An Open Letter to My Daughter On the Precipice of Puberty…

An Open Letter to My Daughter On the Precipice of Puberty…

Yesterday we were at an orthopedic appointment for Binyam and while waiting for him to be done with his x-rays Dailah and I were talking. This is when she told me that for lunch she was able to have Doritoes and a few chunks of chocolate because a few friends of hers didn’t want to eat theirs from their lunch box because they said it might make them fat.

They are 10.

We had the conversation we often have when we pass magazines of women tucked, airbrushed and whitened. The idea that she will feel pressure to look a certain way or act a certain way is not new to Dailah because, like me, she is constantly watching and feeling. My conversations with Dailah have morphed from the “there is no one way to look or to be healthy and confident and beautiful” to “listen to your gut, don’t drown out that voice inside that tells you the world is wrong or that you’re too much of anything.”

We got home and I thought of the hundreds of other things I wished I had said to her in that moment. I realize she’s not ready to hear some of this but as I started writing I realized not only was I writing to my 10-year-old but I was also writing to myself as a young adult as well.

Parenting Dailah intimidates me so much because I feel like I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be a woman and how to listen to my gut instead of our culture or patriarchy in general. I’m just terrified of me being the reason she tries to hide her incredible bright light. Normal aging and figuring things out is a valid and understandable reason why she might struggle with these same things, those I can live with. But if when she gets older she tells me that I have had anything to do with her feelings of low self worth-whether that means I didn’t prepare her enough or I didn’t empower her enough-I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive myself.

So with most things I’m trying to figure out, I started writing. This one’s for Dailah. And for you, dear reader. Or your wife or daughter. And for me, of course for me.

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Before you I wasn’t sure I even wanted a girl. I’ve never been an overly feminine woman so I never had big dreams of getting nails or hair done with a daughter. I was also really scared of the daunting task of raising a woman. With Trysten I didn’t know what I didn’t know and I could fool myself into believing with a little work and a lot of heart I would raise him to be a great man-plus he was caucasian, even then I knew all the cards were stacked in his favor. With you I remember all the ways in which I failed myself as a woman or all the ways in which the world used my female body to discount my words, my thoughts or my work and I was overwhelmed at the thought of raising a female when I had messed up so terribly at being one myself sometimes.

Dailah, I continue to be nervous about raising a daughter. You’ve been physically gorgeous from the start you see; even when you were a tiny baby who hadn’t lost all of your fur covering all the nurses would come in and tell me you were the cutest baby they had ever seen. There are very few family outings that pass without a stranger coming up to you and remarking on your beauty. I think as your mom I’m supposed to beam with pride but instead I shrink just a little bit. Because I don’t ever want you to think your beauty is the thing that you were born to offer the world. When people focus on your physical body I’m worried you’ll forget about how creative you are-making toothbrush holders out of empty Kleenex boxes and decorating your room with new artwork on a bi-weekly basis. People will talk about your beautiful eyelashes and beautiful smile because they are indeed striking but in the quiet of the night I want you to be thankful for the brain that loves math and the heart that breaks every time you see a person without a home on the street corner. Beauty fades, dear one, but your inquiring mind and big heart are the things you are uniquely qualified to offer the world-focus on building those.

A father of one of your friends made you change your shorts after a cheerleading practice once. Your cheer shorts are more like underwear as they allow you to tumble and jump without riding up your lady bits but you were just 9-years-old. Since he shamed you for their short length I noticed you do something that you hadn’t done before, you pull on the shorts whenever you wear them, willing them to grow a few inches. There will be men and women who will shame you for anything you do. I too had a teacher yell at me on a bus full of my high school peers for the top I was wearing. Whenever I recall that memory my cheeks flush and my stomach drops. Living and moving through this world as a woman means you’ll end up getting used to this feeling. It isn’t fair and it isn’t right but it’s the truth and it’s one of the reasons I feel ill equipped to raise a daughter. For a people pleaser like me, it still hurts when people shame me about my style even though as an adult I know it has more to do with their low feelings of self worth than the length of my shorts or the cut of my top. Start to develop the ability to separate what is your actual style and what our culture is trying to tell you it is. Choose comfort over anything else because when you’re comfortable you’re confident, and confident is the coolest and most beautiful thing you can be.

I hear your brothers call you dramatic almost on a daily basis. Though I stop them every time and remind them of the times they sound exactly like you without anyone calling them dramatic-I worry about how it affects you. You’re not dramatic, baby girl, you’re a storyteller. And the world needs more authentic storytellers. A story is not worth hearing with just the facts, your audience needs you to set the stage and tell them how it felt to be living in that moment-what did you hear and smell? And you tell that. Your teacher told me of the time when you got up in front of the class to tell them about our trip to Ethiopia, originally you were reciting from your journal but finally the details got too big and the story too important to continue holding the journal. You threw the journal on your desk and continued the story, gesticulating wildly. It was one of the best stories she heard, she told me, it didn’t even matter if all the details were 100% accurate. You have stories in you my fierce daughter; do not let the world tell you that they are too dramatic to be counted. Keep the drama, dearest, keep it within the art you constantly create and people will see the world through your eyes. And it will be beautiful.

Your fellow women are the best things God will ever give you. There is no room for drama in your relationships, honey, so don’t pay any mind to the shit on TV, movies or magazines about that. One day you might get married or might have kids and to be sure those will be some of the greatest gifts God gave you too but your relationship with women will be one of the first gifts and one of the last. Here’s the rub and the reason I was hesitant to become a mommy of a young lady- our culture will tell you in so many subliminal and not subliminal ways that you are to compete with women. They will throw models on the covers who have been airbrushed and starved without telling you they have been airbrushed and starved. They will feature women in TVs and movies who have personal chefs, personal trainers and dermatologists on staff to preserve their six pack and their skin but they won’t tell you they have all of that. This is one of the biggest lies sold to us-that these women are our competition.

The truth is, honey, they are just doing them and you need to just do you. Find a few truth tellers for friends, the women who will let you know when you are better than the way in which you’re currently behaving and the women who will plan a girls night out when you get the long awaited promotion. You won’t get along with every woman, trust me on that, but you need to respect every single one. Because life is hard and being a woman is harder, we are all just trying to figure it out as we go. There is no right or wrong way to live this life so even when you don’t like a woman you need to find it within you to love them. Love them then send them on their way with no ill feelings towards them at all. Find your people, babe, and move heaven and earth to be the best friend you can be to them. You will mess up so when you do, apologize and move on. You will be hurt but when you are, accept their apology and move on. You need women, Dailah, no matter how great your future husband or wife is you need female friendships more than you can possibly understand right now.

You were born with a little bit of Klipsch and a little bit of Dawson coursing through your veins. This means your body type could be wide shoulders, small boobs and calves that can’t squeeze themselves into off the rack boots or you could have small shoulders, large breasts, a generous booty and long legs. You could have something of a hybrid of those. I have no idea what genetic code is within you but I do know it doesn’t matter. This is a tough one and one in which I spent too much of my life fighting and starving. Maybe there isn’t a way to talk to you about this to make you see what I see now-that being healthy and in love with your body no matter the rolls and wrinkles is the most liberating thing in the world-but I want to try. I want to tell you that the size of your waist or the curve of your hips are nothing more than more stories for you to tell. There will be people that will take it upon themselves to tell you that you are too skinny and ones that will tell you when you have gained a few pounds. The world will make you feel like there is one way to look but I need you to shut them out. You do so well with that now and I cry just thinking about the ways you carry on through life undeterred even when a fellow fifth grader tries to shame your low back hair or your little booty. In many ways you are more self-assured than I am-certainly than I was until my 30s. I hope you continue to wear your invisible armor, Dailah, because there is too much to do and see and being worried about how you look will stop you from experiencing that. Eat the food, drink the whiskey, and stay up until the wee hours of the morning playing silly games with your friends. Sleep with your make up on from time to time and go out the next day for pancakes and hash browns not giving a whit about the smudged mascara underneath your eyes or the slightly smeared lipstick at your mouth. Taste life without worrying what it’s doing to your hips, baby girl, and then call me to tell me all about it.

Use your body Dailah but use it how it was originally intended. Run if it feels good and dance when the mood strikes you. You will be tempted to use your body and allow it be used in different ways. You’re like your mama, sweet thing, and are already far too awake to the world. You notice that the world has already laid claim to your body and you’re just young enough to voice your concern over this truth. Fight this tooth and nail. I spent more years than I care to admit using my body in transactional ways because I didn’t realize that my body was mine. That I didn’t have to dress it up or starve it, expose it or offer it up. In the last handful of years I’ve learned to own my body. I work out when I want to because I feel like a badass not because I’m worried I’ll change my shape if I don’t. I eat what makes me feel good and indulge in vegan chocolate whenever it’s offered to me. I do this because whenever that small voice in my head repeats the language of our culture, I offer the language of love as rebuttal. There are days when I can tell you’re in your head and are not entertained by my required 5 minutes of dance while we cook. But once I start it’s impossible for you to stay in your head. You smile despite yourself. Because we are 100% in our own bodies, allowing that language of love to transform us into another time and space. When you become tempted to allow the language of culture dictate what you wear, how you move your body or who you give your body to-remember us in these moments. Remember what it feels like to be so fully alive and full of light and use that to chase out the dark.

Men. Oy vey sweet thing. You will have your heart broken, it’s true. Sometimes that heartbreak will be mostly the fault of your love but sometimes you’ll realize in hindsight that the heartbreak lands on you, which feels even worse. Just as with your friends- you will need to learn to be the best forgiver that ever was because you’re dealing with another human and humans are fallible, even the best ones like your daddy. I hope you have many loves over your lifetime so you will know exactly what you want and won’t settle for anything less. I got married young, it’s true, but as soon as I met your daddy I knew I didn’t want to be with anyone else because I had spent the years before that falling in and out of love with various good men. Find someone that will hold you accountable for your actions, I don’t want you to end up with someone who will allow you to trample on them. You’re a strong personality-it’s why we call you Doozie-and I thank god for that every single day, but be careful about dating or marrying someone who will let you make all the decisions no matter their opinions. Power uncontrolled is a scary thing because it makes you believe that you’re right all the time and that’s simply not true of anyone. Believing that won’t force you to be internally reflective of the ways in which you can be better and do better, I want for you a partner who will push you to be the very best version of yourself. Find a nice man or woman, of course, but make sure they feel strong enough to tell you how they feel. An equal partnership is a mostly happy partnership. I want you to find someone that may not add to your happiness every moment but one that you’ll look back after years with them and be full of gratitude that overall the years were full of joy and love.

Sex. It’s a big one for women and it’s one that took me so, so long to figure out. The world wants us to be two different things simultaneously and it’s impossible. Our culture wants you to be a sex vixen that knows every position and also a virgin. Growing up Christian complicates this even more and I’m so, so sorry for that. I wish I could tell you how to work through that but the truth is I still am so I’ll keep you updated on my progress. I don’t actually know how to successfully navigate hormones and society’s pressures as I did a pretty lousy job when I was younger but I believe in you and I think you can figure some of this out on your own with your dignity still intact. Here’s what I can tell you about what I’ve learned about sex: it should feel good. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well. I spent way too much time in my teens allowing heavy petting to happen even though I didn’t want it to because some young men thought no was a suggestion or because I just genuinely didn’t know how to say no. Practice saying no all the time with little things. Start right now. So that when the time comes (and it will, unfortunately) you will say it loudly and boldly. And remember, “no” is never a suggestion. If you’re thinking it in your mind, say it with your mouth. If he doesn’t listen and keeps touching then get the hell out of there. I don’t care if he’s your boyfriend of a year or the good looking stranger you had crazy amazing conversations with at the bar. You get to decide where it goes, he doesn’t. You are already being told that your body is not your body by our culture but that’s the biggest lie sold to us as women-no one else gets to tell you what to do with your body. So tell your partner what you want and don’t want and get on with it.

Have orgasms. If your partner doesn’t care to wait long enough until you have an orgasm then he or she is not the right partner for you. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you like and if they are not willing to work hard to give you an orgasm then they are not worth your time. Also don’t fake it. There is no way for either of you to learn if you’re faking it. Be authentic, don’t be ashamed and stay in the moment. Sex is best when shared with someone who respects you, find that and there will be no regret in the morning.

Develop your voice as soon as you can. You’ve already started, there’s not a person who knows you that wouldn’t agree that you tell it like it is and don’t mince words. Your opinions and your thoughts matter just as much as the man next to you. You will have teachers and bosses who put more weight in the man’s ideas than yours but you need to keep speaking up. Sometimes sexist things aren’t as obvious as offering you 70% of what they offer your male peers, sometimes it’s as subtle as treating you like the administrative assistant in meetings when you’re a Vice President. Kindly remind them of the hard work you put in to get where you’re at and suggest they bring in the hard working administrative assistant so that you can focus on doing your job. You probably won’t change our culture at large or the culture in your workplace entirely by your voice and you will be sure to piss people off and hear people call you a bitch but baby, let that slide right off of you. Earn your place at the table with the hard work and determination that you ooze out of your little bones already and don’t give any mind to the haters. Revolutions don’t start with bra burning, they often start with one person bold enough to believe she deserves better and demanding others start treating her that way. When the situation calls for it, be that woman and know that I have your back. I won’t come in and do the hard work for you as tempting as it is, but I will be on the other end of the phone call when you’re done. You can let me in on the moments when you were scared, because speaking your mind is always scary, but you’re one of the strongest women I know already-you got this my love.

As strong as you are don’t be afraid of your emotions. They don’t betray you they guide you. For a very long time I thought that my propensity to cry rather easily was a weakness but now I see that all along it was a compass directing me to the things that moved me. I think you’ve inherited this from me, as proven by the other day in the car when you turned to me while reading your book with tears in your eyes, “Mom, the kitty didn’t make it. I’m so sad the kitty didn’t make it.” Let those tears out, sweet thing, and don’t be ashamed of them. It’s easier to hide your feelings and your emotions from the world then to let them out for people to misuse or dismiss them but that’s a cowardly way of moving through the world. Know that being vulnerable and learning to understand your emotions is one of the strongest acts we can do as humans. As long as you never use your tears to manipulate, each one is there for a reason. The world is beautiful and brutal place; if you’re not feeling both of those at any given moment then you’ve closed yourself off. Be strong enough to welcome it all and don’t let anyone shame you into suppressing your wild heart.

All of this said, being a woman is also really incredible. There is nothing as extraordinary as sitting down with a group of women and relating in truly deeply ways. When we embrace all that makes us women there is nothing more powerful in this whole world, I truly believe that. Once you’ve learned to tune out all the rest, you’ll be able to harness the real power inside you that is uniquely female. This person that is both tender and fierce. The one that nurtures animals back to health and then turns around and fights injustice when she sees it. I don’t want you to be afraid or overwhelmed by all the ways being a woman is scary, intimidating or oppressing-I want you to build your life around all the ways that being a woman is empowering, liberating and unendingly beautiful.

I may not have been praying for a girl before I had you but every night I am so incredibly grateful that you’re mine. There will be times when life chews you up and spits you out but as long as you learn what you were supposed to from it, you’ll be just fine. Being a woman means you’ll forever live in the tension of trying to claim your body when so many others lay claim to it as well but there’s also so much beauty in womanhood too. Stand in your strength, expose your heart and don’t think for an instant you’re less worthy than anyone with a penis.

Remember that you are loved infinitely more than you can possibly imagine right now and that there is not a thing you can do to be loved more or less-by me or by God. I’m not perfect at this womanhood thing but as soon as I learned the extravagant love that has always been there for me, my fight got bigger and my voice louder. It’s what I want for you. Because you are deeply, truly loved.

-Mommy

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*Photo by Sy Abudu

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How to Survive 14 Years of Marriage

How to Survive 14 Years of Marriage

14 years ago right now I was applying 52 coats of mascara, willing my lashes to grow for this one day. I slid on my $100 dress and my $15 shoes, placed the veil my family friend had made on my head and promised to love Zachary until death parted us.

This morning Hagrid scratched at our bed letting me know he needed to be let out and I closed my eyes, kind of hoping if I willed it to happen Zach would get up and take the dogs out so I could get a few more minutes of sleep. It’s 11:30am and I still haven’t put on a single coat of mascara, let alone a bra. Zach and I gave each other a quick kiss before he took three of our sons to the barber while I stayed back with the other two kids to get some work done.

I remember the promises we made to each other 14 years ago. To love one another in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, etc. Zach wanted to write our own vows at the time but, even at 20, I knew myself well enough to know I would be ugly crying the entire time so it would be a pointless venture anyway.

But after 14 years if I had to write the vows now they would look something like this:

Zach I promise to love and support you. Sometimes that love will look like waking up early to start the coffee when you have an early meeting and sometimes that love will look like going for a long drive for no particular reason so that I don’t bite your head off and say things out of anger that I only partially mean. Sometimes that support will look like helping you with your resume and cover letter and sometimes that support will look like telling you that even though you think you want to quit your job and just surf every day you might actually want to try surfing before you make that kind of commitment. 

Zach of course I promise to stay with you in sickness and in health-those I can do with relative ease. But I promise that when you’re being a total dick I won’t take it personally. Because life is hard and we often take it out on the people we love the most. I vow to always stand up for myself but rather than harden my heart and mind when you’re functioning at your worst, I’ll soften myself to become an easier place to land for you. It won’t be easy and I’ll be pretty terrible at this for about the first 8 years but I’ll try to rally around year 10. 

I love the way you write and leave me little love notes all of the time to remind me you’re thinking of me. I promise that even as the notes become infrequent due to kids, jobs and life I will continue to cherish each one. And though your handwriting is barely perceptible now and, I imagine, will only get worse-I will continue to get misty eyed as I decipher your loops and squiggles and imagine you through the years huddled over the piece of paper, an image of your wife hovering above the page. 

I love the way you flutter your eyelashes to get what you want and the way you let me eat first no matter how long it’s been since you last ate. In 14 years when the things I love about you go from being rather superficial to rather mundane, I promise to be equally charmed by you. Though there’s no way for me to know right now what it will be like watching you wrestle with your sons and go on a paddle board trip with your daughter just to get an hour of quality conversation with her-I can see how you hold in your head and heart the ability to do all of this so well. And though I don’t know what it will be like to be an auntie or see you as an uncle, I know how much you love your siblings and how much you’ve grown to love mine so I can almost picture you balancing their little butts on your extended hand or stealing them away as they cry to work your insane magic and return with them sleeping peacefully. I promise to always stand in awe of your ability to love and delight in the children around you. Because kids are no fools-they can sense good from bad and so even when I’m incredibly frustrated with you I’ll remember your ease at being adored by those little ones and know that you are relentlessly good.  

I love that even when we fight we do it with respect and care and that you make me stay engaged the whole time. I know that in 14 years I’ll look back at the tiffs we call fights right now and recognize them for their adorableness but I’ll continue to be thankful that they are handled with respect and care when they are no longer adorable. I know right now that I know so little about the stresses that babies, jobs, adoptions and moves can have on a marriage but even in our short time together I know that we both know how to work incredibly hard so I believe we will get through it. Not around it but through it. And I promise that no matter how much time passes I will continue to work the hardest I’ve ever worked on staying with you. 

I don’t know what I don’t know. That will be as true on our 14th anniversary as it will on our 60th. But I know that each year will have what these last months with you have had-incredible highs, devastating lows and all the various in betweens. I promise that I will hang on for the lows and ride the swell of the highs and that I will reach out for your hand to walk through the middle stuff. I vow to lay down all of my armor whenever I come to you with any issue. I promise that I will never come to a fight with you armed with anything more than raw emotion and the desperation at making our love truer and bigger. And I promise that if I come armed with swear words or unchecked anger that I’ll be willing to apologize and understand it doesn’t make me weak but human. 

I vow to love you. Not in the way I do now that doesn’t know just how badly your feet smell or how frustrated I’ll get when you’re the epitome of patience in our adoption and I’m…not but in the way that knows literally everything about you and still loves you hopelessly, completely and truly.

I know it’s not sexy to title this one “How to Survive 14 Years of Marriage” but anyone who has been married will tell you that is what it is. There are so many variables that work against a marriage and sometimes it feels like you’ve built your marriage on the sand. There will be days, weeks or years when it feels like every time you try to add value to the marriage you’ll watch an even bigger piece get washed away. Sometimes it will feel like the tide is always high and that you’re fighting a battle you just cannot win. And then there are days, weeks or years when it feels like you’ve built your marriage within a bomb shelter. So even when outside forces hurl themselves at your doors you remain safe, protected, huddled inside, together.

This might be uniquely American but I feel like long term relationships are so hard because their success literally goes against virtually every American ethos out there. Independence? Not always great in a marriage. Dog eat dog world? Not so much. Pick yourself up by your bootstraps? Negates the necessity of interdependence. So while our culture tells us to put your head down, risk it all to find success in whatever makes you happy-marriage is asking us to sit down together and brainstorm what’s best for our entire family unit. While our culture celebrates independence, long term relationships wither under it and thrive on selflessness and interdependence. While our culture tells us to find jobs that will allow us the big house, the two nice cars and the family trips to exotic locales-a healthy marriage tells us that none of that matters as much as a husband who is home relatively early at night and who finds fulfillment in his job, a mom who loves her time at home with her babies making a few pennies teaching classes and creating a podcast and kids who don’t get world class vacations but road trips to see National Parks and hike trails left untouched by most of America.

And our marriage specifically is constantly struggling against a patriarchal society that tells Zach he needs to “man up”, push down his emotions and hide them from anyone-including his wife-lest they think he weak. A healthy marriage requires constant communication and openness but traditional patriarchy (celebrated in America) asks Zach to avoid these things and just get to work-leave the talking and the feelings to me. Most of our arguments these days are because I can tell Zach is avoiding his feelings. He’s still feeling them, mind you, but hasn’t been taught the words to use or the way to voice them. As desperate as I am to hear how he’s feeling, he’s (sometimes rightfully so) worried I’m not strong enough to handle it.

But patriarchy has a way of working against me as well, right? We are often fighting this martyr complex that is built on the other side of a patriarchy that bills men as the breadwinner and women as everything else. Zach is constantly reminding me that taking on more than I can joyfully bear isn’t a sacrifice worth doing for our family and that doing all of the things in the hopes that someone will find me to be the closest thing since Jesus Christ-and then being SUPER pissed when they don’t-is maybe not healthy. And I also have to fight against the idea that if Zach tells me he is worried about the future in any way that it means we are all doomed. When I react in a negative way to his vulnerability it makes him less likely to share with me, understandably so. I find myself constantly fighting against this kind of cultural reaction so prevalent in the underbelly of patriarchy. Because WE are strong enough to weather whatever emotions come from either one of us.

And then this new phenomenon I refer to as the social media marriage. All the couples going on incredible vacations, beautiful date nights and taking professional pictures. The ones who must live in a space that has perfect lighting and 24 hour access to nutritious food and personal trainers. The outside perception of these relationships can burden the very real marriage you’re living with, right? The one that any candid photo would show you still in your house clothes and him in the other room getting a few more things done for work. You know, the one whose anniversary is today but because of kids and life might not allow for you to share space let alone good lighting until the sun’s down. The “spouse challenge” was going around Facebook recently where you were supposed to post a picture of you and your spouse for 7 days. I got tagged to do it a number of times but never did. Because all of the pictures of Zach and I looked the same-a quick selfie before a rare date night that had no less than 4 filters to hide the black chin hairs I forgot to pluck and the stray gray eyebrow of his that grows overnight. I don’t want to be just another unrealistic representation of marriage out there for people, I want to try as hard as I can to represent our marriage and our life as real as humanly possible (with a few filters, obviously. I’m only human). Unrealistic expectations in a relationship can be fatal, I have no interest in contributing to those.

This is why survival is really the best term for marriage. Because you never come to an anniversary smelling like roses-you come smelling like the mud and muck you’ve treaded through to arrive at a place where you can high five each other and say, “Whew. We made it. Another year down. Hey can you wipe off my ass a little bit? Still dirty from the last fall. Ok, let’s get back to it then.” Some years there will be enough time for a full dinner and a full bottle of wine but other years might be a cup of coffee gone cold or one sip of wine before tending to the screaming child you snuggle until you’re both asleep. At 8pm.

Our marriage had humble beginnings in almost every way (except for the actual wedding-thanks mom and dad!) and continues that way as well. But in so many ways I’m grateful that we’ve had to claw and scratch for everything we’ve had because just 14 years in and we are some of the best fighters I know. When it’s with each other we’ve learned to wait until we can do it in a way that’s vulnerable, open and calm. When we are fighting outside forces we fight back to back, knowing we will always be supported and protected by the other. We’re not afraid to get a little scrappy if it means we grow closer to each other and thank goodness for that.

I don’t know how to survive 15 years of marriage or 20 years or 60 years but this is how we’ve survived 14. And I hope that when one of my kids or grandkids is considering marriage and they come to me asking how we’ve done it that I have the courage to say: “Honey if I could show you my heart you would see that it’s been battered and it’s been bruised. Because in all these years I’ve endured all the ways in which forever linking yourself with another human can hurt you. But if you could see my heart you would also notice that it’s twice the size of your average person because Zach has made it grow and bloom in a way that can only happen when you choose to stay with someone every day. You want to know how we’ve lasted? Because both of us in the hard times whispered to ourselves ‘It will be hard but it will be worth it.’ And that’s never been truer than it is today.”

Reader I don’t know your current status in life and I don’t know whether you’re in a season where your marriage or partnership feels like it’s currently built on sand or cement but I want you to know that you’re not alone. There is not a single marriage out there that hasn’t been where you are. Maybe you’ll make it through together, maybe you won’t. This post isn’t to persuade you to stick it out, it’s really just an acknowledgement that sticking it out is hard.

But for me it’s been so worth it. Because Zach is truly the best thing that has ever happened to me. And he continues to be my harvester of light.

Love you more than you can possibly imagine, Z, thanks for continuing to choose me every hour, every day and every year.

TL

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#nofilter (seriously).

The danger in assuming love will conquer all.

The danger in assuming love will conquer all.

When Zach and I were getting married I wanted to engrave “Love conquers all” on our wedding bands. Like most unmarried 20-year-olds, I had no idea what it took to stay married but I had a whole lot of love for words and Zach and I assumed those would be enough to get us through our decades together.

This year we’ll have been married for 14 years which, truth be told, made me a little nauseous just writing that. One of the biggest things I’ve learned in our years together is that love actually has very little to do with a mostly healthy marriage. Sure, it’s what initially propels him to get down on his knee and ask for your hand in marriage and it’s probably also mostly why you say yes (although mine was also because Zach’s damn eyelashes are something I still can’t quite figure out how to say no to.) But at some point in your relationship you’ll have to invest your time in more than just love.

Because when you’re in the delivery room and there are sights and sounds that are a miracle, yes, but also really quite gross love will not sustain you. A desire to welcome this new life into the world together because of a shared commitment will be the key. When the last grunt happens and the baby gushes out into the world along with other various fluids, you’re going to need more than love of each other to feel hopeful about the birth of a new family.

When there’s a screaming 3-year-old in your kitchen who has lived with you for all of 2 weeks and nothing you do will calm him down, love doesn’t even enter the room. Because adoption was mostly your idea and your husband is looking at you like maybe this wasn’t entirely thought out? You’re a little bit angry that he’s looking at you that way and he’s a little bit frustrated that the child won’t stop screaming and the three of you are all just a little bit scared that this will be the rest of your life. Forever. Love isn’t what causes you to wrap your arms and legs around the screaming child until he calms himself, giving you just enough time to reach a hand out to your husband as a peace offering. In that moment you hardly even like either of them and yet you look at both of them and are reminded why you entered into the relationships to begin with. A promise, sure, but also the knowledge that you’re willing to work the hardest you’ve ever worked on building a foundation so strong even a 3-year-old screaming in an uncommon language can’t shake it.

In sickness and in health sounds all well and good until one of you is literally puking and pooping simultaneously in a worn down hotel room in Ethiopia. When your betrothed enters the bathroom to that horror there is no way love enters with him and so it’s something else entirely that makes him turn on the shower, lift you up and help you clean yourself off. After he wraps you in a towel and lays you on the bed, puts on your clothes for you and gets to the messy business of cleaning up the bathroom you better hope you’ve built your marriage on way more than love. Because love leaves when you’re elbow deep in excrement and vomit, it’s the years spent doing tedious things to make life easier for one another that propels him to take care of you in this rather extravagant way.

Love and sex? Great. But after a decade or so of being together you’ll start to notice the reasons you have sex often have very little to do with love. Sure, you still love each other fully and completely but more often than not you’ll have sex because he’s felt a little distant lately and you know he becomes an open book afterwards. Or she steps out of the room dressed for your date and you can’t believe how beautiful she looks despite being devastated over losing two of her pets. You’ll do anything to make her feel good so you take her into the bedroom before the movie the kids are watching finishes. Maybe you’ve had a little too much wine or maybe it’s just because you’re bored. I remember when love and lust were bigger parts of the sex equation but the longer you live with someone the more in tuned you become with the rhythms of their entire bodies and so the less it becomes about love and the more it becomes about the physical expression of the known rhythms. It doesn’t sound as sexy but the sex can still be hot as hell. Do not fear.

And when something big does shake the foundation: a colossal mistake or painful words uttered in anger or fear-love will be gone. That’s the thing about marriage that no one tells you, love leaves from time to time. Of course you will continue to love each other every day but the emotional manifestation of love is fleeting at times. Sometimes the only thing left is the determination to not have wasted so much time, energy, communication and kleenex on the same person. Stubbornness can be a detriment if used against another person but if you can harness that energy for another person then stubbornness can often be the thing that gets you through the bumps in the road.

Sure, “love conquers all” sounds a lot sexier than “stubbornness, commitment, communication, devotion and forgiveness conquer most” but the latter is infinitely truer. It’s true I love Zach more than anyone else on the planet but it’s also true that sometimes I don’t like him very much. I know he loves me more than anyone else and yet I can once in awhile slip into being the most unloveable human there is. Yet there he is, making room for himself next to me on the couch and snuggling up until I’m forced to forgive myself too.

I often wonder if the causes of so many divorces aren’t what we think: money, affairs, loss but of the assumption that love would conquer all. I think as a society we’ve placed too much focus on love and not enough on the stuff that actually carries a marriage. We’ve put all the emphasis on a feeling and have forgotten that feelings are shit when it comes to the dark days of a marriage. Action is the metaphorical bridge over the river of doubt in a marriage. If the foundation crumbles a bit and you’re both just waiting around for love to swoop in to clean up the pieces you’ll be waiting forever. At some point you’ve got to forget about love and pick up your stones of forgiveness, responsibility, devotedness and get to rebuilding. Love might have you sending flowers on Valentine’s Day but it’s not going to come to you in the middle of the night after harsh words and heavy silence with an apology and a promise to do better next time. For that you’ll need constant acts of sacrifice, time spent in the trenches and relentless proof of commitment to small things that actually add up to big things.

Love certainly brought us together and continues to be a thread weaving through our life and our marriage but I’m incredibly grateful that I never engraved “love conquers all” on our wedding bands because sometimes it doesn’t. And when love left, Zach stayed. Which we all know is far more powerful.

Love can be as slippery and fickle as sand, dear ones. Let’s build our lives and relationships on something a little more sustainable. I hope you’ve found those willing to enter the trenches with you even when love has left the building. A love like ours may never top the box office but it sure will be a fun story to tell our great grandkids. I’m totally ok with that.

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2015, A Recap

2015, A Recap

What a year it’s been! WordPress sends out a yearly review of this blog and it was brought to my attention that I only blogged 25 times this year. Could that be true? That means I missed a lot of what we did this year so I wanted a place to recap 2015. It’s my blog, I can photo dump if I want to.

January 5 Ian Matthew was born and the world will never be the same. I wrote about this little bit of squishy preciousness here.

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Zach and I tried teaching Dailah to snowboard and Binyam to ski. It took multiple hours, numerous utterances of the F bomb and this one selfie of Zach flipping off the camera with a gloved finger for us to cry out uncle and literally never return.

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Dailah received a 1st place trophy for cheerleading. Even though our alarm clocks rang out at 3:45am we still managed to hoot and holler louder than anyone else.

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We had our first experience with toboggans. The hill is on the left, only 2 people the employees of the hill had ever seen crash halfway down are on the right. We assume it’s because not many things were meant to carry 2 Klipschs due to sheer head size and overall beefiness. We lived and I peed a little laughing so hard so not all was lost.

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My kids continued to eat me out of house and home. I now double a recipe if it says “serves 8” and usually the kids still eat more fruit after all of that is gone. If you hear of giveaways that feature blessing someone with groceries for a year I’d be much obliged if you would enter us. I’ll have to start working if these people continue at this pace. 😉

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Tariku and Trysten filmed a commercial for summer camp. I’m not entirely sure why anyone would use anyone other than my kids in their commercials after seeing how adorable they were. 🙂

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I helped a fitness studio start up. Though I’ve done marketing for over a decade it was fun to be able to shape the tone and “voice” of the business from the beginning. Plus I got to work with my good friend Kyle Taylor in creating the logo (thanks, Kyle!)

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We said good-bye to our first family car-the Honda Pilot. Zach got in a car accident and it was totaled. The airbag shredded the gloves he was wearing with the force of the accident-I can’t believe how fortunate we were that he was ok. Despite the fact that she had seen better days, that every part of her was dented and bruised. Despite the fact that she was perpetually dirty from living at a camp and that her bumper stickers signified a moment in time now gone, she also brought home 4 out of my 5 kids. She was the place the 7 of us were first a family and on the back of one of her seats was where Tariku decided to practice writing his name in ink. In her trunk was where we said our final good byes to Abe and Aristotle and, above all, she protected Zach on her final trek. She was a good car.

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We bought a Subaru (great car!) and soon after Zach took Trysten on a road trip with my dad, uncle and cousin to Colorado for a week of snowboarding. Zach took this picture, one of my all time favorites.

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We said good-bye to my sister’s white boxer, Leo. Leo lived with us a few times throughout his long life and I sure did love the way he took care of my sister when she lived on the east coast away from us. Once Ian was born it was as if Leo knew my sister was going to be okay so he let go. I can’t stress enough how much I love dogs and Leo was one of the good ones. Miss ya, buddy.

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We took a family trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes for spring break.

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The kids played baseball/softball which I do believe is the longest season of any sport. The older 3 tried out for All Stars and were selected. Tariku’s team made it really far and was a fun team to watch. Tomas and Trysten’s not so much. 😉

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The big 3 were all on the same team as it has been for many years mostly because Zach and I don’t want to make too much work for ourselves. So it was that they were often in the field together. In the below picture Tariku is playing short stop, Trysten was pitching and Tomas was playing catcher. It was more fun than you can possibly imagine.

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They also played a lot of soccer! (My favorite!) My parents came over for quite a few games considering they live 7 hours away. This surprises no one who knows them.

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While playing 3rd base, Tomas took a ball to the face from the hardest throwing pitcher on his team. This was soon after I posted a picture making fun of little girls wearing face masks in softball. I feel largely to blame for this injury but true to his nature Tomas was smiling the whole way through getting stitches.

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We went vegan/plant-based. More on that later.

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We had a visit from my friend Chandra and her 5 kiddos. I loved watching them play and have so much fun together. It’s weird that a few of my great friends have never met my kids except through my blog and the stories I tell when we get together so it felt ridiculously good to have Zach and my babes meet this friend of mine I always talk about.

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My good friend, Alex, brought her boy toy and dog up to camp for a weekend. She used to live at our previous camp as well so to say I miss seeing her randomly most days would be an understatement. She’s a fellow Harry Potter junkie and just overall top-notch human.

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Tariku offered to hold my hand for the first time. On Facebook I wrote this to mark the occasion:

Last Thursday after his baseball game, one in which he got a minor injury, I asked him if he ever just wished I was there. To comfort him, give him a hug, make it better. No, he says, sometimes I wish the animals were there though.
I told him how when we first adopted him that used to kill me-that he would never let me hug him or snuggle him, not even hold his hand. I told him now I realize it’s not that he doesn’t see me as his mom but that he really just doesn’t like physical touch so I didn’t take it personally anymore (and that I never really should have).
Then on Saturday while walking around camp, with tween girls in swimsuits everywhere, he told me I could hold his hand.
My relationship with Tariku continues to be a reminder that the most beautiful things in life are often the result of a lot of hard work and sweat/tear equity. It’s also a reminder that the culmination of that hard work can sometimes be in something as relatively unremarkable as an outstretched hand and an offer.

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Leslie and Jake finally got a dog! Though I think Leslie is still on the fence about Daffy she hasn’t gotten to the good stuff yet where Daffy is no longer chewing everything and is instead comforting my nephews or niece when they are sick or sad. Hang on, Leslie, you’re almost there!

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My nephew Caden John was born!! On my birthday! Which happens to be my mom’s birthday too! He’s a smiley little man and I love him so. I wrote more about him here.

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We played more rounds of basketball in the front yard/court than ever before. We even talked grandparents and dogs into playing along too sometimes.

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The kids finished their last day of 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd and 2nd grades respectively.

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Doozie competed in Regionals for cheerleading where they took home 1st again.

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I continue to do the marketing for my brother’s Chiropractic business, Dawson Chiropractic near Des Moines, Iowa. I do it mostly for the free adjustments but also because he is genuinely the best chiropractor to which I’ve ever been. Oh and because it forces my little brother to talk to me on a regular basis, a perhaps not naturally occurring thing for a quiet dude like him 😉

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While at an orthopedic appointment for Binyam our car was broken into and stuff was stolen (also, weirdly, the thieves tried on every pair of my sunglasses but didn’t take any. It took me a good while to put them back on my face after imagining some weirdo trying them on. Also made me seriously question my style that they didn’t deem any of them worth stealing. But that’s neither here nor there.) I called the police and then about 5 minutes later called Jimmy John’s since we hadn’t eaten lunch and it was well past 2pm. Jimmy John’s arrived first which was hilarious to us all.

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Zach started seriously training for triathlons and I continued to take hundreds of pictures of my pets. Zach is on the left swimming in the lake while Hagrid and I kayaked next to him-keeping him safe and looking adorable in the process.

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All of the Klipschs came to visit-even Kait straight from the NYC. I continue to be beside myself with gratitude that I count Zach’s siblings and significant others as some of my greatest friends. And time spent with my remarkable niece and nephews is always exactly what I need.

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My 5 all went to Camp Eberhart for a week and had a ridiculously good time. Trysten got to go in the bigger kids cabin where they stay up a little later and hang with the older girls cabin over campfires. I pretended to be all cool as a cucumber but there were def a few nights when I drove past “on my way home” just to see what was what.

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A few weeks later Dailah was off to cheer camp. It was her first time at an overnight camp that her dad wasn’t in charge of and at which we didn’t live. Despite her smile here she actually hated it-coming home with bruises and bumps covering her legs from being dropped and thrown around (as fliers are, obviously). Soon after spending $250 on this camp she decided cheerleading wasn’t for her and asked if she could not try out for the coming year. This perfectly sums up the personality she was born into by nature of being her father’s daughter.

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Tomas’s face was used for marketing purposes. This makes sense because of all of my kids his face best translates constant joy-which is what you get when you send your kids to camp, obvs.

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We let the kids sign up for tackle football for the first time. I held off for as long as I could on account of me loving their healthy knee joints and beautiful, developing brains. I’m still hoping they choose cross country or soccer over football but now at least I know it’s possible for all of us to survive football season.

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My sister and I got another matching tattoo (we both have the purple cross on my sister’s foot, along with our mom, from when I turned 18). This time we got the two “d”s. Before marriage our maiden name was “Dawson” and in high school sports we were called “the double Ds” not due to mammary size, clearly. She and I are polar opposites in so many ways but I love her like no one else. That veiny arm would be mine. Gorg.

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I got a selfie stick. I don’t always use it but when I do everyone loves it. 😉

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My parents took us all to Adventureland-an outdoor roller coaster and water park. It never disappoints, especially now that the kids are old enough to go on all the rides by themselves if they want to.

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Then my parents took my kids for a long weekend while I flew off to Colorado and Zach stayed in Michigan to work. I spent Thursday-Sunday with my blogamiga friends for the 5th year in a row. There is just no way to tell you how much these women mean to me. Mothering can be really quite lonely despite having little ones in your business all day e’ry day. Adoption parenting adds another layer that can add to the loneliness, particularly if it’s an adoption of a child from a different race. Sometimes there are just too many things that are specific to that where other friends just can’t possibly understand because they haven’t been there. These women though? They’ve been there. And they are better women, better mothers, nicer people, bigger hippies and funnier than I am. So I basically spent 4 straight days stealing all of their knowledge and then claiming it as my own when I got back. I love them more than they can possibly know.

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Upon my return my parents took us all to the Iowa State Fair. If you love fried food, the smell of animal shit and people watching, then the Iowa State Fair is a must see. It’s ranked as the #1 state fair in the country and with good reason-I really do love it.

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We took a family trip to National Bridge State Park. Despite Tomas’s look of confusion we had a tremendous time together.

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Zach and his good friend, Isaac, participated in two olympic sized triathlons: the Three Rivers, Mi and the Chicago Tri. It’s always good fun watching the two of these old friends together and I tend to get all the feels when I’m watching people I love compete in feats of strength.

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I left Binyam home alone, on accident, for 20 minutes-marking this as the first time I’ve ever left a kid anywhere on accident. I knew he was going to be ok when I got home (he’s 9-years-old for goodness sake and Zach was literally working a few hundred feet away) but I still felt like total crap. Until we pulled into the drive and saw him sitting on the front steps looking ridiculous presh with his soccer stuff ready. He had no doubts I was coming back to get him-I love that about him.

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I celebrated 13 years of marriage to this guy. Even in my darkest moments he’s been my harvester of light, what a lucky thing it is to be his wife.

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The kids started another year of school. It’s already been a trying year in many ways so I’m just constantly praying we get through it with our grace and sense of humor still intact.

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We talked our good friends the Korandas into coming on one of the busiest athletic weekends of the year. Declan Zachary handled it like a champ and I was a smitten kitten getting so much time with him, his mommy and daddy.

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I had the distinct honor and pleasure at being asked to be Ian’s Godmother. Until he has questions about God I am assuming my role is to just spoil him with chocolate, candy and more kisses than he could ever want. I take this very seriously.

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Zach and I tried acri-yoga after watching a few videos that looked easy enough. This is as far as we got before Zach told me I was about to expose my breast. This wouldn’t normally be cause for concern but since Trysten was capturing this glorious moment, Zach thought he would save poor Tman a year’s worth of therapy and just stop. The idea crossed my mind to put on a bra but I kind of have a strict policy about not doing that while at home so we scrapped the idea altogether. Maybe 2016.

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Zach taught the oldest 3 to shave. Since both Zach and I are legit at growing facial hair-it’s no wonder Trysten already had a decent amount at 12. (Truth is he was born with it. Zach’s first words to me when Trysten entered the world from the womb were, “He has your sideburns!” Bless) Now if someone could actually get them to wear deodorant every day I would feel a lot better about their future prospects.

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Trysten and Tomas went out for the middle school cross country team. They worked hard all season and both did really well. I could genuinely care less how they rank as long as they give it their all when they are out there and they did that-it was a fun season!

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The Jake and Leslie Klipschs, Isaac and Papa Frank came up for a weekend where the men went off to the Notre Dame game and I got 7 uninterrupted hours talking with Leslie. The next day we took everyone to the Notre Dame campus. Watching these cousins together is just too much of all the good things.

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We went trick-or-treating with the Dawson and Klipsch cousins as well as the Smitty besties. It was the first year my kids, Oliver and Eli and the Smittys went off by themselves to tour the neighborhood when the adults got too cold. I got to go with my niece Landry and listen as every. single. house told her she was the cutest they had seen all day. It’s true-she’s 100% ridiculously cute.

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We celebrated my brother-in-law Frank’s birthday with his adults only party again this year. Zach and I went as Doc Brown and Marty McFly and the birthday boy went as his own spirit animal. See if you can tell what the other Klipschs were…

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I also talked all of the Dawson side into coming this year too! My brother was a legit Wolverine and my sister-in-law as Steve Bartman went over super well in a house full of Cub fans.

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My father-in-law was elected as Davenport, Iowa’s new Mayor! I was so happy we could be there and the kids could watch the whole process unfold that night. He will undoubtedly be the best Mayor that city has ever seen. Grateful as always that I married into that crazy group of justice seekers and public servers.

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I got to work with Leslie on our 7th Water Party together. I’m so proud of how she’s taken over since my move to Michigan and made it bigger and better than ever before. This year the event raised over $35,000. That is beyond my comprehension as I so vividly remember the first year sitting up at midnight counting the $10,000 in cash with Zach. I am grateful for every penny then and every penny now. We have the most generous friends and family of anyone I’ve ever known. I always go through Leslie withdrawals after the event because I’m so used to spending an insane amount of time talking and texting with her leading up to the Water Party. I’m just really lucky to count her as a best friend.

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Not sure if you heard this or not but we all went to Ethiopia. 🙂 I’m ready to go back.

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Barbara Streisand and Hagrid just continued to be off the charts adorable on the daily.

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We had such a fun time cheering on our Iowa Hawkeyes this season! Though they lost to our current state, we are excited to see them dominate the Rose Bowl tomorrow!

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The bigs had their band performance (Trysten on drums, Tomas on trumpet) and the littles had their Holiday music concert. Binyam had a speaking part for the first and probable last time of his life. He went as Harry Potter and was nervous as hell. I was beaming and crying and waving like the fanatic I am. Proud mama heart burst moment for sure.

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Just before leaving for Ethiopia Trysten tried out for the 7th grade boys basketball team and made it. They went on to become conference champions. Man were they a fun team to watch.

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Trysten and Tomas had their first semi-formal middle school dance. Tomas was true to his nature and asked his girlfriend what color of dress she was wearing so that he could match her. He could be found trailing a few feet behind her wherever she went. Trysten was true to his nature and translated loosely “semi-formal” by wearing basketball pants and a t-shirt until I begged him to at least wear jeans and something that didn’t stink of puberty and hard work. He and a few of his buds went stag with plans to tear up the dance floor seeings they had no ladies to tether them down.

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While the older 2 were at the dance, the younger 3 were painting snowmen for the elementary PTA. Dailah took her job seriously, as she always does when it comes to creative outlets, and the other two were mostly there for the cookies.

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Dailah chopped off her hair. She told me she was ready for an adventure and had read about donating hair to kids with cancer who lose theirs. I asked her on the way to the appointment if she was nervous, “Nope just excited! You’ve got to think about the worst that can happen and if it’s not death or lots and lots of pain then there’s no reason to be nervous!” I love that about her.

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On Christmas Eve the kids made a fort that took up the entire “fun room” for the second year in a row. This one had separate rooms and everything. Christmas continues to feel so magical with these kiddos. As they get older I appreciate even more how close they all are and how often they want to be around just each other. My most common prayer is probably that they continue to be best friends throughout their lives.

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We had a truly great Christmas both here and in Iowa celebrating with grandparents, aunts/uncles and cousins. So much so that I didn’t take very many pictures. 🙂

While Trysten fights off the pneumonia that has been plaguing me for the last few months (I legit broke a few ribs coughing so hard. My cough is mostly gone but the pain in my ribs is redic. Avoid that at all costs.) the other 4 are at Winter Camp at Camp Eberhart.

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I think after writing the post about being lonely some might think I don’t like living here but it’s even more obvious after looking through the pictures of the year that my life here is full of goodness. I think if nothing else, the moments when I’m lonely only make it super obvious that overall our time here has been overwhelmingly happy and great. This year has been one full of growth for all 7 of us and with that will surely come some growing pains in every sense of the phrase. But at the end of the day I get to kiss the 5 sweetest, kindest, funniest most beautiful children in all of the world and cuddle in next to the funniest, most loyal husband out there. What more could I possibly ask for?

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Happy NYE everyone. May you find peace, happiness and insurmountable joy in the coming year. Thanks for reading. Love to you.

Tesi

Ethiopia Trip-On Water

Ethiopia Trip-On Water

While we were having lunch with Tariku’s special people at the hotel I started to feel my belly rumble. It had been feeling off all day but I assumed it was nerves and excitement for the day to come. I excused myself and made the long walk up 4 flights of stairs to our room where I got sick and then laid down until the dizziness passed. Over the next few hours I did this 3 more times, always trying to go join the group afterwards.

On the final time, the getting sick part was so violent and lasted for far longer than the previous trips so it took my body too long to stop shaking and sweating. I lied down and fell asleep until my family joined me upstairs.

This continued for the next many hours, roughly every 45 minutes. I would doze in between but because this is a family blog I will tell you I have never been as sick as I was at that time. Never.

I didn’t have a scale there but I would assume that in the next 48 hours I would go on to lose about 10 pounds because of the combination of getting sick and lack of appetite. I’m typically right around 125 (give or take a coconut milk ice cream sandwich, obvs) so 10 pounds wasn’t insignificant. I tell you this only so you can understand that after I came out of the worst of the fog I couldn’t shake the gratefulness I felt at having 10 extra pounds to give.

As I slowly recovered Zach and I tried to figure out what it was that caused me to become so violently ill. Because he and I were eating roughly the same thing for meals we originally couldn’t come up with something that could’ve made me sick and not touched him. Then I remembered eating some fresh greens that hadn’t been cooked but had been rinsed by local water sources.

The irony that I had gotten sick from unclean water was not lost on me.

Even though I’ve been a pretty passionate clean water advocate for 7 years, being sick by unsafe water put things in a whole new perspective for me.

-What happens when these children, mothers and fathers don’t have 10 pounds to lose?

-What happens when they don’t have a support system like I had in Zach who took care of me in ways never foretold in our marriage vows? (Seriously, moment of appreciation for the man that Zach is. I am crying just thinking about his service to me.) What happens if their support system needs to work to keep the family alive or feed the family?

-What happens when they don’t have the world’s best driver leave his hotel for the night to get prescription medicine, rehydration packets and bottled tonic water?

-What happens when they don’t have access or financial resources to access those in the first place?

Well we know what happens to them don’t we? 1 out of every 5 deaths of children under 5 in Sub-Saharan Africa is still caused by water-related disease. I don’t just know that statistic anymore, after personally suffering from water-related sickness I know that statistic. Without all the things mentioned above, I’m not sure what my survival rate would have been and I’m a grown, healthy woman.

The day after the special family trip to the hotel we were supposed to go to the villages of all 3 of my boys. I woke up that morning determined to go, regardless of how I felt. I was able to put some clothes on and walk downstairs but as soon as I smelled food I made the 4 flight trek up the stairs just in time to get sick again.

I missed the first time my boys saw their villages again because I was sick from unclean water. This is nothing when you compare it to the 44 million school days that are missed because of water-borne illness in Sub-Saharan Africa alone. Or the 64% of the families who rely on women to collect the family’s water-and will often go without when she falls ill.

Missing a day in the villages was a really big deal for me and I still haven’t quite gotten over the guilt I feel about it. That said; it becomes easier to not revel in self pity when the reality of the world water crisis is so much bigger than my few days of poor health.

Once I was able to get the strength to correspond I sent my sister (in law) Leslie a text saying essentially, “After this whole debacle I am even more passionate about the Water Party, let’s do what we can to not let this happen to anyone else.”

I’m so grateful I have a healthy outlet to channel my outrage at getting sick because of dirty water.

The Water Party is in 3 days. This year the committee working on the event is bigger and more motivated than ever to get people passionate about the water crisis. We are raising money once again to provide local people (this time in Tanzania through Empower Tanzania) jobs as well mechanics. These well mechanics will go on to fix the broken wells that are pumping out dirty water and making their families and friends sick. My favorite thing about the last few years of the party is that we’ve been creating sustainable solutions to the water crisis by providing jobs and dignity to my brothers and sisters around the world-empowering them to take the crisis into their own hands.

When I was sick Tariku’s special people went out of their way to bring me bananas. Solomon, our driver, dropped everything to get me medications. While Zach took the kids to the villages, the Ethiopian people in the Lemma hotel stopped by my room every hour to check on me and see if I needed anything-offering to go outside of the hotel for more medication if necessary. Our translator came to my room offering a ride to the hospital. Tomas and Binyam’s special people gave Zach a local herb that I was to chew that settles the belly. This bitter herb smelled terrible but worked in the short term. And the next day when I arrived at the villages, before hugging the children, these special people came to me and asked if I was better-praising God when I told them I was.

The Ethiopian people didn’t withhold love or care because I wasn’t Ethiopian; they took care of me as one of their own and did it in a way that restored dignity to me.

And I want to do the same for my Tanzanian brothers and sisters. I know there is so much pain and suffering happening right here in America but if we continue to close our borders (literally and figuratively) when the world needs us they will do the same when we need them. I’m not sure what my week in Ethiopia would’ve looked like without the care given to me willingly by Ethiopians, I truly don’t want to think about it.

So this week I’m going to celebrate that in the midst of so much terribleness in the world, on Saturday we will change mourning into dancing. We can’t change lives for everyone but we can do all we can to change the lives of as many people as possible.

You can join us, if you too are needing a little celebration. If you’re in the Davenport, Iowa area please come to the event. November 21, downtown Davenport, 3rd floor of the Redstone Building. Check out the event page on Facebook to hear how we use local vendors and artists to provide global resources. We have always believed that we can do both as Americans-support and encourage small business in America while working to end the water crisis. It’s the very best kind of 2 for 1.

If you can’t join us you can still donate. 100% of your donation goes to providing access to clean water because Leslie and I fundraise separately for the cost of the event. Go here to donate.

You can also purchase these beautiful handcrafted bracelets. Designed and crafted by local Maasai tribe artisans, these bracelets are a show stopper-I’m always getting compliments on mine when I wear it out! For just $30 you’ll be providing clean water for 2 people, what a small price to pay for fashion. Buy those here.

Maasai Bracelet

You can also enter our raffle to win a $300 purse, a $350 bottle of Opus One Wine, an authentic Maasai kanga and one of the Tanzanian bracelets. We will ship to you should you come out the victor! Enter to win here.

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We are living in a moment of time riff with violence and devastation. The only way I know how to cope is shine a little light in the darkness. It doesn’t necessarily help the people of Lebanon, France, Kenya or Nigeria but hope is contagious. I just want to plant a seed of hope this week and see how it grows over time.

Thank you for reading these blogs of our trip. Despite the sickness (or maybe because of?) I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to take our family and for the outlet this blog has provided to wade through my experience.

Much love.

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An image in Southern Ethiopia of kids swimming, bathing and collecting water from this river. Zoom in to also see the animals doing the same.

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.

12 Years

On Sunday Zach and I celebrated the fact that these two crazy kids

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have survived 12 years of marriage.

I know it’s not romantic to say “survived” but anyone who has been married will tell you that’s essentially what it comes down to.

In the car a few days ago some terrible love song came on and I switched the station. Dailah asked me to switch it back so I asked her why she liked the song. She liked it for all the reasons young people like love songs: it’s a man/woman professing their undying attraction/lust/warm feelings towards someone else. We want that for ourselves.

And I get it, totally. I considered letting my 8-year-old in on the secret about real love but decided maybe it’s not the worst thing that she believes that’s love for a little bit longer.

The truth is love inside of a marriage is more about doing hard things. It’s about both people waking up in the middle of the night when your great dane has a terrible case of butt pee and, wordlessly, divvying up the disgusting task of clean up. No arguing about who did what last but just silently agreeing that you’re in this together. Also no more letting the grandparents give the dog bacon.

The truth is staying up until 2am talking about what’s got you both upset even though the kids need to be at school in a few hours and a day full of meetings is within breathing distance. It’s knowing it would be a lot easier to ignore it for a few more hours/days and discuss it when it’s more convenient but also knowing it’s too unhealthy. Knowing that resentment builds, shit is dug up from the past and by the time it’s more convenient the original anger has been blown into World War III proportions.

The truth is after 12 years together I would buy the shit out of a song that expressed the sexiness in hearing your husband say to your kids, “Can you believe your mom works this hard for us?” Or describes that moment when your husband looks at you-all decked out in sweatpants and on day 4 of unwashed hair-and you know he is overcome with love and the slightest bit of lust. That’s the good stuff, right there.

I want a song that celebrates the mundane just a little bit more. I know that’s what scares so many singletons before marriage-waking up to the same person every morning and doing basically the same thing every day-but what no one can tell you until it’s arrived is that there’s some comfort in that. There’s some comfort in waking up to see coffee made, my favorite mug (Dumbledore, obviously) positioned next to the pot. The slow dance we do around the kitchen with him starting toast and me putting away clean dishes. Get out the peanut butter, two step, grab the knife, two step, fill two cups with ice water…

My in-laws watched the kids so we could go on a date for our anniversary. We chose to go to Boyhood at our favorite Kalamazoo theater. We liked the idea that Boyhood was a film that took 12 years to make. The parallels were perfect.

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And I loved the movie. Absolutely loved it. Because nothing really happened. I don’t want to give it away but it really is exactly about what the Director set out to make it about. It’s about 12 years in the life of this boy and his family. As someone who consumes entertainment on the regular I’ve been classically conditioned to expect major life happenings but was so pleasantly surprised that instead it was just life. On the big screen. It was beautiful.

Probably Z and my marriage won’t inspire any Hollywood blockbuster. In the end if someone were to have been taping us all along  I think it would be most easily described as “it wasn’t really about anything.” But for those who are also living their lives with the people they love I also believe they’d end it with “but it was beautiful.”

Love you, Z, thanks for doing the hard work to make this life so beautiful.

Read also about How We Met.

11 Years.