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That morning we hiked a trail close to our campsite. It was a decently strenuous hike that was much longer and higher than the previous day’s but one that I preferred. Took us over an hour to be able to see the sun through the trees so everything was lush and gorgeous.

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I’m not actually leaning against the tree behind me, this was kind of a tricky pose on the fallen tree. I jumped down and Dailah asked, “Isn’t it so fun to be a kid again?” It is. It really, really is.

We had to descend pretty quickly as we had a kayak/canoe trip down the Red River around lunch. When we got to the campsite I couldn’t help but smile, what a lovely thing it is to be with the ones I love-all of our needs met so simply.

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We were warned by an older couple who took a liking to our kids that the water level was low in the gorge so we might be in for some pulling of our various boats but we Zach decided to soldier on. Dailah wanted in with me and I enthusiastically agreed, forgetting momentarily that when Dailah decides she’s over something there is not a human alive who can talk her into engaging. The first few minutes were pure bliss though.

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We arrived at the water hole with a cliff just perfect for jumping. I’ve had many opportunities to go cliff jumping in my day and I’ve declined each and every invitation for I imagine the same reasons Dailah stopped rowing 5 minutes into our excursion-it just didn’t appeal to me. I’ve never loved heights, nor has anyone accused me of being a risk taker in the traditional sense. I typically like my 2 feet planted firmly on land, thankyouverymuch. But I try really hard to be an ever evolving person, letting go of the things that no longer serve me, and fear of cliff jumping seemed like one of those things I could let go of.

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On the way back, it was decided I would be canoeing home with Binyam (the three bigs all had their own kayak)-which makes the most sense since together we have virtually 0 experience canoeing. Ahem.

You know where this is going…we hit some rapids and when I told Binyam to duck to avoid a tree branch he took that to mean grab on to that branch like your little one precious life depends on it. Next thing I knew, I was ducking to avoid my child and grabbing him down from the tree at the same time while our canoe tipped over. Binyam freaks in the face of most things and so when I stood up the first thing I saw was his big, beautiful eyes peaking out from the water with a look of sheer panic. It took what felt like 42 minutes to convince him to stand up as the water was shallow enough for him to touch. Bless.

It ended up being a really fun 4 hours. We were basically the only people on the water so we could take our time admiring the beauty of the gorge.

Probably one of my favorite parts of camping is sleeping all in one tent. When Zach initially wanted to get into family camping my one condition was that we all sleep together. Oh and air mattress, I wanted to be sleeping on one of those.

Going to sleep and waking up next to the kids is so fun, in particular because our bedroom at home is a child free space. The only time you’ll see a child in our room is if they are 1) sick or 2) sick. And even then, there better be puke somewhere or you can just figure it out on your own. Kidding, kind of. Maybe it’s because I created that sanctuary when my kids were so little that I can now appreciate the moments when we’re all together. Sure I don’t sleep as well because Tomas yells in his sleep and a few others are loud breathers/snorers but I can’t beat waking up to this sight.

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On the way home our van officially hit 80,000 miles. It is 3 years old. You do the math here, there is a lot of love and miles lived in our minivan. I love adventures and if there is one thing I hope my kids take from me it’s that-travel, travel, travel. And pay off your cars as soon as you can so that you never believe there’s risk in getting that mile ticker to go higher.

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Caden John

Last October most of my Dawson family (and a few friends) visited us in Michigan for a Notre Dame game. The men had tickets to the game but the women chose instead to tailgate before the game and then walk around campus during the game. At the tailgate I went to pour myself and my friend a drink and then asked my sister (in-law) Lindsey what she would like.

Here’s something you should know about me: I have a sixth sense when it comes to pregnancy. The night before the Notre Dame game I noticed Lindsey not having a drink (it’s a Dawson tradition to have a drink after a long road trip) and munching on food more than she normally did. I gave her a raised eyebrow look to let her know she was being closely monitored. Bless.

Back to the tailgate: she followed me to the makeshift bar at the back of my minivan (I keep it classy people, don’t ever forget that) and said simply, “I know you already know, I saw your face last night when your mom asked what I wanted to drink. You cannot say anything to anyone because no one else knows but that eyebrow raise was correct, I’m pregnant again.”

My brother and Lindsey already had 2 amazing little girls so I was thrilled they were giving me another remarkable child to love on. Plus, it just so happened that every other male Dawson in our extended family had given birth to all girls. So it was that the Dawson family line either continued or ended with the tiny zygote now officially implanted in Lindsey’s belly. No pressure wee one.

Lindsey also mentioned, while I poured a celebratory vodka tonic for auntie Tesi, that if her calculations were correct this baby would be born on or around my birthday. I wasn’t aware of any way this news could have gotten more exciting until that moment.

As June 5 approached I checked in every few minutes relentlessly to see how Lindsey was doing. On June 3rd I decided to make my way to Iowa knowing Lindsey traditionally had very short labors and I just didn’t want to miss it!

When I got to Iowa the doctor okayed the induction for the 5th because Lindsey was already dilated and contracting-we were going to have a baby!! On my birthday!! Which happens to fall on my mom’s birthday!!

Marcus and Lindsey took off for the hospital early on the 5th so my mom and I got to spend our birthday hanging with my two nieces. I miss these two little girls so much every day in Michigan so getting to spend so much quality time with them felt like a perfect birthday gift.

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There is something about Landry that resonates within my soul. Not sure if it’s because she is now the middle child in a family with 2 older girls and a younger brother, much like myself, or if it’s her love of food and books but-I just love her.

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Truth be told I am not at all good at sharing my food. But Adley Sue can ask me for anything and I would give it to her. It’s rare that I’m around them without my kids but it was a truly special time, Adley and I were joined at the hip all day and it made me incredibly happy.

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After a quick pit stop at the tire store to fix a flat on my brother’s car, Lindsey’s mom took the girls while my mom and I headed to the hospital.

I knew I had to make the 8 hour trip back to Michigan later that day as we had a weekend full of kid activities so I spent most of those first hours praying labor would be quick and I would get as much snuggling as possible before I had to leave.

Soon after we had lunch with Marcus and Lindsey in their room, there was a text letting us know Lindsey was just checked and it was baby time.

2 minutes later my brother sent a text with just the baby’s face and the words, “It’s here!”

Mom, dad and I spent the next 10 minutes staring at the picture trying to guess what the sex of the baby was and begging my brother to let us in. We legit snagged a security officer and asked him to go back to the room and find out for us. That actually happened.

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Finally he told us we could come back. I made a video to document. I feel like I need to apologize for all of the things. In this video you will hear my “baby voice”, my “happy scream” and witness my inability to remember what I’m doing when I’m overcome by joy.

Brace yourselves, Lindsey looked way to good to have just had a baby. (And let me just take a moment to reiterate how much I love that sister of mine, I’m so so thankful she’s in our family. What a good mama and good wife to my brother. #blessed as the trend goes.)

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When I did the math, I had approximately 45 minutes to snuggle before I needed to get on the road in order to make it home by about 1am. I didn’t waste a single second.

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3 generations of Johns (Grandpa John, Dad Marcus John and baby Caden John-if Tomas would’ve been there it would be 4 generations btw).

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I don’t know, man, but watching my brother become a daddy again was just really special. I am so, so thankful I can count my brother as one of my good friends and am incredibly proud of him. Even in the months when people wondered if they would have another girl he made sure everyone knew it didn’t really matter to him. Lindsey mentioned numerous times she was more anxious about producing a boy than Marcus ever was. I love him, that’s just all there is to it.

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Yes, it was my mom and my birthday but it was also Emmett’s. Emmett is Lindsey’s sister’s son who was also born on June 5th. Of course we had to take a picture of the June 5th birthday buddies!

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It’s been 2 months since that day and I haven’t been able to get back and see little Caden John. Even with all of the modern technology, I hop on the struggle bus most often when I think about my nieces and nephews. Next week we go for a visit and I’m beside myself with anticipation.

Heard you loud and clear Caden John, see you soon. Love you so much.

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Dailah is 9!

Dailah is 9!

As July 26th neared, I asked Dailah what she wanted to do for her birthday. In our house the birthday person gets to choose everything we do and eat as a family, which is often the most exciting part for them. We rarely go out to eat as a family so birthdays are their one chance to choose wherever they want to go. Dailah, though, decided she wanted homemade spaghetti instead because “It’s too hard to have a quality conversation in a restaurant, it’s so loud and there are TVs everywhere.”

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Dailah’s first reaction for virtually everything is hesitation. “Hey Dailah, here’s a young lady your age, why don’t you introduce yourself and play for awhile?” Hesitation. “Dailah, why don’t you try doing a cartwheel on that trampoline?” Hesitation. She definitely tends towards a fixed mindset-if she doesn’t succeed at something initially then she believes she will never be successful at it. But after the initial hesitation she usually goes all in. So it was the case with her friend Kenna, who was the sister of one of the boys on our baseball team. Hesitation and then, best friends. (Image from Snapchat, find me there: tesileagh).

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Once she’s all in you simply won’t find anyone as hard working or passionate as Dailah. She’s open to new experiences for sure, but doing something in her wheelhouse? That’s her jam. And if it includes snuggling babies or pets, fuggetaboutit.

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She’s beautiful, to be sure, but I genuinely believe God saw what was on the inside and decided he would have to attempt to make the outside be just as wonderful. He failed, because there’s just no way to encompass all the joy and life that lives inside this one in just one suit of skin. (Those eyelashes are her real eyelashes. I believe the kids refer to this phenomenon as “I can’t even”)

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We’re not a big present family. The kids get to open a few small things that are usually picked up within the checkout aisles of our local Meijer but they never complain. Dailah was rather ecstatic with her fake nails and crossword puzzles.

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She’s currently obsessed with cheetahs. Obsessed. Dailah takes after her dad with regards to obsessions-they tend to come and go with the tide. As someone who doesn’t really obsesses over anything, I used to get swept up in each obsession buying Zach or Dailah whatever they needed to show that I supported each one only to-2 weeks later-see those same things collecting dust or in the Goodwill pile. It used to be maddening but now I secretly find it charming, who doesn’t love seeing someone so excited and passionate about something? I get that all the time with these two, I’m pretty lucky in that way. (Notice the cheetah print fake nails-$4 to show I support the obsession? #worthit)

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After her week at camp the counselors gave her the “trendsetter” award. They said if she wore her hair one way one day, all the girls would wear it that way the next day. That she came up with some odd combinations of outfits but every time she walked out of the door like she owned the world in that crazy outfit and it somehow looked like the most stylish combination they’d ever seen. They talked about her willingness to help out campers who were struggling and to never leave anyone out. It’s like she sought out the kids who were feeling left out and brought them into the fold, they said.

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Dailah has grown so much both physically and emotionally in the last year. It’s been so awesome to have deep conversations about what it means to be a girl/woman in our culture. I sometimes forget that we are as open of a family as we are until we are in public. After her cheer competition standing in line with hundreds of people she turned to me and yelled, “These bloomers are going right up my vagina!” Heads turned and one woman said to me, “I’m not even sure my daughter knows the word vagina.” Dailah was shocked to hear this. Doesn’t everyone speak openly about vaginas she wondered?

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Perhaps I’m most proud of her developing sense of humor. It’s no secret I love comedy and it could be said our family’s love language is sarcasm. Dailah has always been funny but this year she’s started learning when it’s appropriate to use it and when it’s not. As her timing has gotten better so have her witty remarks (and notes).

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Or this one, after she helped babysit my nephew Julius (JuJu) while the adults went out for a bit.

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Being a mother to Dailah has always been and remains to be a delight every single day. She is uninhibited joy, laughter uncontrolled all mixed with the intensity of her favorite animal. She is the best snuggler the world has ever seen and the conductor of so much life. I still can’t believe my good fortune at calling her mine.

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Love you so much Dailah Leagh. Happy birthday baby girl.

On Baltimore

On Baltimore

On last week’s episode of the podcast This American Life they were talking about how studies show posting news articles or constantly making your opinion known on social media does nothing in the way of convincing someone from opposing viewpoints to change his/her mind. What does work, though, is when we get to know people with opposing viewpoints and can learn just enough to pull down the-relateively small-walls that separate us. TAL gave the example of people in California who were canvassing for the same sex marriage bill. It was proven through results of the canvassing that if the canvasser was gay/lesbian and was able to just enter into a conversation with someone who was against same sex marriage, more than likely that opposer would change his/her mind. Because now there was a face to the issue. (You can find the podcast here or just search “This American Life” in iTunes.)

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I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week as Baltimore has erupted in what has become a common scene in America. I see my white friends who do not have black children mostly silent other than a few posts celebrating the woman who beat on her son who was rioting or a post encouraging the police. I see the adoptive contingency being pretty vocal-at least numerous posts a day about really poignant pictures or prose that speaks to the racism still so prevalent in these United States. Many of my black friends are relatively silent on the issue, perhaps because it feels like the story they’ve been told for as long as they can remember continues to play out.

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I just want to take this moment to remind us all of one thing: you can say whatever you want about a situation, but that does not make it true. You can even believe it to be true, but that doesn’t make it so. You can say the sky is gray, but that doesn’t make it true. Just like you can say that we don’t have a racial problem in America, but that doesn’t make it true. You can say we don’t have a police problem in America, but that doesn’t make it true. We can say any number of things and yet, just because we want them to be true or we were told they were true-does. not. make. them. so.

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One of our dear, dear friends is an amazing Lt on a police force. He works his ass off to do the right thing by the citizens he protects and, of all of my kids, he’s quite partial to Binyam. I know him, I love him, I believe him to be “one of the good best guys.” This doesn’t mean I believe all police are like him. I can love and celebrate my friend while still demanding we take a long, hard look at why we’re throwing men of color in prison at much higher rates than white men. It’s taken me a long time to realize the two ideas (loving a police officer while demanding an overhaul of the system in which he works) are not mutually exclusive.

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I love America. I have been to other countries so the luxury of living in a country where I’m free to blog about this topic does not escape me. Not for one minute. But because I love America, I refuse to let this be part of our story. Zach loves me more than he loves anyone else and because of that love, I’ll sometimes get a text that reads, “For the love of everything holy when you drive my car will you please put the seat back before you get out so I don’t castrate myself when I try to get in?” He refuses to let me continue on any path that isn’t directly leading to me being the person I was made to be. If we don’t wrestle with our policies and our politics as a nation how in the hell do we expect to be the best in the world (as many Americans believe we are)? It’s impossible. Those two ARE mutually exclusive. If you want to be the best, you have to shine the light on your dark places and work. them. out.

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Now is when you start changing the conversation to the riots, right? Because that’s how these things go. Listen, no one wants property damaged. No one. I’m sure no one in Seattle wanted their property damaged when they won the Super Bowl and yet, it happened. Only this time they were celebrating a sports victory instead of protesting another life lost in police custody. The media coverage of the Baltimore riots is a smokescreen. They’ve not been showing the daily protest of Donte Hamilton’s family in Milwaukee who was killed by police 1 year ago. Peaceful protests with prophetic signs don’t sell-the destruction of property, the fires, the rage-it all sells. Do yourself a favor and be better than making this about the riots. If you take nothing from this blog take that, do not let the rioting enter into your conversations, it only goes to show you’ve taken your talking points from less than awesome media outlets (I know many of you will assume I’m talking about one media outlet but rest assured, our 24 hours news cycle has made it so there are handfuls of media outlets to which I’m referring.)

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The other night I walked downstairs to grab something from Trysten and Tomas’s room and Tomas was standing there shirtless with shorts on. Something about the way he was standing made him look like a teenager. He was obviously mid-thought so his brow was furrowed and his mouth, normally fixed in a gigantic smile, was downturned. I quietly closed the door so that he wouldn’t see me panic.

Every day I notice just a bit more facial hair on Tomas and Tariku. Every day closer to adolescence is another day their childlike, cartoonish expressions give way to more somber ones. Not because they aren’t the happy, loving boys they’ve always been but because they are seeing the world in a whole new way-they are going through everything we all did at their age.

But seeing Tomas in his room like that or having Tariku point out his mustache only works to take the Baltimore protests and bring them to my back door. For those who are not trying to raise black men and women in America undoubtedly you don’t feel the urgency or the weight of that truth but man is it heavy-particularly as a white woman who feels so incredibly ill-equipped to navigate the treacherous waters.

1 in 3 black men in America will spend time in prison. 1 in 3. Most of them for small drug related charges that Trysten is more likely to be guilty of (statistically speaking, not because he seems to have a proclivity for it at 12). I think you can understand why the weight of the 1 in 3 statistic weighs heavily on me.

I’m putting this out into my tiny corner of the internet with no expectation. I’m putting it out there because this blog started as a way for me to process the journey of adoption and motherhood. And though dossiers are in my rearview mirror, I find the actual mothering of these boys for which I prayed and cried is infinitely more complex.

I love my children the way you love yours. In our messy, complicated, probably overbearing way. I want to believe that if your child was facing some insurmountable obstacle I would come alongside you and, at the very least, say, “I don’t understand it but I hear you and I’m next to you and we’ll figure out a way to get your child through to the other side.”

Maybe for today we can just get there. Maybe for today we can speak out in grace, peace and love and let those be our guiding emotions instead of fear or self righteousness. Of course I know this can’t happen everywhere but I believe strongly in creating small ripples that lead to revolution.

Peace and love,

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Spring Break 2015

One of the reasons we decided to move to Michigan is because Zach’s current job opened up so many more possibilities in terms of travel and adventure. I’ve been making a running list of places people tell me I “must go” in Michigan since we moved here a year ago but we had yet to take advantage of living in a brand new state we know nothing about.

The kids started spring break on April 2nd and on March 25th we started talking about how maybe we should go somewhere. 🙂 We originally wanted to camp but most of Michigan was still either under a layer of snow or might as well have been with the 20 degree temps. We looked at Louisville for awhile because I have family there I’ve been wanting to visit and it looked to be at least a little warmer.

On March 31st we still didn’t know what we were going to do for sure. Zach and I are similar in a lot of ways but there are enough differences to really keep things interesting-namely, he is totally cool spontaneously throwing one outfit in a bag and taking off for parts unknown and I like more than a day’s notice for reasons like packing for 5 kids and myself. But mostly because I need to know where, what and when I’ll be able to eat at all times.

In the end we decided on renting a cabin near Traverse City and Sleeping Bear Dunes for the first part of spring break. Zach still threw one outfit in a bag and I packed 4 bags of groceries and that is how you manage 13 years of marriage. You’re welcome. 🙂

The cabin was big enough for all of us but not big enough for any of us to retreat into a corner and hide. We brought board games and played them every night. It was magical in a really laid back, fun way. And it was gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

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The first day we headed out to Sleeping Bear Dunes for a hike. It was a beautiful day, a little chilly on the parts of the trail that was thick with trees but actually quite warm when we got to the exposed part.

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After a few miles we got to some pretty gorgeous views of Lake Michigan.

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“Launching” is a Klipsch tradition that was started by Zach and his siblings and continues with my kids. There’s a whole lot of talk on who has the best launch, points scored, how to get higher/faster/longer. I’m not sure about the details of it all, I just know that it’s really fun to watch. (Binyam’s club feet don’t allow him to jump so launching isn’t really an option. Never to be left behind, he did enjoy falling and rolling down the dunes anyway. 😉 )

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Dailah and I did some yoga

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Zach and the boys did more running and climbing of the dunes.

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Zach and I were preparing to continue the hike when we turned to yell for the kids to follow. This is what can happen in a few minutes when there’s 5 of them. Love it.

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Still a little crazy that my kids are old enough to go on some paths by themselves and catch up with us somewhere down the line. It’s so fun watching them find their independence.

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On our way back, with about a mile left, Binyam’s feet had hit their limit. Ever the amazing brother, Tariku offered to give him a piggy back ride for the rest of the way.

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The next day the wind had picked up but we wanted to see more of the dunes so we just threw on another layer and away we went. While Zach and I had another cup of coffee got ready the kids took off around our cabin to find quality walking sticks.

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Most of the trail was wide open and the newly picked up wind created a legit wind tunnel that brought the temps down to freeze-your-facial-expression proportions. I was so, so thankful none of the kids complained. It felt like an Easter miracle but maybe it’s just the kids getting older.

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While the bigs climbed (and then launched from) a big dune, Dailah found the rest of us a little bunker to hide from the wind. It was then that Binyam, with his frozen facial expression, whispered about all of the things that hurt on his body. He wasn’t complaining, just stating facts.

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It was still really, really beautiful despite the wind.

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It was a little too chilly to head out again in the afternoon so we went to Traverse City to walk around their really great town. First stop was a coffee shop where Zach and I sat at the coffee bar while the kids enjoyed cinnamon rolls and looked at a map to decide where they wanted to go. Z and I talked for a good 5 minutes about how lucky we were that they get along so well (most of the time) and that we get these moments every day to reconnect just the 2 of us. It’s a lovely thing.

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It ended up being a mixed blessing it was too cold to hike-Traverse City was wonderful! We got back to the cabin and Zach built a nice little campfire outside our cabin. It was just a perfect day.

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We are amping up for a full schedule of baseball/softball/soccer and cheer this spring so it really was our last weekend totally free. One night in the cabin after the kids had gone to bed Zach did the math on how many more of these free weekends we probably have before Trysten is off to college and then I cried myself to sleep and it’s just not enough. I am so grateful for every weekend I get with these beautiful babes of mine, grateful we get these chances to get away and hunker down as a family. They really are my favorite people.

Tariku is 10!!

I’ve been thinking a lot about this post for Tariku. I kept trying to come up with a way to say just how much I love him-to come up with a phrase that embodies who he is or what he means to me. It’s kind of eluding me quite honestly.

Have you guys seen the movie Boyhood? I loved it. At all of the press junkets when it initially came out the press would ask the creator Richard Linklater to tell them about the movie he would always pause. It was a pregnant pause to be sure because, even though he had undoubtedly been rehearsed as to what to say, it just meant too much to him. How can you talk about this baby you’ve created, sweated over and cried about for 12 years in a way that can be used in a headline for page 6? Well you can’t. He tried, of course, but anyone who has seen the movie knows that no matter what Linklater said in those junkets probably didn’t do the film justice.

If you’ve been here long enough (or followed this blog’s predecessor hotflawedmama) you know that no one has ever worked harder than Tariku at accepting love.

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Even from the beginning we certainly wanted to be mom and son. I had thought of, prayed for and cried over him for months before he came home and I have no doubt across the ocean he was hesitantly excited about the possibility of a family.

Reality was, of course, harder than the daydreams (always is) and so for the last 7 years we’ve fought tooth and nail to get where we are-described a little more here-but no one has fought harder than Tariku.

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It’s really hard to believe Tariku is just 10-years-old. If you watch Tariku interact with the world you get the sense that he’s seen it all before. If you’re having a conversation with him you’ll notice immediately that he is listening. Not just listening but listening. His brow furrows, he makes really direct eye contact and it genuinely feels like he’s listening to it all-the words, the body language, the cadence of your words. It’s incredible. If you get an audience with Tariku you run the risk of believing the world was made just to hear your words.

Boy is he inquisitive! Of course on the days in which I am less than who I was made to be it can test my patience but most days I admire him for it. There are no “just because-s” with Tariku. I’ve taught all of my kids to wrestle with and question the world but no one does it quite like Tariku. Needless to say, he learns so much quicker than so many of his peers because he doesn’t just want to know why 1+1=2, he wants to know why you’re adding in the first place.

If ever we need something found within the house we call Tariku. If I need something done well (all mamas know what I mean by “done well” oy vey the half assing of kids-it will be the death of me) I call Tariku. It might not be fair but he is his mama’s son and darnit if we are working we are not going to pussyfoot around-we’ll get shit done right. (Mom, no need to remind me of my earlier years, I’ve come so far. 😉 )

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Zach and I coach a basketball team with Trysten, Tomas and Tariku on it. It’s for 5th and 6th grade boys. Tariku is in 4th grade and so often when Tariku makes a play or a shot that belies his age Zach and I just laugh. Tariku is often 2 steps ahead of his teammates because he thinks so quickly on his feet. He is just so freaking fun to watch.

I got a note from Tariku’s teacher last week about how impressed she was by Tariku befriending a new student. She said he had been so kind and helpful and it’s made her job so much easier. When I asked Tariku what kind of cupcakes he wanted for his school birthday he asked me to get cupcakes of all kinds so that everyone could find something they liked. When I asked who he wanted for his birthday party it took him 2 weeks to decide because he didn’t want anyone feeling left out.

This is Tariku. This is the guy who is turning 10 and the guy a truly flawed mama like myself gets to mother every day.

I don’t worry so much for Tariku about the world hurting him so much that he breaks, the world has already done a pretty great job of trying and yet here he stands. I worry more that he won’t open himself up to love, that he won’t become vulnerable enough to reap the scary big benefits of a relationship with someone.

I worry about that only because I know what it’s like to be loved by Tariku, a young man who asked his mama to take a picture of the sunset on his birthday because it was just so beautiful.

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Being loved by Tariku is just like looking up at a sunset and believing it was planned just for you. In this moment. Regardless of how badly you’ve messed up in the past.

Being the mom of Tariku feels like a once in a lifetime sunset, an awe inspiring blessing undeserved.

Happy birthday my Chooch. Love you so much.

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Tomas is 11!

Tomas is 11!

The first time I met Tomas I could tell he had been well rehearsed on how to act when meeting his new parents. Of course I was happy to see him but I wanted so badly to know how he was really feeling.

Last week we were talking about Zach’s long hair he was rockin’ when we picked up Tomas and Binyam. Zach is a bit embarrassed of it now but I was curious what Tomas thought then so I asked him, “Tomas, what did you think when you first saw us in Ethiopia? Did you think ‘what’s this guy with goofy hair doing here?”’

“Oh mom, I don’t remember what his hair looked like. I was just so happy you were finally there. I finally had a family. All of my friends had gone with their families and I watched them go but finally it was my turn.”

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At the “going away” ceremony in Ethiopia I could feel the fear in the boys, it was palpable. Tomas was going from Ethiopian adult to Ethiopian adult, never coming by Zach and me and Binyam played with a balloon for 2 hours straight.

So when it was our turn to cut the cake I wrapped my arm around Tomas and, even though he didn’t understand a word of English, whispered, “I don’t know when, but it’s going to be ok. We will be ok.”

As nervous as I was about bringing these young men into our family, it was nothing compared to what they were experiencing. But Tomas? Other than a few rocky initial weeks, he has entered almost every bit of life with a joie de vivre that defies his circumstances.

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The day before his birthday we invited 3 of his buds over for Skyzone fun. He is a head taller than most of his friends but is the gentlest giant I know.

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I was able to pick up some birthday donuts and, true to form, on the day of his birth he waited for everyone else to pick out their donuts before picking out his own. This is despite the fact that I had publicly stated Tomas and his friend Riley were to go first.

Like his older brother, he too chose Buffalo Wild Wings for his birthday dinner out. Tomas isn’t a foodie so much as he is a lover-of-all-food. Cooking for Tomas (and Tariku) is my favorite thing because I can’t remember a single time they didn’t proclaim each meal to be the best they’ve ever eaten. When Tomas (and Tariku) go to a friend’s house and I ask how it was, 99% of the time they will talk about how great of cooks the parents of the friend are. I freaking love that.

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There is a weird dichotomy to how I feel about Trysten getting older and how I feel about Tomas getting older. With Trysten I get to just embrace every new step towards adulthood. With Tomas, however, I feel a constant tightening of the chest as he gets older. He’s gone from this squishy faced, adorable 6-year-old brown boy (as he liked to call himself) to a sturdy, solid 11-year-old young, black man.

Studies prove over and again that being a young black man is one of the more dangerous things you can be in America.

So though I as his mother still see so much of his childlike innocence, I also get a front row seat (quite literally since Zach and I are his coaches) to the basketball games when the moms of the opposing team yell that he (and Tariku) are being aggressive and out of control even though they are playing almost exactly like their white counterparts. Though Tomas has a smile that lights up the whole world, I know that only those who know him are able to focus on that as a symbol of his undying love of all the things. Everyone else? Well it’s clear they don’t always look much further than his black skin.

I worry more about it with Tomas, I think, because sometimes social cues are lost entirely on him. Not because of some inability to see them but rather because he has a genuine need to and gift of seeing the good in everyone. As he’s gotten older so many of our conversations have been about becoming friends with kids who do the right thing and encourage him to do the right thing. Tomas is so easily susceptible to the kids who manipulate because he wants to believe they are as good as they say they are.

It blows being in a world where this son of mine who walks around this world as if he’s not wearing any skin can so easily be hurt. But there it is. And since it doesn’t seem to bother him, I’m trying to live every day the same way.

Happy birthday my Tomas-ay. May you continue to serve as a reminder to us all that being vulnerable can be the most beautiful and brutal thing in the world. But that the beauty is always worth it.

Love you.

Trysten is 12!

Trysten is 12!

It doesn’t matter how many times I say it or write it, it’s as if my brain refuses to accept it. Alas, it’s true-our oldest is 12.

Last week a few days before his birthday Trysten started saying he wasn’t feeling well. Since he was a tiny baby it’s always been obvious when Trysten doesn’t feel well, his eyes sink in and he gets dark circles around them. Also since he was little, he’s been open to sitting next to me and letting me try to heal him by giving him a head massage. Also we sometimes wear the same sweatshirt.

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This 12-year-old of mine happens to be a foodie. When I asked him what he wanted to do on his birthday all of his recommendations revolved around food. It could be said that most of my thoughts throughout the day revolve around food as well so I was happy to oblige.

We began the day at a local coffee shop that makes super legit cinnamon rolls. My system has started staging minor revolts when I consume high fructose corn syrup so I took a hard pass on the roll and enjoyed watching my eldest devour his with gusto.

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Trysten went to school just long enough to get all the attention every 6th grader deserves on his/her birthday and then I picked him up (per his request) so we could hang. He chose lunch at the same cinnamon roll place, mostly because our small town of Three Rivers doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of non-Applebees joints but also because their lunch has vegetarian options and Trysten wanted to make sure I would enjoy the lunch as well. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the fact that my kids are getting old enough to start looking out for me in small (and sometimes big) ways. I really dig it.

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He wanted ice cream afterwards so we grabbed some to go. It was one of the first days I can remember in this harsh Michigan winter where the sun was shining bright enough to make it hot in the car. We sat in our warm, sunshine-y minivan, eating our ice cream and talking in the Meijer parking lot. What people don’t tell you when you’re holding your newborn baby (or small toddler, in the case of my boys who were adopted) is that no matter how much you love snuggling that little one-it actually gets better. Because soon enough you’ll be having conversations. Real, awesome, true conversations. You’ll be able to get to know those little ones as their own-apart from you- humans and it. is. awesome. Especially when those little ones turn out to be as great as Trysten.

After a little shopping at Mejier we headed home so I could get some work done and he could play a game we were not letting him play until he was 12. 🙂 Despite being allowed to play a game he had been wanting to play for years, he came up soon after and asked to make birthday brownies with me.

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Per usual, the son of vegetarians chose Buffalo Wild Wings as the place to have his birthday dinner. Even foodies can’t resist buffalo wings dipped in various high sodium sauces, apparently.

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In some ways it’s a miracle Trysten is such a well adjusted child, especially if one looks back at the pictures of his first hours on earth. He was greeted by one bleach blonde, long haired parent and one short haired parent who exclusively wore old baseball sweats for weeks in a row (ironically, that was his dad and mom respectively).

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I credit so much of his cool, laid back nature to the fact that he’s loved reading the classics since a wee one. It helps, I do believe.

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I’m not sure Trysten gets enough credit for our whole family’s transition to Michigan. Whenever people ask how our kids have handled the move, Zach and I marvel at just how well they’ve adjusted. When I really think about it, I can’t help but realize a lot of credit goes to Trysten. As much as I hate to admit it, eldest siblings have a lot riding on their shoulders (you win Kara!). I have no doubts that if Trysten were angry with us about the move or hated the idea in the first place, there would be 4 other children echoing his sentiments. Zach and I repeatedly joke that if Trysten were any more laid back he would be asleep for all of the hours but it’s true, and some days it’s exactly what this family needs.

I’ve seen so much growth in Trysten this last year. Though I can sometimes see him wrestling with his independence and our rules, he always does so respectively which is something I admire. A few nights a week we have a “make your own” dinner where each kid is responsible for…you guessed it, making his/her own dinner. Though the younger ones often go for leftovers or cheese crisps, Trysten has started venturing out to pancakes, eggs, etc. He whips up enough pancakes for 14 people and then proceeds to eat them all. There’s a chance he’s growing physically as well.

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This kid has always been good at making good friends. When he asked if he could invite a handful of boys (as opposed to the 2 we usually allow) to his party I knew it would be fine because I knew they wouldn’t be too much to handle. I’m not sure who enjoyed the trip to Skyzone more-me or them-as it was just so much fun hearing them interact with each other. They continued to be well-mannered gentleman throughout the sleepover-making their parents proud and allowing me to listen to my podcasts in peace.

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The years continue to speed by with regard to mothering this son of mine. Though I absolutely loved our time together when he was young I’m just not sure I’d trade it for the moments when he comes up and throws his arm around me now. Sometimes to tease me about my (rather beautiful) opera voice or because he’s upset and just needs a little reassurance. For all the times we spent oooohing and aaaaahing over his first words, I still maintain talking to him now about our shared passions or passions I will never understand (I’m lookin’ at you NBA2K15) is infinitely more fun.

Happy 12th birthday Trysten Zachary, may you continue in this next year to be the kind, independent, funny, hard working young man you’ve shown us in your previous 11 years!

Love you.

Ian Matthew

Last Mother’s Day weekend when my parents were visiting us for the first time in Michigan I got a FaceTime call from my sister. I knew immediately she was calling to tell me she was going to be a mom. I knew because 1) I know her in a way I know no one else and 2) she and I share a mutual hatred for phone convos so to go above that and FaceTime me could mean only one thing-baby news!

My mom and I did what we do best-cried-and she did what she always does when we do that-laughs awkwardly. What I couldn’t say then due to all the feels was that I knew Kara was going to be a phenomenal mom and that I was so incredibly excited for her (and for me!!!)

Around 4 months later I got a call from my brother (who, as it happens, hates phone calls with the same white, hot hatred that his two sisters do. Text people, text!) asking if I had heard from our sister, that he heard something was wrong and she had to go to Iowa’s major hospital in Iowa City. I started immediately crying, because…above, and spent a few frantic minutes trying to get ahold of Kara.

Once I did I could hear in her voice something was not ok. It turns out at her 20 week ultrasound the doctor found something called a “double bubble” on the baby which can sometimes mean the baby has Down Syndrome (DS). Once Kara and her hubby, Matt, went to their follow up appointment the doctor said they were over 90% sure their baby had DS and that it would need surgery soon after birth. My sister is a woman of few words (it’s been told that I’ve taken them all from both of my siblings, probably some truth to that) so even though I could hear all of her feelings in her voice I also knew something that perhaps in those moments she had forgotten-she is bar none the strongest woman I’ve ever known. You know the expression “0 f*cks given”? My sister was the one that inspired the phrase, I swear.

I digress…Personally it was a weird dichotomy, I wanted so badly to be there for my sister in whatever capacity she needed but I was also still really excited to be getting this new niece/nephew. I have enough friends who have either given birth to or adopted children with DS so even though I didn’t know what it was like intimately, I had “watched” the other kiddos grow and was just really excited.

Over the next few months I watched as her belly grew and the excitement for the wee one grew as well (they did not find out the sex of the baby, much to my chagrin). I have many nieces and nephews but I must say there’s something different about having it all come from my sister. The woman I watched nurture her Cabbage Patch babies now nurturing a human life, so amazing. I watched as her heart softened a little bit every day, even as she grew more physically miserable. A week before she was set to be induced I texted, “I would like to be with you when you have the baby but if you just want you and Matt I’ll understand that too.” I assume because she knows me so well she knew what I was really saying was, “Come hell or high water I will be right outside the door whether you like it or not.” Sweet sister responded with, “If there is any way for you to be there, I would love it.”

Almost one month ago I posted this on Facebook:

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Kara was being induced because she had roughly triple the amount of amniotic fluid of an average pregnant woman and also because she is a strong woman and told them to take that little sweet cherub the fekk out. 🙂

After a drive that took about 1.5 hours longer than normal and ended with me drenched in sweat I arrived to find she was already having contractions. I also found her toenails were in terrible shape and seeings I’ve birthed 2 children myself and knew for the next day or so she’d be staring at her toes-it was time to take care of business.

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We weren’t supposed to get to Iowa City until 8 but with the weather and her contractions Kara, Matt and I decided we should head there early and just see what’s up. And by “Kara, Matt and I” I mean “Kara and I” as Matt just laughed and loaded the car with all of our bags.

By the time we got there her contractions were picking up and due to miscommunication the nurses assumed she came in because she was in labor and not because she was supposed to be induced a few hours later.

I’ll just say here that watching my sister in labor might actually be worse than experiencing labor. Granted, it’s been 8.5 years (the actual f*ck?) since I was in labor, but I really do stand by that. So hard seeing those you love in pain, even if they did bring said pain upon themselves willingly. 😉

My parents came a few hours later and while my dad tried to get some sleep in the waiting room, my mom and I watched as Matt supported Kara by primarily staying away. We both repeatedly commented on how great they both were doing.

Then things started to go downhill a bit for the baby. Heart rate dropping, needing to switch Kara side to side, give oxygen, etc. I could tell the moments that were relatively standard for a woman giving birth and the moments that were not (based mostly on the speed with which nurses/doctors came in and also whispering. Whispering is not good). It became clear after awhile that the baby wasn’t doing well so they took Kara back for a C section and left Matt with Mom and me to get in his gown and mostly just stare awkwardly at each other because…fear and nerves. A few minutes later a nurse ran in and then ran out just as quickly so before I could say “give Kara a kiss! Tell her I love her!” My 6’4″ brother-in-law, squeezed into a gown fit for a 5’4″ man, was off to become a daddy.

My dad had returned upon hearing things went downhill so he, my mom and I looked at each other and remarked how terrible we all looked. I guess that’s what sleep deprivation, anxiousness and lack of sustenance will do to a person.

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42 hours later (maybe it was 30 minutes, it felt like 42 hours so I’m sticking with it) Matt came in with a big ole smile to announce Ian Matthew had been born and both he and my sister were doing well. After showing us a few pictures, off he went to the NICU to hang with Ian while we waited for Kara.

Once we saw that she was ok my dad and I drifted out claiming an aversion to puke and moseyed on over to the NICU, hoping to get our eyes on Ian. Though it didn’t work out that time it was incredibly relieving to know Ian was out, he was ok and that I would get to put my hands on him in a matter of moments.

Matt was there the first moment I got to meet Ian but then Matt went to check on Kara so I got a few quiet moments alone with my new nephew.

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I cried, obviously, because he was just absolute perfection and also because I prayed over him and I always cry when I pray. I am supes good at being Christian. Anywho, while I was crying a sweet nurse came in so I explained myself by simply saying, “I’m his auntie.” She asked if he was my first niece or nephew and after I said no, that I had many I’ve cried over, she said simply, “Yes but this must be your sister’s. Feelings are bigger when it’s our sister’s baby.”

Perhaps that’s true, I just knew the big feelings over his health-which was shaky-and his tininess, made him look so incredibly helpless. It is a testament to how much I love Zach and my own children that I didn’t immediately move in and surgically suture myself to Ian. Sometimes that’s how much it hurts to love someone you know who will face some difficulties-it feels easier to just physically make sure when they do face those difficulties that you’ll be right there to face it with them.

I was trying to take pictures when that same nurse said, “If you give me a second he’ll be without his wires completely while I change them out.” Oh boy the excitement of knowing I would get to see what that little face looked like without all the tubing! It did not disappoint.

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I also happened to notice he had a certain turnout that his auntie has been relentlessly teased about for decades. Granted, his might have something to do with being squished in a womb for 9 months but I’m going to go with it being the first sign of him being a sprinter like his auntie. 😉

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When I got back to Kara’s room I noticed she wasn’t doing well. Though I never had to have a C Section, none of her symptoms seemed “normal” to me. It was really pretty scary, honestly. So for the next day Matt stayed mostly with Ian and I got to take care of my sister. As nerve racking, tiring and sometimes gross those hours were together I will tell you they felt so very holy at the same time. It’s been hard living away from my sister so to be able to share those hours with just the 2 of us is something I will never forget and always be incredibly grateful for (particularly because she made it out of them and is just fine). When I texted some of my friends about how she was doing I got so many responses with something like, “You are so lucky to have such a great relationship with your sister.” I knew it before but I definitely know it now. It’s a blessing I’ve done nothing to deserve to be sure.

The next night while a nurse was helping Kara I snuck out to give a quick kiss to Ian and see if Matt needed anything. In my few minutes there I’m pretty sure I talked Matt into going rogue and holding Ian, and if we had time maybe I should hold him too? At that point there were no secrets between my brother-in-law and me (that’s what happens when you spend 2 solid days, every hour together. Poor Matt. Oy vey.) so he just gave me a look that said, “You know how I would normally feel about this but I’m too tired to argue with you.”

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I wish there were words to describe how sweetly Matt took care of both Kara and Ian in those first few days. I mean really how do you talk about a man who is so sweet and easygoing jumping into action and becoming almost stern when doctors and nurses are talking about his son’s pending surgery or his wife’s bodily fluids? You just don’t. There aren’t any.

Since my sister was so sick for a full day she didn’t really get to see Ian at all so Matt took on the sit-and-stare duties of babies in the NICU usually shared between mom and dad. Every time Kara became aware of what was going on she lamented the fact that she couldn’t sit upright enough to visit Ian and so Matt came regularly with new pictures and videos that eased her pain.

Finally, over a day after giving birth, Kara could sit up long enough to be wheeled to the NICU. I cried. She beamed. It was as awesome as you are assuming it to be.

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Though she had already started feeling better, once she got to hold him it was as if she found a new determination to do it again. Ahhhh motherhood, bringing out the strength in women they’d never known since the beginning of time. She turned the health(ier) corner and never looked back.

Though I tried to coax Ian’s eyes open every moment I was with him, I first saw them when he heard his mama’s voice. Sweet little peanut hadn’t gotten the memo that auntie’s care more about those things.

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After an echo showed Ian’s heart was good and ready for his stomach surgery, Kara and Matt geared up for another round of emotional eating staring at each other. He sailed through surgery with flying colors and even though they learned of a follow up procedure he’ll need done within the next few months, everyone was happy to hear he was as strong and relatively healthy as we knew he would be.

Sadly, I had just a few short days with the new family as it was time to head back to Michigan with my family and my job. I got one last time to whisper how much I love him and how proud I was to be his auntie before I left. (Notice the vein in my neck. That is the cry vein. It is enhanced in that moment for obvious reasons.)

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It’s been almost one whole month and I’ve not been able to visit them again. The good news is both Kara and I have gotten over our disdain of FaceTime so I’m able to “see” him that way and make sure he never forgets this obnoxious voice of mine. We have plans to visit him in a few days ( 12, to be exact) and though all of my kids are excited to meet him it’s Dailah and me who are counting the moments until we leave.

I don’t know a lot about what the future holds for Ian in terms of his abilities or his Down Syndrome but I do know he has incredible parents who will navigate the waters of special needs parenting with the best of them. In my time as a special needs mama I know 2 things: 1) It will bring out a warrior not yet known inside my sister as she sets up meetings and appointments and champions Ian’s education and health and 2) It will be more rewarding than anything she has ever known or dreamt of in the past. Every new milestone becomes a miracle.

And I think we all know once we’ve witnessed a miracle, life in itself becomes inexplicably sweeter and fuller.

Love you to the moon and back my Ian Matthew. 12 days.

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*After 3.5 weeks in the NICU, Ian has been released from the hospital and is doing well. Hallelu!