Protecting My Marriage

My favorite wedding pic...
I've been thinking a lot lately about marriage. We've been married for about eight and a half years, and in this time we've watched quite a few of our friends' and acquaintances marriages crumble. Each time we hear of another couple we know separating or divorced, I just get so sad. There's no other way to describe it.

It's no lie: Marriage is hard. The first three years of our marriage were rough as we struggled to figure out how to be grown ups (we were both young) and how to be married. I was in my third year of college and Nate in his first year of teaching, so we had no money; we were insecure ourselves and insecure in our relationship with each other. Quite honestly, I think I expected my marriage to fail, so when times got tough, divorce seemed like a solution. It was always a passing thought, but there was one argument in the parking lot of the Columbus Hy-Vee--I don't remember what the issue was, but I mentioned divorce out loud to Nate through sobs. I didn't ask for a divorce or anything, but I said something like, "Maybe we can't fix this..." but we did. We dug our heels in the metaphorical ground, and screamed and cried it out. And in the car that night, we decided that divorce was not an option for us. Some will argue with me, label me as idealistic, and throw out "what if" scenarios. Our marriage has never been perfect. We've hurt each other (sometimes deliberately), we've been tempted, we've been unkind, we've been torn apart by grief, and we've been confused, but I simply refuse to give up on my marriage. I've thought a lot about why our marriage hasn't ended in divorce. I keep coming back to these qualities:

1. We realize our need for a Savior, so we share a foundation in Christ that drives our decisions and sometimes, our actions (we both could use some improvement in this area!).
2. We have fun together. One of the things I love about my husband is his sense of humor and fun-loving personality. We don't do a great job of going or getting out, but we laugh a lot. Even if we're just doing mundane housework at home or watching a stupid YouTube video, we manage to find ways to laugh by being sarcastic.
3. We talk. Too many couples don't find time to talk honestly, and we struggle with this at certain points each year. When our communication decreases, the tension increases, so we try to touch base with each other. We talk after school, as we're getting dinner ready, after we put the kids to bed, and as we fall asleep. These chats aren't always sit down, face to face talks that last a long time. Sometimes they're phone convos, sometimes they're short. We make do with the time we have. It's not always convenient or comfortable, but we realize it must be done.
4. We try to be honest. This is the most difficult for me, I think. I'm not a pathological liar who likes to keep secrets from her husband, but because I'm a thinker and a dweller, I will run things over in my head for weeks wondering if what I have to say will upset or hurt Nate. I'll come up with five different ways to talk to him about whatever it is I need to say instead of just saying it, so before I can even get it out, I've exhausted myself. Then when I do finally say something to Nate, I'm often at the end of my rope. I'm learning to be honest and open right away with Nate (he's a forward person, so he doesn't struggle with this quality very much!).

Nate is a swell dude.  He prays for me when he's not praying with me, he makes me laugh, he's supported me 100% in every decision I've made, and he does dishes. But even being married to a great guy takes work to make it right because sometimes, our spouses can be downright annoying (like right now, he's snoring loud enough for the neighbors to hear and farting). Our marriage is far from perfect, but we will continue to work to protect our marriage.


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Reflections from a tired momma

K's arrival to our home seemed rushed and a bit unplanned. It was a delicate situation for various reasons, and K didn't find out she was moving in with us until the week she moved in. Nobody really explained to her what was going to happen and why it was happening. So, we had lots of explaining to do when she moved in. We noticed that she was not very expressive--she didn't say how she felt about the situation, she didn't ask questions, she didn't ask about her foster or biological family. She would just get kind of a blank stare whenever we talked about it. Towards the end of week two she told us, "I like y'alls house. I get to play in the living room and y'all cook good." It was her first display of expression--I wanted to hug her, but I didn't want to freak her out because she hadn't been affectionate with us (though she would try to touch strangers' hair or jewelry and give them hugs...).

It's been a little over five weeks since she moved in, and she's opening up more and more over time.  She's expressed a fear of being adopted--mainly because she's afraid of the judge. She told us a few weeks ago that this is the first time she's ever had her own bed. She's asked questions about her birth mom and foster mom and has accepted the truth very well. She has taken to Nate a lot quicker than me--she's never met her birth father before, so Nate is the first male to be in her life. She calls him dad sporadically and she tells him she loves him at night. But it hasn't been so easy for her to make the transfer that I will be her mom. She calls me mom 5:10 times, and she's only returned my "I love you" with an "I love you too" once...and it was mumbled and uncomfortable. If I'm being honest, this is really difficult for me. I understand that it will take her a while to trust me because the "moms" in her life have not been trustworthy. I understand that she has been hurt by these women, but it's a hard pill to swallow. 

****

For the past few days J-man's been talking an awful lot about police officers, asking questions like, Why do police officers ask people to put their hands up? What happens if someone doesn't put his hands up? Why do police officers point guns at people? Tonight the questions continued in various forms. I know J's bio parents have a history with law enforcement, and he's seen his fair share of violence. When he first moved in, he told us lots of stories involving violence, arrests, and his birth parents. I've learned with J and other foster kids to let them talk and ask questions, answer honestly, and then use it as a moment to ask my own questions. So tonight I asked if he had ever seen his birth dad be arrested. I knew the answer to my question, but I wanted to give him an opportunity to talk about it if he wanted to. 

"Yeah," he said hurriedly. "And, and [he stutters when he gets excited] the cops were pointing a gun at the house like this" he blurted as he kneeled on his chair and mimicked holding a shot gun or a rifle. "I don't know why they were pointing the gun at the house," he said curiously. 

"Well, did your birth dad have a gun?" I asked. 

He said that he didn't have one, so I explained that sometimes when police officers are called to a house, they don't know what's going on inside, so they have to be ready to protect themselves and the people around them just in case the people inside are doing something really bad that could put others in danger. J explained that the cops took his birth dad to jail. 

"Is that when you went to Aunt C's [his foster mom before us]?" 

"Yeah," he said in between bites of rice, "but I didn't get to go with the police. I asked them if I could, but I went with two guys instead." And as quickly as our conversation started, it ended as he changed topics like five year olds are known to do. J has been with us for over a year, but tonight reminded me that his trauma is deep. 

As I reflect on all of this tonight, I am pissed that parents could neglect their children. My heart aches when I think about all my babies have seen and been through. If I could transfer all of that to me so they could be trauma free, I would. I feel inadequate to help them through all of this in a loving and patient way, and I feel tired. The tantrums, the out of control, over the top behaviors  (while all justifiable considering what they've experienced), constant redirection, etc. etc. have just worn me down and left me feeling...well, tired, I guess. My whole body feels it. My arms and back ache, I'm not motivated to run or cook, and all I want to do is eat cereal. When I talk to some people about this, they kind of brush it off and say things like, "Yeah, parenting is hard." I recognize that...I do...but what bothers me about statements like this is that I don't think people (unless they've been foster parents themselves) really understand how hard it is to be in our shoes. I don't want a pat on the back or an award, but what I do want is acknowledgment that our situation is different and complex and difficult. I guess I want my feelings to be validated--which sounds lame now that I've just typed it. I know this stress is worth it--but parenting two children with backgrounds like ours is just tough...and tiring. 

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Do I hear five dollars? Five dollars?

Author’s Note: It’s been a while since I posted any of my personal writing that goes beyond thought spewing or a chronicle of life’s happenings, so I took time today to work on a poem to get it ready enough to be posted on my blog. This is the second draft of a poem I wrote after my grandma’s auction last month. It’s not perfect yet; it needs at least one more round of revision. I didn’t think her auction would be difficult, but, apart from the funeral, this day turned out to be the hardest part of saying good-bye to my grandma.

Do I hear five dollars? Five dollars?
Unfamiliar with the narrative behind each item
the auctioneer held out each thing or box up for grabs
and simply spit out descriptions and dollar amounts to start the bidding

Lining one room in the exhibit hall at Ag Park in Columbus were
rows of banquet tables, 35 total tables separated into sections--
knick-knacks, kitchen items, antiques, toys, electronics, books, glassware
each table piled high with Corningware, brass figurines, china,
stuffed animals, pots and pans, VHS movies, toys, baskets, afghans, and other trinkets
One smaller room connected to the larger exhibit hall contained furniture
Appliances and antique chests and chairs and benches and upright radios
stood like soldiers around the tables
and a 1961 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 was parked in front of it all
gleaming white, hood propped open for passersby to examine
an American flag stuck proudly in its antenna hole
and the doors open displaying the car’s maroon leather interior: flawless
Strangers and a few distant relatives and family friends filed in and rifled through boxes
turning things over to examine and then dropping the items carelessly back in boxes
making lists of what they’d bid on

I weaved in and out of the aisles thinking of the memories attached to each item
the apple peeler---
that peeled the skin from Red Delicious apples--
a luxury our parents denied but grandma gave into
the multi-colored afghans---
my cousins and I layered on the living room floor,
enough to make us feel like we were sleeping on a mattress
sleepovers at grandmas watching
The Sound of Music, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, Lion King, and others all on VHS
a cast iron skillet---
grandma used to teach Shantelle and me how to fry an egg
7 years old, pieces of shell stuck in the yolk,
the eggs scrunched into an accordion
as we made our first attempt at flipping an egg.
Corningware--
that held orange jello salad, deviled eggs, tortilla roll-ups,
cranberry jelly in the shape of a can, and instant mashed potatoes at every Thanksgiving.
A clear coffee mug--
the only mug I ever saw grandma drink from,
coffee, hot water, or a little boxed wine.
I moved to sit on the side with my kids resting next to me,
coloring quietly in their notebooks unaware of the significance of this day
and I watched the items disappear from the tables and into the hands of strangers
the remnant of my grandmother fading
and suddenly I found myself desperate and frantic to hold something of grandma’s
My legs wobbly, my hands shaking, I hurried to the row of kitchen items
Where’s grandma’s clear coffee mugs? I asked a cousin, my voice breaking
She reached into a nearby box and withdrew the only clear coffee mug left

Do I hear five dollars? Five dollars?
Unfamiliar with the narrative behind each item
the auctioneer held out each thing or box up for grabs
and simply spit out descriptions and dollar amounts to start the bidding
and strangers and a few familiar faces held up numbered slips of papers
and carried away the apple peeler, afghans, skillets, and Corningware
back to their homes where the items would take on new narratives
but the clear coffee mug rested safely in my bag

After the auction ended, and the stuff in new homes,
I slowly sipped my coffee from the clear coffee mug
watching my kids play the night away
Mom, that’s a weird mug, my son quipped as he pumped his legs on the swing
My voice steady, I replied It’s from Great Grandma Kush
and satisfied with that answer, he went back to his swing
another sun setting
another day gone.


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Hey! I have two kids

It hit me tonight that I have two children. It's a little late for the revelation, I realize. But I guess I've been so overwhelmed with scheduling doctors appointments and therapy sessions and helping K and J adjust to school and a new family that I haven't really taken much time to think about it all. I don't really know what it was about tonight that sparked a sudden epiphany. Maybe it was because Nate was gone at a show choir competition, so I parented solo (quite the handful with two five year olds!). Or maybe because tonight might have been the first night that the kids did not fight at all...it really was quite amazing. They talked about school in the car on the way to violin, they laughed through dinner, they wrestled and giggled underneath the kitchen table, and K helped J cut his hair tonight while I stepped out of the room for literally 30 seconds. I've always wanted two kids and for so long, this dream felt out of reach. All of the struggles with infertility and our failed adoption have been worth it though I never thought they would.


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Seeking wisdom

"The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty" (Proverbs 27:12). 

I'm reading a book right now called The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands because my curriculum specialist at work send me a message one day stating she heard about the book and that it's one she wants to read and thought I'd want to as well (you'll see the irony in this later). She's a pretty stellar person, so I took her word for it and just ordered the book. Plus...I have been feeling overwhelmed for the last year--but especially so the last three months; I figured a little outside perspective with making smart choices wouldn't hurt. The book is written with a Christian perspective and is grounded in scripture, which I appreciate. The writing is a bit cheesy at times, but the woman's (Lysa Terkeurst) insight is practical, wise, and backed up with truth. It's left me thinking and praying a lot about making smart choices.

In May when I signed my teaching contract and agreed to teach a grad class through UNO and continue my stint as a co-director for the Nebraska Writing Project and signed Jon up for a weekly violin lesson for the entire year, I did not know we'd be welcoming another child to our home. Had I known that, I probably would have made different choices.

Terkeurst writes, "A woman who lives with the stress of an overwhelmed schedule will often ache with the sadness of an underwhelmed soul. An underwhelmed soul is one who knows there is more God made her to do. She longs to do that thing she wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about" (21). I rarely wake up in the middle of the night; I sleep like a rock. However, throughout my day I daydream about what it would be like to have more time to be a mom--to spend as much time on my children and family as I do on my job and on other peoples' kids. I enjoy being a teacher and find fulfillment in it, but in the past year and three months, I've just felt torn between my job as a teacher and my role as a wife and mother. Terkeurst challenges her readers to think about and plan for how we can pursue these dreams of ours that we push off because of our busy schedules.

Later in the book she brings in the verse from above, Proverbs 27:12. She quotes Andy Stanley on his description of prudent men and women; he explains that prudent people "[...] 'understand that today and tomorrow are connected. [...] They ask what I refer to as the best question ever: 'In light of my past experience, and my future hopes and dreams, what's the wise thing to do?'" (74).

This book and my quiet time with God is making me think a lot about making a wise decision for my job. A wise decision for right now and a wise one for the future. I'm stretched to the max right now, and I'm not sure what I can give up. I'm tired of feeling guilty for working and guilty for not working. I'm tired of feeling like I should stay in teaching and remain a co-director and take advantage of every career opportunity offered me because of other peoples' expectations of me. I will be scaling back on my commitments with the Nebraska Writing Project, but I'm not sure that will be enough. It's not a huge time commitment or stressor for me, but it's the only thing I can scale back on in this moment. I've got a teaching contract until May and this grad class lasts until December 2nd. While the grad class does take me away from my family on Tuesday nights, I enjoy my time there. The biggest stressor in my life right now is my job as a teacher. It's the commitment that is the most frustrating, the most time consuming, the one I can control least, the one that gets most of my attention. Even though I'm taking 4 weeks of maternity leave, I'm still bombarded with emails and expectations of things to do while I'm supposed to be taking care of my family.

At the end of the chapter I just finished, Terkeurst advises, "What's a decision you are in the midst of making? Chase it down. If you do this, where will it most likely lead? And then what? And then? Keep going until you walk it all the way out" (74). For the past month the decision I've felt in my gut that's begging to be made is whether or not to keep teaching. Should I keep teaching throughout this year? Should I attempt to break my contract because of the recent change in my family? Should I stick it out and not go back next year? I don't want to sabotage my career, but more than that desire, I don't want to be pulled anymore from my family. I don't want them to deal with crazy, stressed me--I don't want them to get what's leftover of me at the end of a day. I've been praying about this, filtering through peoples' advice, and seeking counsel. I want to be prudent--I want to consider today and tomorrow to make a wise decision. If you're of the praying persuasion, please send up a few requests for wisdom on my behalf. And if you have prayer requests for yourself, send them my way.

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Getting Schooled in Haircare

Shopping for ethnic hair care products is a lot like traveling to another country and navigating a menu in a different language. When we first met K, her hair was neatly done with two braids snug against her head traveling to two beautiful "puffs" (think afro pig-tails). The next time she had at least 20 barrettes clanging at the ends of five sections of braids and it looked beautiful. We called Jon's former foster mom (Michele) and her sister to teach us a thing or two during K's first overnight. The two women came over with bags of products and supplies explaining each one to us, showing us how to use it on their own hair while our 7 kids (yes...7) tore around the house like wild animals. They left most of the products with us as a gift. The first time I tried two simple pig-tail puffs in K's hair, I bawled as the hair frizzed and fro'd out and pony tails snapped my fingers. After the third try and two trips to Wal-Mart for products we thought would help, I finally got the rubber bands to stay with minimal flyaways. It looked nothing like her tight piggies she came with, but I threw a headband on her head to make them stay, and it looked fine enough to be out in public. A few visits ago we took the kids swimming at a hotel. We should have just left her braids in, but we thought we needed to wash the hair right away after swimming to prevent it from drying out, so we unsnapped 20some barrettes and popped 15 rubberbands to loosen the braids in hopes they'd be easy to take out after swimming. FAIL. When we got home at 8:30 PM (their bedtime), I tried taking out each wet braid---an hour later, the braids were out and K was falling asleep in the bathtub. I washed her hair haphazardly because she was so tired, and then sent her to bed with a giant, uncombed, wet fro. BAD IDEA. The next morning her hair was a tangled mess. Again, I spent an hour struggling with pig tails that lasted no longer than an hour before I had to redo them. She cried as I combed her hair, and I cried afterwards feeling like a total, incompetent nincompoop.

In the last 48 hours I've scoured the blog Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care, watched YouTube videos, and read an entire book on how to care for and style African-American hair. I feel more prepared than last time, but still anxious about my own inabilities to make K's hair look great (and not like an uneducated White girl is doing it!). Hair is so important in her culture, and I just want to get it right so she can feel confident (she's already picking up on the differences in our skin colors--more on that later). Based on tips I've received, it's good to have a styling routine. So Saturdays will be our wash and style day...today is Saturday...gulp. As soon as I'm done writing, I'll start the long process of taking out K's cornrows to wash her hair (she's been scratching a lot) and start with a fresh style. Wish me luck.

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Our first night with K

15 months ago we were a family of two, and then Jon came along. Today we became a family of four...


After work, we picked Jon up from school and then drove to pick up K. We spent about a half hour saying good-byes to her foster family, and then ran back home to meet our foster care specialist to fill out some final paperwork while the kids played. Since K was here last, we've stocked her room with toys and books given to us from friends; it was great to hear squealing as she sifted through My Little Ponies and books. We wanted to make the night special, but it was already 6:00 by the time we were finally on our own with no case workers. So, we opted to let her pick a restaurant for dinner. Because Pizza Machine was too far of a drive, her second option was fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. KFC it was. Yup, KFC. Praying seems to be a new thing for her since meeting us; usually at dinner time, one of us prays for the food. Tonight K begged us all to pray. We went around the table thanking God, remembering our blessings, and praying for various things. She loved dinner...so did Jon. After a quick stop at Target to pick up a few more things for K, we finally came home to wind down. We talked as she got ready for bed, and she expressed her anxiety for going to a new school and a fear of mean teachers. I tried to repair one of her beautiful beaded braids (it's merely a white girl's temporary fix!). We prayed as a family before each kid went to his and her own bed. K and I read the Bible together; as I finished, she said, "Can we pray again? I just love praying." How could I resist? So we prayed again before she drifted off to sleep. It was a long day but a good day. I'm not sure she fully understands what's going on yet; she knows this is her home, but I'm not sure if she fully grasps this. She asked me tonight if I was going to be her mom, and I told her I was. She didn't respond. It will take time for her to really understand all of this.  I keep praying that her transition to our home would be a smooth one, that she would feel loved and safe and cared for, that she would know the love of God and take peace and comfort in it.

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