Moms: Discover your identity

I've gone through a number of identity shifts in my lifetime. In elementary school, I wanted to be an NBA star (despite my obvious height deficiency and a serious lack of any basketball skills). I donned the baggy basketball gym shorts, collected every Muggsy Bogues card (short folks, unite!), watched Space Jam on Saturdays, and played knockout with the boys every recess (and lost...every recess). In high school I shifted from a punk rocker to a hippy intellectual wearing Goodwill jeans from the 70s, old wool cardigans, hair wraps, Birkenstocks, and skipped classes to read some book written by a beatnik or a transcendentalist. Soon after starting college, I married a clean-cut, slacks-clad young man just starting his career as a music teacher. I was suddenly a wife--a newly-minted 20-year-old wife still working on her college degree. Self-conscious and unsure of this new identity, I replaced the silver hoop in my nose piercing with a tiny stud and tried to be a grown up while still taking college classes and working a part-time job at the mall. I paid bills, made meals, cleaned our apartment, and studied while most of my college friends were still living in the dorms, partying. Two years into my new marriage, I scored my first grown-up job as a teacher, and I soon realized that I loved it. Comfortable with my marriage and role as a wife, my I allowed my job to become my identity.

Then...on the verge of starting my sixth year in the classroom...I became a mom, and everything I thought I knew about myself went out the window.

Suddenly I spent my days teaching and worrying about my children. My evenings were devoted to family, and my nights were spent grading. My weekends were filled with cleaning, grocery shopping, and more family time. I rarely had time for me. Sure, I'd sneak out for an occasional run, but I didn't engage in the hobbies I once loved. Teaching gave me much-needed confidence, but when I became a mother--that confidence went down the toilet.  Any free time I came across I used to read about how to be a better mom--because I didn't know what in the hell I was doing (still don't!). Gone were my hobbies, my confidence, and eventually---my job when I couldn't handle the complicated dance of being a wife, a mom, and a teacher. I discovered that a person can only devote herself to caring for others and neglecting herself for so long before reaching a breaking point when something has to give.

It's been three years since I became a mother, and I'm just now taking time to figure out who I am in this new season of life. It's hard to let go of the things I once loved and embrace new, budding passions, but I recognize the need for this reinventing, and I realize growth can come of it.

Moms--if your family has become your identity, save yourself from reaching an ugly breaking point by engaging in activities now that fill you up. Take time for you each day. If you don't know where to start--do something you once loved, or modify something you once enjoyed to fit more with your current season of life. We can't take care of our husbands and children and coworkers and parents and friends until we are in a regular routine of practicing good self-care. Put down the laundry, walk away from the toddler, pick up a bottle of your favorite beer to enjoy with dinner, and let your school-aged kid do some of the housework so you can have time for you.


Why I choose to surround myself with women

Note: This post originally appeared here on Her View from Home. If you're feeling kind--click on the link--I depend on a certain number of views to be paid for my work. And if you're feeling extra generous, share the link with your friends. There are some great posts up on HVFH, so take a minute to check a few out and give these writers some love. 
In my high school days I had a handful of close female friends, but most of my weekends were spent “chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’ all cool” (Fresh Prince of Bel Air anyone?!?) with a group of high school boys. These friendships tended to be void of drama and simpler. We could hang out in a basement and do nothing but play guitar and watch sports with the volume muted in sweatpants while eating something fried and cheap from Amigos and we enjoyed ourselves. It was glorious – when I was 16. Eventually, though, I grew tired of all the farting; I grew older, and I got married. As I near the big 3-0, I realize that my relationship priorities have changed; and to my surprise, most of my close friends are now female for these four reasons:
They encourage. I’ve noticed that, for the most part, women are encouragers especially to those they love. Whether it’s a text, an email, a handwritten card, or just in conversation–my female friends build me up. It seems selfish, but they make me feel like I matter. Their encouragement has pushed me through some of the most difficult seasons of my life.
They listen. Some of the best conversations I’ve had have been with my female friends. They don’t seem distracted by technology during face to face time. They ask questions, showing their interest in whatever I have to say. I can count on my female friends to listen without judgment. They don’t try to fix things when they’re broken, and they don’t try to fix me when I’m broken.
They relate. Naturally, over the years my life has become more than sports and music. I spend the majority of my time mothering or balancing work and mothering. While I have an introverted soul, I also realize that we must connect with others in order to survive life. As I’ve launched myself into this mom-gig, I’ve felt inadequate, exhausted, and overwhelmed. Most of the men I know may feel these things periodically, but these emotions aren’t often consuming like they are for women. I’m thankful that my female friends and I can relate because we use this common miserable bond to survive.
They motivate. The women I consider close friends are incredible teachers juggling a difficult job with parenting. They are athletes who push their bodies to new limits. They are wives who love their husbands and never speak an unkind word about them. They are writers who take my thinking to new levels. They are mothers who love their kids through all the pee, the stand-offs over broccoli, and the ridiculous tantrums. They are creatives who make beauty out of scraps. They are intelligent, well read, and critical. And they all do their thing while juggling a million other things, and even when they stumble–they pick themselves back up with an enduring grace and keep going. My female friends motivate me to be better.
My 16-year-old self would likely be mortified if she were to know that in 13 years her best friends would be women. And while my 29-year-old self still prefers sweatpants over adult pants and enjoys playing guitar and watching college football, I am thankful that my relationships have evolved because these women in my life, they are among the best friends I have ever had.


Saying no to more children...for now

We discovered the Nebraska Heart Gallery (a website featuring pictures and bios of kids available for adoption in Nebraska) while we were working on our foster parenting license three years ago. Halfway through our licensure, we inquired about a sibling strip of three, but since they were spoken for, we were informed of a little boy about to go on the Heart Gallery--this little boy would eventually become our son. After we adopted him, it was only a few weeks before I started creeping on the Heart Gallery reading bios and thinking about giving Jon a sibling. We made a few inquiries, and when nothing panned out--we decided this was a clear sign we needed to wait. But I looked at that website every day...sometimes multiple times a day, and my heart ached for these kids. Their pictures burned in my mind. Six months after we adopted Jon, because of an inquiry with the Heart Gallery, we were matched with our now daughter. It's been 15 months since she moved in and seven months since we adopted her. Just a month ago my husband and I had that conversation...the more kids conversation. We laughed, I chugged a beer, and while our kids each cried in their rooms, we quickly agreed that we had reached our limits with kids.

......then I looked at the Heart Gallery's website last week......and I saw two little boys with whom my son went to daycare and a handful of kids whose bios have been up on the website for three years. Then I wasn't quite sure if I wanted to be done adopting kids....

My heart aches for these kids who haven't been able to find homes. Every kid deserves a home, and I desperately want to give all of these kids a forever family--to allow them this experience. But the truth is....my husband and I are tired EXHAUSTED. And we are already stretched to our limits emotionally and physically. We could not fit more therapy appointments in our schedule unless I quit working altogether. And it turns out that I enjoy the break of working--even part-time. I could not do the difficult full-time stay at home mom gig that adopting another child would require.

But you guys....these kids who are waiting...I keep thinking about Jeffrey--whose sister has already been adopted---who went to daycare with my son. I think about Dom, Naomi, and Chire--a sibling strip of three who we prayed about for a year asking God for direction about pursuing these three who are now eligible to be adopted individually--whose pictures show how they've grown up while waiting for their forever family.

I don't cry when I box up my kids' tiny clothes like some moms who know they are done with kids. But I do get misty knowing that I cannot offer Jeffrey, Dom, Naomi, or Chire a forever home right now. In five years or even in ten years we may be in a different place and be able to welcome more kids, but for now we just can't. However-----if you've ever considered more kids or adoption, would you check out the Nebraska Heart Gallery? Would you consider saying yes to these kids? Adopting older kids is incredibly difficult, but.....these kids have often experienced more difficult things. If you want to chat about adopting older children, I'd be happy to talk with you; just hit me up on email or Facebook or leave me a comment below!


My son, show and tell, and adoption

This is my son’s teddy bear; he got it from my parents on his adoption day. The bear’s sweatshirt has Jon’s adoption date printed on one of the sleeves. It is, by far, my son’s favorite stuffed animal--one he sleeps with each night. Today for show and tell, he chose to bring this bear.

Initially I thought it was a sweet thing to choose, but after Jon had tucked it safely away in his backpack last night before bed, I started to worry about his show and tell choice. I wondered if I should’ve steered him towards his new spy kit or his Ford F-250 pickup and trailer...I feared that the kids in his class would make fun of him for bringing a stuffed animal….and for being adopted. I pictured him standing in front of his class, proudly showing off his bear pointing out his adoption date, March 6, 2014, now partially rubbed off from so much use. I imagined the boys in his class snickering at the bear making comments about how it’s a baby toy. I heard the questions some girls might ask---Why are you adopted? Did your parents not want you? And then I pictured him screaming at the class--a reaction he has when he’s frustrated--before he runs out of the room crying, giving the more malicious kids in his class fuel.

You see, Jon has not been one to want to talk about being adopted. He had some project in Kindergarten that required him to draw or write about something that made him unique. I suggested he share that he was adopted, that his mommy and daddy picked him to love forever. Instead of embracing the idea, he peered up at me, a grave expression on his face and said, “I don’t want to talk about being adopted.” Of course, I couldn’t let it go. I pried and asked why, and quietly he mumbled, “because my friends will probably make fun of me.” 

Even at age five he felt this difference, and it wasn’t a special feeling, it was a difference rooted in fear...and maybe even shame. It broke my heart. I thought it would take a few years for him to feel this fear and shame, to realize the difference between him and most of his classmates. I acknowledged his fear, reminded him that we loved him more than he could even imagine, and then I didn’t really bring it up after that. Of course, in our house we talk about how we picked both Jon and Ky to be our kids. We remind them that lots of parents don’t pick their kids, and we try to explain why it’s so special to be picked. We relate it to God picking us to be his children. We try to surround them with other kids who are adopted so they don’t feel so alone. We seek out classes for them to help them explain adoption to their friends. We make adoption a positive thing in our home. But I know that even in our modern society, many still don’t understand adoption--especially kids. No matter how beautiful adoption is, it’s rooted in loss.

During show and tell time today, I prayed that God would protect my baby from any naive or malicious comments today. I prayed that God would help Jon (and Ky) to grow to see their adoption as a source of pride. I prayed that God would give Nate and me wisdom as we continue helping our kids embrace their differences, and I prayed that God would continue to give us opportunities to educate others on adoption--especially foster to adopt.

If you have kids, I encourage you to start talking to your kids early about how each family is different. Click here for a list of 11 books to use to start talking to your kids about families (two books that aren’t on this list are: The Family Book by Todd Parr and All Kinds of Families by Mary Ann Hoberman) . Consider checking your public libraries for these or even purchase a few at your local bookstores.


Sayonara 2015

One of my favorite songs lately has been "I'm Alive" by Kasey Chambers (warning: there is some strong language toward the end of the song if you're sensitive to that kind of thing). I went to visit a friend today in a neighboring town, and on the way home I blasted songs that I could sing to--including this one one by Kasey Chambers. And as I listened and sang at the top of my lungs, I realized that this might be my anthem as I say sayonara to 2015 and am plunged headlong into 2016.

2015 brought us many moments of joy--namely, adopting our daughter. But overall, it was a rough year.

For the first time in several years, Nate and I managed to stay awake until midnight on New Years Eve. We laid side by side in bed and talked as we usually do before falling asleep. We talked about 2015 and the year ahead, and we both agreed that 2015 was the most difficult year of our nearly 10 years of marriage. "You thought this year was worse than the year we found out we were infertile?" I asked. "Uh, yes," he quickly retorted. Yup...2015 was worse than the year our hopes and dreams were shattered....that's a crappy year, folks.

On my drive home today I thought about everything that made 2015 so difficult: figuring out how to be a sudden family of four, trying to parent our kids through some intense attachment issues, stepping away from a job I loved (teaching) to have more time for a job I'm not so good at (parenting), an unexpected job change for my husband, a move to a new town, starting over in a new town without people who grew to be my support system, and realizing that I am no longer a kid (I haven't been a kid for nearly ten years....but, it just finally hit me this year!). All of this has taken a toll on me, on my husband, on our marriage, and on our family. There were moments in 2015 that brought me to my knees in tears, and moments that I'd like to eliminate forever from my memory. It was a tough year for us, but....in the interest of practicing optimism (something my cynical nature usually avoids), I'm alive. In the Kasey Chambers song I mentioned, the last verse starts with the following:

"I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive
am alive and I am well
and I got me another chance
and I got more stories to tell..."

So there you have it. 2015 sucked, but I'm alive and well. Hope you all are alive and well and have stories to tell as we move into 2016.


Gun control

If you haven't heard, President Obama delivered a speech today on gun control (see below for the link), and will deliver a State of the Union address (also focusing on gun control) on Thursday.

I am only 29 years old, but I have watched too many breaking news updates about mass shootings. The first one I can remember watching happened at Columbine High School. I was in eighth grade. Lockdown procedures became normal throughout my high school and college days. The day after the Virginia Tech shooting, I was in an English class at UNK--and one brave student asked the instructor if he would please shut and lock the door once class started (a request I wanted to make but feared making). I was teaching ninth grade English in Ogallala when the news of the shooting at Millard South High School--in my own state--broke out, and I had to calm my students' unease. I was teaching junior English in Gretna when we learned about the Sandy Hook massacre...when 20 first graders---the same age as my two babies--were killed. My students were angry and sad and whatever innocence they had left, was gone. Again and again as a teacher and a mother, I've had to talk to my children (my own and my students) about gun violence. It's too much. When I learned the news of the San Bernadino shooting, I honestly felt nothing. The lump in my throat I usually get when hearing of tragedies was not there. I listened to the news as if it were any other news update. Nine hours later, on my way home from work I realized the tragedy of this: We have become apathetic to gun violence, and apathy will perpetuate violence.

I encourage you to shake off the apathy; allow yourself to feel the pain of parents whose babies have been stolen from them at the hand of someone else holding a gun. Allow yourself to be shaken to the core. Stay critically informed and do not allow yourself to be carried away by "either-or" thinking; learn to tune out the idiots. Move beyond partisan politics. Figure out where you stand on this. Then do something. Write to your government officials--send letter after letter. Your government officials will likely not write you back (I've yet to hear from Pete Ricketts...), and your letter may not do anything--but at least you are taking some form of action.

Consider watching the President's address from today and tune in for the State of the Union on Thursday. His suggestions for ways to curb gun violence are practical, logical, and constitutional. And for the love, please don't let yourself become apathetic to this pressing issue.


What I learned from traveling with my kids

My husband and I adopted our son from foster care in March of 2014 and our daughter from foster care in July of 2015. Both of our kids have experienced significant trauma and struggle with attachment issues that are often expressed with defiance towards us and other frustrating behaviors, so when I clicked “purchase” to buy four non-refundable plane tickets to Texas over Christmas break for our first vacation as a family of four, I wondered if I had lost my mind.

After talking with the kids’ therapist, we decided not to tell our kids about the trip until we left for the airport. The night before our flight, I tossed and turned with anxiety about how they would react to the news of going on a trip (kids with histories of trauma don’t like surprises). Would they cry and throw a tantrum? Would they fake excitement and then save all their anxiety to come out in the form of tantrums/bathroom issues/food hoarding on the plane for one hundred strangers to see and judge us for the lack of control we have over our children?  Or would they save all of these issues for Texas forcing my husband and me to deal with behaviors rather than spend precious moments with my grandfather? My own anxiety robbed me of sleep.

We woke the kids at three in the morning to dress them and hurry them out to the hotel lobby so we could wait for our shuttle. We surprised them in the hotel lobby and video taped their reactions--our son, the introvert, gasped at the news and covered his mouth--his wide eyes darted back and forth between my husband and me as if he was trying to figure out what this all meant. Our daughter, the extrovert, shouted, “FOR THE FIRST TIME I GET TO FLY ON AN AIRPLANE!” We explained where we’d be traveling to, how many days we’d be gone, that we’d make a stop at South Padre Island to swim in the ocean, and that we’d have a layover in Minneapolis--a city our son has wanted to visit ever since a classmate of his moved there last summer. I waited on my tiptoes in the hotel lobby for the tantrums….but there were none. There were none on the shuttle, none at the airport, none on the plane, and none for the first two days of vacation. My husband and I were deliberate at filling our days with equal amounts of fun activities in Texas and free-time for them to play and rest back at my grandpa’s house. We tended to a few meltdowns and defiance on our last day of the trip, but none of these behaviors were severe.
Our kids...running into the Gulf of Mexico

As I scan through all the photos from our trip and see the pure excitement on our kids’ faces, I’m realizing just how important this trip was for our little family. I think this vacation told our kids that they can trust us to provide for them above and beyond their basic needs. I think the trip affirmed for our kids (especially our daughter who we recently adopted) that their place in our family is firm. For my husband and me, the trip taught us that our kids can handle certain amounts of stress as long as we are deliberate about balancing them with predictable routines.