Coming to Terms with My Own Struggles So I Can Better Help My Kids Come to Terms with Theirs.

Last night we had to sit down with one of our sons and break the world down for him a bit. We’ve noticed this child has started to do things just to be cool. For now it’s nothing alarming, mostly just wanting to wear all the “right” clothes. He layers on his accessories like he’s never heard the phrase “less is more”. Bless.

If one of the kids has a friend over this child is known to say things that are so clearly wrong -last night it was telling a friend that tofu was a fruit-only to try to sound smart. He also claimed to have finished a book his siblings had already finished so that he could watch the movie with them. With just one question about a main plot point in the book it was quite obvious he hadn’t read it.

Even just a few weeks into school we are starting to see a pattern where he’s finishing his tests and work in class as fast as he can or not bringing work home to study at all. Though his intention is to look smart/cool, it all crumbles when he receives a D on his test. His friends might not know about his terrible grade, obviously, but he momentarily forgets that his mom has 24 hour access to his grades online and that she checks it roughly once every hour knowing he is not a kid who will be able to skate through school on his smile and good humor alone.

In some respects I believe this is typical behavior for boys his age. The struggle between the illusion of independence from parents and the obvious dependence on the parents is real. It is, of course, the human condition to want to be liked and admired. I don’t even believe this in itself is a terrible thing. More often than not when other parents or teachers talk about this son of mine they mention how kind, caring and respectful he is-all attributes built from the same place his desire to be liked is housed. A double edged sword indeed.

But it’s also typical orphan behavior as well. This charismatic son of mine did what the adoption community calls “mommy shopped” for almost 2 years before we met him. His desire to be loved and seen as cute/cool went spectacularly in Ethiopia, every time a friend of ours went to Ethiopia before us they gushed over his adorableness and his friendliness. As soon as I was able to make public his photographs I received an influx of emails from people who had traveled the previous 2 years saying roughly the same thing, “As soon as we got home my husband and I prayed about going back for him. If we could’ve gotten the resources together we would have. You are so lucky!”

I remember when the kids were little being physically exhausted roughly all the time. Trysten and Dailah slept through the night since they were 8 weeks old (don’t hate) and the boys have all been phenomenal sleepers since we brought them home as well so I’m not really referring to the sleepy fog. I’m talking about being physically exhausted in the way that, when Zach got home, I basically threatened him within an inch of his life to not touch me. I so vividly remember being a human playground and often the only one able to comfort an upset child.

As the kids continue to get older I’m no longer physically exhausted, the tables have reversed a bit in that department-I’m typically the one smothering them when I’m feeling a little low or needing some personal connection. Parenting older kids feels so emotionally exhausting instead.

This thing with our son has stirred up some heavy reminders of when I used to be so concerned with being cool. I never did it in the ways he is doing it: I didn’t ever care much about what I was wearing or being the smartest in class. But I did care about my status as an athlete, always having a boyfriend, being liked by as many people as possible.

I’ve done some pretty terrible and painful things to other people and to myself in the name of “being cool”. One of those things I did when I was roughly the age of my son that still haunts me from time to time. My best friend in elementary and I had decided to be locker partners in middle school, we had bought the mirrors and other things in which to adorn our shared locker. But that summer I started hanging out with someone else more. She seemed so cool and didn’t have the elementary baggage that my other friend had (by the way, none of this is on the middle school friend-she continues to be one of the kindest, most compassionate people I know) so a week before middle school started I called my elementary friend to let her know I was changing things up and would no longer be sharing a locker with her. How she forgave me for that (and many, many other things) over the years and continues to be a friend I have no idea.

And honestly, as I got older, the stakes were higher and so were the MIstakes. The need to be loved and adored was so acute I hurt people so deeply that some, rightfully so, haven’t forgiven me since.

Last night I related all of this to my son and told him, “Do you know why I fell so hard for your dad? He showed up to our first date in clothes from Goodwill and shoes made of duct tape. He was the first person I ever knew to be so completely him all the time. Your dad has never put much thought into what people think of him and yet people love your dad. They are so devoted to him because they know the person they are claiming their devotion. They know it’s not going to shift and change depending on the season-your dad is your dad-take him or leave him.”

Then I reminded him that we aren’t expecting an overnight success in his ability to just be ok with dropping the masks and showing the world just who he is. We are ever evolving humans after all and, though Zach has inspired me to drop all of my masks since the day I met him, I continue to struggle with the old demons from time to time. That struggle is the reason I got “I am God’s beloved” tattooed on my collarbone-it’s a daily reminder that no matter how badly I’ve effed it all up (and woof are there some doozies in there) I am so completely and incomprehensibly loved.

And so is he. Because, as I told him, the people who will be put off by the real him were never meant to be in his life in the first place. And the people drawn to him? Those will be the people who will live and die for him. Those are the only people he needs to worry about doing right by.

I slept so poorly last night because I just kept thinking of ways in which I could save all of my kids, this son in particular, from making the same mistakes I’ve made in my life. I longed a little for the days when I was terrified of outlets and steps rather than BIG feelings like self acceptance and people pleasing gone too far. The risk feels greater now, the repercussions heavier. It’s impossible to know whether I’m doing the right thing as a mom now that my kids are becoming fully formed young adults before my eyes but every night I fall asleep knowing I did my very best and will apologize in the morning for the ways in which I fell short.

The risk is indeed greater but so is the reward. Getting to know my 5 on a personal level is one of the coolest experiences of my life. It’s so humbling to watch them wrestle with the same things I did at their age and so gratifying to watch them beat the beasts that took me so much longer to conquer.

Last night I looked my son in the eyes and said, “God made you so perfectly, son, I am so in awe of how wonderful you are. I love you so much there is absolutely nothing you could do to stifle that and nothing you could wear to make that love any bigger. Let’s show everyone else the son I get to see-they will be awestruck by the awesome.”

He smiled and went to bed and as he did I realized I was talking to myself, too.

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National Bridge State Park/ Red River Gorge

National Bridge State Park/ Red River Gorge

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Vegan Fajitas

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Zach and Dailah chatting in the hammock during chill time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dailah is 9!

Dailah is 9!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Baltimore

On Baltimore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and love,

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Spring Break 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dailah and I did some yoga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It was still really, really beautiful despite the wind.

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

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

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

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.

Christmas 2014

This being our first Christmas in Michigan and away from family the pace of life seemed altogether much slower. Had we been in Iowa there would’ve been a lot more dinners and lunches involved whereas this year we were able to really just have so much more time as a family-it was really kind of nice!

Christmas Eve we decided to make our delicious homemade pizza but add a Christmas twist-we did them personal pan style! I even bought sausage and pepperoni (blech) for my meat eaters and spoiled myself richly with 6 different veggie varieties (when we normally do family pizzas it’s cheese and more cheese 😦 )

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Hagrid, dressed in his Christmas best, helped keep an eye out for Santa.

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We actually got a FaceTime call from Santa! Usually he stops by my parents’s house when we are there but since we weren’t making it back there this year he made a special call just for the kiddos. I was actually excited to hear from him too, he’s a pretty special Santa!

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For the last handful of years we have done something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read for our gifts for the kiddos. I really can’t say enough how much I love this particular form of gift giving. They also usually get 1 present from Santa and stocking stuffers as well. This year I wanted to add “to give” so on Christmas Eve we told the kids their budget from us and they got to pick where that money went. We let them look through the websites of various nonprofits we believe in and they got to direct their money to a specific place. It was rather fun seeing where they chose, each unique to their personalities. Binyam just gave to where Dailah gave, which is true to his personality throughout the year. 😉

A few weeks before Christmas we draw names for each other and then spend one night shopping at Target for that person. We duck in and out of aisles and try to hide from whoever it is we are buying for. It’s really fun! We open those on Christmas Eve and I just love seeing what the kids choose for their siblings (and for Z and me, of course) there are no rules so I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how thoughtful the gifts have been.

The kids had spent the few days prior building a fort big enough for all of them to sleep in on Christmas Eve. The excitement was palpable and we could hear giggling on and off all night.

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Z and I always set a time that is the absolute earliest the kids can wake us up on Christmas morning. 6am (oy vey) was the winner this year and at 5:59 I started hearing giggles and shrieks downstairs from the fort. At 6am we heard them all sprint upstairs and then high five, hug and more screams. Christmas mornings will continue to stand as my favorite moments as a parent-all snuggled with Z in our bed listening to pure joy outside our room. It’s all the proof I need that I’m the freaking luckiest in the whole world.

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Tariku might be my favorite to watch on Christmas morning. He always keeps his emotions so close to the chest that only those who know him best can tell if he’s excited or sad or angry. But even my Chooch can’t hide his sheer bliss on Christmas, I tear up just thinking about it. Love him.

After we opened presents and ate our Jesus pancakes (this is what they are called on Christmas, obvs) we headed to Davenport for the Klipsch family Christmas.

First thing’s first (I’m the realest), Sintayehu gave us her preschool program in its entirety and I had to keep snapping pictures so people wouldn’t see me crying. I remember when Leslie called to tell me of Sinta’s referral and how she was nervous about a potential heart defect (that proved to be nbd). Looking at her on Christmas day it was quite clear the only defect she might have is a heart that is far too big for her little body and a joy that shouldn’t have to be contained in small stature either.

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Her fellow Ethiopian cousins remained riveted-smiled when they knew she wanted it and clapped in between each song. (Julius was obviously equally impressed)

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Though I’m partial to gifts I will say it took me a second just now to remember what the gifts were because I’ve been so grateful and focused on what a blessing our extended families are to me. And what a blessing they are to my kids.

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Even Trysten (who typically just wants to hang with his older cousins) had some good heart to hearts with Julius, made me remember how great he was with little ones when he was a little(r) one.

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Oh my nephews and niece. I love them so much.

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Papa Frank and Mimi Terre got each of my kids an electric scooter, they are pretty frickin cute riding through camp I must say.

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The next day we celebrated my nephew/Godson’s 8th birthday and my sister (in-law’s) 28th birthday. I have 0 pictures of that except for this one of Z and Dailah playing the piano together. We’re going to say it’s because I was doing really well at living in the moment but it probably had more to do with the delicious bagels and coffee that were being offered. 😉

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I got to have lunch with my friend Alex (who gave me this ornament-so cute!) I would spend more time trying to find someone like her in Michigan but after agreeing with me that our lunch portions were too small and then ordering a 2nd meal (each) I knew it was just never going to happen. Someone who loves Harry Potter, food and sarcasm as much as I do is a once in a lifetime find.

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Also got to take the whole family to my bestie’s house to see her and her family (obviously) but perhaps maybe even more so her new puppy. 😉 Life without my bestie can be really, really hard sometimes. I’m grateful Z gets along so well with her hubby too because we forget about everyone else when we’re together. There’s a lot of catching up to do.

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My family all came into town Friday night. Usually we spend Christmas in Altoona but because my sister is due any minute (seriously God, let her deliver already!) we thought we should bring Christmas to Kara and Matt in Davenport. Friday night was remarkable because I asked Tariku if it would be ok if I snuggled him and he replied, “You can lay your head on my lap.” This is pretty big for the child of mine that abhors physical touch and touch wherein he can’t escape when it feels too BIG is just unheard of. Hagrid and Barbara Streisand saw an opening and both came to snuggle as well.

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The next morning my boys talked their uncles, dad and grandpa into playing some outdoor football. Though I believe the older men ended up enjoying it, I do believe my kids were beside themselves with happiness and will be thus making it an annual thing. (Right outside the door is the furthest I got-it was coldie out there!)

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My Landry Mae usually prefers her mom/dad or my parents over me but I was able to keep her on my lap with the promise of white chocolate covered pretzels. And really, who wouldn’t bribe this face!

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Of course there were presents involved here too. Man I love those little humans.

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Sunday we drove a few hours away to celebrate with my mom’s side of the family. Z and I talked on the way there about how lucky I am to have both of my grandparents. When we walked in (a little late mind you) both of them were playing cards and drinking whiskey. I think they are on to something! One of my cousins and his family from Australia were able to make it this year, as well as a cousin from Kentucky and one from Nebraska. (My grandparents with their grandkids/spouses. Only missing 1 in Kentucky, 1 in Chile and 2 in Iowa.)

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And their great grandkids! (missing 5)

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My Dawson family.

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I’ve been around long enough to know that it is a true blessing that I genuinely look forward to seeing every one of our family members. If you are one who has too many painful memories associated with the holidays or hates them because of how hard various family dynamics can be understand that I think of you often and don’t take one second of this for granted.

My favorite Christmas tune continues to be O Holy Night, the last verse consistently bringing me to tears.

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever
! His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!

I hope beyond hope you were able to find some joy this Christmas, if not then might I wish you peace for the new year?

Much love,

Tesi

Binyam is 8! (3.5 months ago)

Oy vey you guys.

Let the fact that I never blogged about Bean’s birthday be proof of the craziness of the last few months and NOT proof that he is not profoundly loved.

Because this little guy who is now 8 1/4 is just amazing.

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His birthday always falls right on or just before school starts again. August 31st is a really hard time to have a birthday when you’re one of 5 kids and school is about to start. Especially when you have a mom like me who freaks out ever so slightly about re-training the kids to go to bed at a decent time and get their 30 minutes of reading a day. (Also when was the last time you guys brushed your teeth? Do that.)

One of my favorite parts about my Bean is that he isn’t fazed by any of that. I told him that on his birthday he got to choose what we did ALL day.

He chose to consume only chocolate milk. This comes as no surprise to anyone who knows him (including the women who work in the cafeteria at our camp who bestowed him with this name tag.)

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Instead of asking for friends to come over he asked specifically that he got to hang out with his siblings all day. Bean and Dailah behave like twins quite frequently but Bean also loves wrestling with his big brothers.

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In short, the day was spent playing A LOT of video games, eating A LOT of chocolate and hanging out at home. Normally a kid turning 8 would think it was pretty lame but at the end of the night Bean exclaimed, “This day was INCREDIBLE!”

Oh man this guy. He has the patience of a saint. Genuinely, a saint. If Bean snaps it’s typically because he’s put up with hours or days of crap from someone and he just can’t take it anymore. I would say he snaps once a month on his siblings which is why he deserves sainthood-they deserve it at least daily.

His patience is also proven in how easily he gets along with my littlest nieces and nephews. My 4-year-old nephew Cassius is adorably obsessed with Bean and Bean eats it up. My niece Adley is the same way. Bean never tires of them and I think it is just too sweet.

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Maybe the most amazing thing about this little guy is his tenacity. In all things, really. Things don’t come easily to him often-walking/running/math-all a bit tricky. But that doesn’t stop him. Ever. Need a cup?

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All his siblings playing soccer? Sign him up too!

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Run down a sandy dune in the dead of summer with one foot that still won’t fully plant on the ground? Child’s play.

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Wrestle with a kid at soccer practice and endure the pain that comes with teeth being implanted into your scalp? There’s a smile for that.

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It’s hard with our Bean because he can often be so quiet. I think even those of us who love him dearly in his family underestimate him on almost every level. Physically-of course, because we can’t imagine what it’s like to have so much pain every day in our legs and continue on anyway we tend to baby him a bit-much to his chagrin. Our delight and surprise when he says something simultaneously insightful and witty proves we also underestimate his mind and his social awareness.

I genuinely have no idea what the future holds for my Beantown. I think with all of my other kids I’m at least able to say, “I would be surprised if he/she didn’t pursue x” but not Bean. Bean is a mystery because he’s so freaking happy doing anything. He is just as delighted laying down and cuddling for hours as he is wrestling with his brothers or playing on a computer. I just find that incredibly inspirational.

I love you Binyam-ay, thanks for being my little ray of sunshine. Happy birthday buddy.

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School’s out for summer!

School’s out for summer!

Today my 5 officially finished their school year. Though I was thankful Michigan went longer than Iowa when we decided to move because it gave them longer to make good friends before the summer, I was getting pretty bored at home the last week or so and was itchin’ to have all my babes at home with me during the day!

This was them on their first day of school this year. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.

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And today. Officially 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th graders.

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Truth be told I think our various graduations now celebrated (preschool, kindergarten, 5th grade, 8th grade, etc) are a little overzealous. I think we can all agree it doesn’t take much for our kids to graduate preschool and kindergarten, right? 5th grade is still a little goofy if you ask me, there just doesn’t seem to be anything special about graduating 5th grade/elementary school. That said, I do believe Trysten is special and so I was totally ok with getting to see him in his element on his last day of elementary school. 😉

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He was one of the main reasons we decided to move towards the end of the school year. I wanted to make sure he would have enough time to make some friends before heading into the twilight zone that is middle school. And man did he. The male 5th grade teacher gives out candy awards every year to the 5th graders. He picks different candies that fit the personalities of each kid. Trysten got M&M because he’s “Magnificent and majestic and he just oozes cool.” Any mom can tell you it’s so nice hearing your kid accurately described by teachers. It means the teacher has taken the time (in this case just a month!) to really get to know my kid and my kids trusts that teacher enough to show the real him. That’s a pretty big deal.

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Afterwards we had to go for ice cream to celebrate summer, for obvious reason.

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I am just incredibly proud of all 5 of them. Some have to work so, so hard day in and day out to keep pace with their peers and they do it. Of course there are tears once in awhile but those are mostly just from me. 😉

My favorite story from their new school was from a teacher. I was talking to her on one of Dailah’s field trips and she said, “You know I just have to tell you, coming here has been a really big deal for A (Dailah’s best friend). Before Dailah moved here A would get kind of picked on because she’s just quiet and sweet and never really stood up for herself. But Dailah doesn’t let that happen to her and in turn A has gained this whole new level of confidence we had never seen from her. On top of that, everyone in the school knows if they mess with one Klipsch or any friends of the Klipschs the others will be there to help out so A falls under that Klipsch umbrella too.”

I freaking love that. And I freaking love them. Off to hang with that ragamuffin gang I call my children.

The Weekend

The Weekend

This past weekend was my first weekend heading back to the Iowa-ay for a long ago planned celebration of my mom’s soon-to-be 60th birthday. Originally the plan was to bring my whole crew but Trysten had a 5th grade lock in he was really excited about Friday night so we decided it would make more sense to send me solo and have Zach stay in MI with the kiddos rather than make the long drive down on Saturday and back up on Sunday.

8+ hours in the car by myself all weekend? With Comedy Bang Bang, WTF and This American Life podcasts the whole way? It was really kind of nice! (Do you guys love any other podcasts? I dislike most mainstream music and thus rely heavily on podcasts and NPR to keep me awake during drives.)

I got to watch my niece Adley Sue play bam bam baseball Saturday morning. When we were discussing the game she told me I could call her “Suza” (which I do anyway) and to please make sure I yell really, really loudly so everyone knew it was her turn to bat. Twist my arm. I love that smart, funny little lady. I also love my new top for Mother’s Day. It’s super comfy and has the added bonus of promoting my brother’s Chiropractic business. Love!

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Saturday afternoon my mom had rented a limo for us to hit our favorite hot spots. The thing about my family is-I freaking love each one so much. I think they are hilarious and sweet and loving and fun to be around. My sister and brother married people I love equally as much. Am I wrong to believe it’s rare that families get along as well as ours and love spending time with each other as much as we do? I don’t know, either way, my prayer is my kids have the same relationship with each other as I do with my sibs/parents as they get older.

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At 6am the next day Adley Sue was waking me up asking to snuggle. Even though I was exhausted and wanted to roll over and sleep for 3 more hours, she is just too cute. And I am an absolute sucker for my nieces/nephews and requests for snuggles.

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I told Zach as much fun as I had back in Des Moines and as much as I missed seeing my family since we moved to Michigan I must say it felt really great to be home. Not just because I missed my hubs and kiddos so, so much but because I’m starting to get used to being a Michigander. Oh, also because Zach had found a paddle board and I got to cross off something on my bucket list-paddle board yoga! 😉

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Hope you had an equally amazing weekend!

And seriously-podcast recommendations, please!