Officially a Mom to a Teen

Officially a Mom to a Teen

Trysten Zachary turned 13 almost a month ago ( I have this newly acquired belief that as my kids get older the days go quicker-no idea how it’s been a month already).

Tman has this thing about smiling in pictures now. By that I mean he doesn’t do it. He actually has a really wonderful smile-the sides pull tight and all of his teeth show-but for now only those of us able to make him laugh will see it. #teens

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Or if you give him a frosting covered cookie. Then you’ll get a good college try of a smile.

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The weekend of his birthday we had planned a birthday sleepover for him but I realized we had a few work engagements that we couldn’t get out of. True to his nature-he accepted the new reality with no complaints.

In a lot of ways Trysten is just like every other 13-year-old experiencing multiple realities. I can see in one minute the young boy I’ve known for over a decade-goofy, kind, gentle and the next minute he’s all young man-deepening voice, shrugging off my affection, deep into texting. But once in awhile he combines who he has been with who he is becoming and I find those glimpses of my son to be really extraordinary. (Snapchat. I love it. Hit me up: tesileagh)

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Thirteen is a weird age, right? Because daily I can see Trysten becoming a man. Any baby fat he’s ever had is now gone. His shoulders that used to come straight up from his hips are now broad, revealing not baby muscle fibers but the beginnings of man muscle fibers. For a few brief months last year we shared shoes but now his feet are roughly 3 sizes larger than mine. And he refuses to stop growing. In a matter of days he’ll be 5’6″-eye to eye with me.

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And the sense of humor on this kid. Zach had volunteered our oldest 3 to help work the Y’s annual fundraiser. They were thrilled, as I’m sure you can imagine. Thankfully Trysten has learned from his mom to express his feelings in sarcastic form-preferably on social media so others might share in his misfortune. (Screenshot taken from his Snapchat story.)

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I took a picture of him with Hagrid on his lap a few weeks ago and said, “Man, you just look like America right now. Straight ‘Murica.” His response: “Yeah but I’m missing a gun.” Which is hilarious because it’s true. #americalovesguns

Anywho…

Trysten had chosen to go plant based with Zach and me even as he went out into the world (we are 100% plant based at home but the kids can choose when we go out to eat or at friends’s houses) but decided to go all in for his birthday. Donuts, Buffalo Wild Wings and ice cream for his birthday meals. No matter how old he is I do believe he will always have a soft spot for sweets.

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A few weeks after his birthday he was able to have his birthday sleepover. I just really enjoy all of his friends. It’s incredible to me that I can see little bits of Trysten in all of them. Maybe that’s why I okayed having what felt like all of the 7th grade boys over. They spent most of the daylight hours playing basketball and all of the dark hours playing hide and seek through camp.

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Here’s the thing you guys. I think sometimes parents of teens find it so difficult because we remember them as little angels, right? I can still vividly remember when Trysten and I were about to cross the street one day and he stopped me, holding out his hand saying, “Mom! You forgot to hold my hand!” I still remember that boy. And, needless to say, he no longer asks to hold my hand. Ever.

But I am relentlessly excited to meet the young man walking up the steps each morning. Because he’s his own person. I can no longer compare him to the little boy who was just an extension of me for so many years. Maybe that’s where so many struggles with parents and teens come from-we still assume they are a part of us and we’ve wrapped our identities so strongly with theirs so that when they react in a way that we wouldn’t or that causes concern we are too quick to cut them down. It scares us because who are without them at our hip?

Untangling our identities from our kids is tricky business. But doing it with a teenager is a little easier because they show us in not so subtle ways that their actions don’t have a whole lot to do with us, which has actually always been true but parents are supes good at seeing only what they want to see and not what actually is aren’t we?

I’m all of a month into this parenting teens gig so in no way do I assume I have it nailed but I have been able to realize the few times when Trysten and I have had arguments it’s because I was inadvertently expecting him to react in a way the boy who had no autonomy would have reacted instead of reacting to the boyman who was in front of me-trying to figure out how to honor his mom but also honor his heart at the same time.

Gone are the days when he saw me and ran to jump into my arms or the days when he was always smiling and giggling. But they’ve been replaced by a young man that I can have serious discussions with about race, sex, politics and the world. One is not necessarily better than the other-they are both incredibly awesome in their own very distinct ways.

Trysten was born when I was just 20 so in many ways we’ve grown up together. Truth be told I practice a lot of my parenting on him-some of it fails, some of it goes ok. And he’s always weathered it extremely well. I don’t know what to do with my kids in terms of cell phones or girls but if the past has taught me anything about Trysten it’s that he’ll forgive me when I mess up and patiently wait as I figure out where I stand on an issue.

Happy birthday, Trysten Zachary. Love you more than you can possibly imagine.

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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.

Trysten is 11!

11. It seems impossible, it really does. A month ago I started to notice Trysten was getting more emotional than usual. At different times he would vacillate quickly from anger to sadness. So I asked him if he was going through puberty.

I asked my son if he was going through puberty. So weird. Though he hasn’t noticed any of the physical changes, I do believe we are on the brink of it all. He’s starting to prefer talking with Zach and me instead of watch cartoons with his siblings. At his birthday dinner he wanted to sit by me at the table instead of down by his cousins.

Trysten and I have always been extremely connected. Sure we are very much alike but I think it’s more than that. Probably it has more to do with the fact that I had him at 20-years-old and so we’ve kind of grown up together. Me forcibly so and he under the watchful, loving eye of his father and me (and countless family members).

Zach is often left bewildered by my ability to know what it is really going on with Trysten. He sees only the ways in which Trysten outwardly expresses himself but I know the motivations, the reasons behind it all.

I don’t know if it will always be this way. I don’t know if I’ll always know exactly when he’s about to tell me something important because he sucks in a small breath before starting or if I’ll know when he’s about to tell me-word for word-all about his latest Minecraft escapades because of the way one side of his mouth turns up. I assume our relationship will change like all relationships do. Not better or worse necessarily, but different.

None of this is to say he’s my favorite or my preferred child, it’s only to acknowledge that I “get” him in a way I don’t necessarily “get” any of my others (in the same way Zach “gets” Tariku more than the others). Oddly, sometimes Trysten can be the most infuriating as I see in him the same frustrations I see in myself. It’s also just to acknowledge that Trysten has now been alive for 11 years. I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that in one breath it feels like yesterday he was born and in the other breath it feels like he’s always been a part of me. I can’t exactly remember a time in which my heart didn’t beat at least partially because his did.

Regardless, there it was. His 11th birthday on the 25th.

The boy who loves pets in a “they are fun to cuddle with sometimes and laugh at their shenanigans but don’t expect me to get super excited about caring for them” way.

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The one who has his daddy’s sense of humor but a style all his own. Who still runs (okay…walks swiftly) up to us when he sees us at school and delivers a bone crushing hug.

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The one who chose a fire resistant safe for one of his birthday presents from his grandpa so he can keep all his stuff in it. This coming from the boy who tends to spend every dollar he gets just as soon as it’s in his hands and destroys even his most prized possessions with overuse and neglect.

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The one who would have Dickens claiming, “He was the best of brothers, he was the worst of brothers.”…and good luck figuring out which one woke up any given day.

This 11-year-old who still loves reading (though not quite as much as he has in the past), begins a task/sport/book/project with inspiring zeal only to taper off a week or two later and who keeps sweet notes/cards from his family to remind him of how much he is loved.

I am under no illusion that any of my children are perfect, I am so incredibly grateful they aren’t-it would be way too hard being as imperfect as I am and be their mom at the same time. But I am forever grateful God chose me for my Trysten Zachary.

Happy 11th birthday buddy. Love you more than you can think about measuring.

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Speak to me of Iron, Diamonds, Zombies and All Things Minecraft

Trysten. Being the oldest of the group he can often be found quietly observing the constant chaos of this crew. A few hours will pass with all of us in a car when I realize he hasn’t actually talked much, if at all, and has spent most of the time staring out the window or reading.

When you get him alone, though, he often won’t stop talking. And these days? These days it’s all about Minecraft. Oy vey. Minecraft.

On the one hand, I really kind of love that the kids all love this little game of theirs on their iPods. They are typically all building together in this fantasy land that consists of the most random and elaborate things. I love hearing them work together to create a fantasy world and then protect it from zombies and the like.

But seriously? When Trysten starts talking to me about Minecraft, I can feel my eyes start to glaze over. As excited as he gets (and boy does he!) I can’t bring myself to share in his enthusiasm. Nevertheless, I give it the ole’ college try and focus on the details of his monologue so he’ll know I’m listening when I’m able to ask him about it later on.

I think I realized early on in my parenting career that these moments of my kids telling me every minutia of their day is fleeting. Though I’ve always been one to (over)share with those I love since the dawn of time, I realize my kids will go through a time when I’m the very last person on earth with whom they want to talk. And though I’m sure it will hurt like hell when that time comes, at least I’ll know that while I had the chance to listen to them and revel in every detail of their lives that I did.

I also believe that by listening to the mundane, they feel more inclined to tell me the rest. More often than not, if I can hang on through the Minecraft banter, Trysten begins telling me other stuff too. About his friends, girls, school, etc. I think sometimes kids need that icebreaker and if we tune them out to the icebreakers, they  think we don’t want the deeper stuff either. I’m hopeful that one day when they want to talk to me about sex, for instance, I won’t shrug off their icebreaker talk about school or the weather or whatever just because I’ve heard it a million times before.

Like most things I’m sure I’m over thinking it a little bit. But for me, it’s so important my kids know that they have a safe place to discuss whatever is on their littles hearts in me. Even though right now it’s mostly Minecraft I know too soon it will be some bigger, sometimes scarier stuff and I want them to feel heard for all of it. The good, the bad, happy and sad. I know most of the time when we tell each other what’s on our hearts we aren’t looking for advice, we’re just looking to be heard and understood. To share in the human experience. If nothing else, I want my kids to know I’m ready to share whatever human experience they are currently working through. ‘Cuz sweet Jesus they are some of the best humans I know.

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On Teacher Appreciation

When Trysten first went to Kindergarten I didn’t think a whole lot about his teacher or school. I know, I know, shocking. But he was a smart kid with 2 parents who weren’t going to let him fall behind on anything so there wasn’t a huge concern.

Then we brought Tariku home and we started to think more about education. We moved Trysten from his school that, year after year, gets the highest test scores in the district and some of the highest test scores in the state. We moved him because most of his school looked like him, which is fine, but the school didn’t look like us. Our new family now contained a little precious boy of color so an almost all white school wasn’t going to do.

We moved Trysten to quite possibly the most underperforming school in the district. Worried grandparents and community members chided us for the bold move but we knew it was right because Trysten would be fine. Regardless of how the school overall did on standardized tests, Trysten positively excelled.

And then we brought home Tomas and Binyam. There was only one school in our district with full time ESL people on staff and we knew bringing home a first grader we would rely heavily on ESL the first few years, so we switched again. This time to a school that usually ranked towards the bottom on standardized tests. We knew it would be a perfect fit, however, when we first saw there was a large minority population at the school and then that a really great family friend-Mrs.Meinert- would be Tariku’s Kindergarten teacher.

Pretty soon after bringing Tomas and Binyam home we could tell they might need a little more attention in school. Tomas’s phenomenal teacher proactively worked with Mrs. Meinert to have Tomas come down with her class during reading and math. At the end of the first year Tomas’s teacher, Mrs. Dunlap, showed me his first words he had written and I cried during the whole conference. Watching how much he had grown from August-May was nothing short of a miracle and I knew, though Zach and I encouraged him at home, it had everything to do with the two teachers who loved and nurtured him in his first year.

Binyam started out in preschool with Dailah but we could tell he too needed a little more work. His YMCA preschool teacher arranged a meeting for us at our local AEA. They tested Binyam and agreed he needed an all day preschool the following year at-you guessed it-one of the worst performing schools in the district (but which boasted Binyam’s Uncle Jake as the principal) 🙂 . When Binyam began his (second) year of preschool he had no idea how to spell his name, his speech was very poor and he had 0 fine motor skills. At his first conference his teacher showed us little scraps of paper that Binyam had written, “Binyam” and “Mom”. With tears running down my face I grabbed her hand, “Thank you, thank you so much.”

The last few years for Tomas and Binyam have carried on much the same. A tribe of advocates have surrounded them and fought for them, working alongside us. And though my other 3 don’t need the same degree of help, their teachers have kept them challenged and loved just the same. Watching these teachers (my kids usually have the same teachers as the sibling who went before them) love, nurture and cherish my babes finding their footing as well as my higher level learners has been an enormous blessing.

I have gotten emails from these teachers at 10:00 pm, “Hey what do you think about trying this for x?” I’ve gotten more phone calls during the day than you can possibly imagine (I quite literally just got off of one) from teachers and administrators, “Hey wanted to let you know x is having a great day today! Make sure you praise him/her for doing their best during reading!” Notes in planners talking about the progress on a letter or a sound or a journal entry. I’ve seen these teachers have to switch from this kind of technique to another, back to the first and then-no wait, let’s do it this way-within just a few months.

And always, when I’ve cried asking, “Are they going to be ok? What more can I do?” They’ve looked at me, usually with tears in their eyes and said, “Of course they’ll be ok, your kid is amazing and we’re going to do everything we can because they are worth it.” And I believed them.

One of my best girl friends was talking about one of her babes that struggles in her class. As Ashley talked about the little girl I just started crying. I can’t get over how much our kids are loved by their teachers. These teachers who work so much, get paid so little love. our. kids. Incredible.

I know not all teachers are like this, I know that. But we’ve been so incredibly grateful for the teachers we’ve had.

I think on days like today when I get a completely unprompted call from the kids’s school, “Hey, Binyam’s teacher was thinking about him…” I am humbled beyond anything else that there is so much love surrounding my kids. I am so thankful I never have to go through this parenting thing alone. So thankful for our community who has trained and support teachers, imperfectly I’m sure, that are as amazing as they are.

So to all the teachers. The ones I’m related to, the ones I am friends with and the ones who have prayed and thought about my kids every day for a year-thank you so much. My words fail me at a time like this but I am forever indebted to you!

Tonight

Baby girl A ended up arriving on Thursday. She is beyond adorable and we are quickly falling in love with her. Though I’ve called my brother and sister-in-law no fewer than 10 times in the last few days with questions like, “Do 18-month-olds eat with regular silverware or do they need those baby spoons?” And, “What kind of carseat will I be needing?” I am nothing if not a lifetime learner so it’s been fun to regain some of this knowledge I once had but tucked away. No idea how long A will be with us but we’ll be thankful for the moments-good and bad-and go from there.

Yesterday my brother graduated from Palmer School of Chiropractic. For anyone who doesn’t know Marcus, he is pretty quiet guy. Thus, my whole family was surprised (only because he never said anything) that he had in fact graduated Magna Cum Laude. If you’re in the Altoona, Iowa area he’ll be setting up Dawson Chiropractic inside of the Altoona Family Chiropractic office on 8th St (by Fireside) soon! Of course I got all big sisterly the last couple of days because I am just so proud of the man he is, the husband and daddy and of the chiropractor he’ll be. Love you Dr. Dawson!

My siblings (and niece, of course, she can’t get far from her aunties when we’re around).

Zach was chosen as the Young Leader of the Community. We went to the ceremony last night where they mentioned they had the most amount of nominations they’ve ever had. What I loved the most was the ways they talked about him actually changing the community in which we live. Though he has taken Camp Abe Lincoln from operating in the red to operating in the black, he has done so much more. I have always shouted his praises from this particular blog rooftop but I was so thankful the rest of the community is catching on.

There was a caricature artist at the ceremony last night. We had to bring baby A with us, as she can’t be babysat by my parents like the rest of my kids (only certified foster/adopt/respite people are allowed to baby sit kids in the foster care system) so she got in on the action too.

My parents and grandparents made the trip to Davenport to celebrate Marcus’s graduation, as well as Lindsey’s (Marcus’s wife) parents. Some of my favorite moments this week were spent these last few days talking to all of those people. I am very blessed to have such a great family. And particularly blessed by my niece Adley Sue who looks up to Trysten like no other. They were so cute last night.

And tonight Trysten has his birthday sleepover with a few friends and 2 of my nephews. He is so excited and I am admittedly excited too. I’m grateful he has learned to make great choices in the friend department, so it’s always a pleasure to see Trysten in that element. Also, time with my nephews? Can’t get enough. But first, a little ice cream to start off his festivities today.

Happy weekend to you!