Don’t call us, we’ll call you

April 21, 2016

Project Kiva

Filed under: Uncategorized — llcall @ 2:58 am

Back in September, I mentioned that I was reading a fascinating book, The International Bank of Bob, about one man’s experience with micro-lending across the globe via Kiva. While I don’t have the kind of money Bob had, it just so happened that my thoughtful sister-in-law, Robin-Elise, had gifted me a $25 Kiva card — just enough to start my own international bank. It didn’t take long for Addison to take an interest in what I was doing and the teaching moments ensued.

A few months back a work colleague and co-founder of a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching children how to serve asked if I would write a guest post about our experience. In February, I finally obliged with this guest post.

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Addison just won $50 in a photography contest, so another Kiva loan may be in our immediate future. May the prettiest dresses win! (And they will if Addison has anything to say about it.)

April 4, 2016

Twelve years in the making . . .

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , — llcall @ 5:06 am

Although Neal, Addison, and I all have a “one-word theme” this year in the form of a character trait we’re trying to work on, I’ve also been gravitating toward monthly goals again since I took up the February writing challenge.

Back in my git ‘er done year of 2011, I intended to finish Rach and Todd’s “wedding” quilt. “Wedding” is now firmly in quotes because while I started it in 2004 as a wedding gift, a fairly large mishap (warning: piece quilting while hopping mad can be hazardous to your quilt — I thought I could make rage quilting a thing, but alas) made it impossible to complete in its original form. I had to improvise to turn it into anything resembling my vision, and thus it became a baby quilt for their firstborn. And then, second-born. And so on.

Well, their fifth-born came along in February and by happy coincidence, I was heading their way for my brother-in-law’s wedding. I determined to finally GIT ‘ER DONE. For real. I’m actually ridiculously impressed with myself about this one — disproportionately so, considering it took me 12 years and 5 kids to get there. BUT I was leaving on March 21 and pulled everything out on the 16th with the resolve to bust it out. I truly enjoy piecing the top of a quilt. I tolerate the layering and quilting it all together. But I despise binding them. (I’m sure it’s because I haven’t practiced enough to get proficient at that part and the perfectionist in me gets very frustrated about that.) But I finally did it! Woot woot!

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Triple Irish Chain pattern

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The inspiration fabric

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I’m not sure if I don’t do the quilt justice or if it doesn’t do me justice, but what an ordeal trying to get a decent picture! (The more Neal tells me to stop making weird faces, the more they flow from within.)

It’s not as perfect as I wanted it to be but it’s done . . . and just in the nick of time, since I finished hand-binding it in the car on the way to Rach’s house the day before we drove home. I hope this sweet little guy makes all kinds of messes on it:)

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I didn’t do Baby J justice at all

March 8, 2016

February: Wrote!

Filed under: Adoption, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 4:50 am

While I didn’t manage the 30 minutes every day that I wrote in my writing challenge “contract,” as of tonight, I have written for exactly 870 minutes over the last month. Five blog posts published here. One guest post written for another blog, which I’ll share when it goes live. One additional guest post labored over for altogether too much time and still an absolute hot mess. Not too shabby.

I feel that I’m still far from my ultimate goal, which is to get back to the feeling of writing flowing more effortlessly out of me, instead of pushing so hard to put words to complicated thoughts and feelings. It still feels “different.” (But perhaps I’m romanticizing the past, considering I had 254 post drafts when I checked back in here.) I think it feels harder to self-reveal than it has at other times in my life. Perhaps that’s just the wisdom of getting older? But if it is, I would rather stay foolish and push back.

One thing I learned for certain (which I kind of already suspected) is that 30 minutes per day  doesn’t work for me all that well. More often, I wrote for 1.5 hours on one day and then none for a day or two after (although on the days I really couldn’t get in any sort of groove, it was nice to feel like I could just stop after 30 minutes). Going forward, my goal is to write for 1.5 hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays. I need to keep tying it to another activity that always happens, so I decided to make it Addison’s bedtime at 7:15.

During the writing sessions when nothing was coming to me, I combed through all 254 of my post drafts trying to see which ones were worth revisiting and deleting the others. I only deleted 14; no doubt incontrovertible proof that I value my own thoughts and opinions far too highly! I also tried to make a list of all the “series” that I’ve started and still have hanging around:

  • One-word Themes: 2012’s Stronger recap, 2016’s new theme (yes, I picked one again this year for the first time since 2013)
  • Mommy Update (35 and 36 years)
  • Dearest Addison (unfinished birthday letters from her 3rd and 5th birthdays)
  • Mental Illness (which was intended to be a single post, not a series, but I’ve started over about 6 times, so now it’s a series, apparently)
  • A Spiritual History (overlapping with mental illness, obviously, which is probably one reason both have been so hard to progress)
  • A Dating History
  • A Study of Grief (prelude and follow-up to this post)
  • Therapy Week (a look back at ALL the therapy, including Marriage counseling: 8 Lessons)
  • Happiness Project Wednesday (apparently 3 or 4 of these never made it to publish back in the day)
  • Thesis Thursday (I have about 6 or 7 of these that I never posted while I was laboring through that project)
  • My Life in Lists (a random personal history based on lists)
  • (Play)Lists: My Musical History
  • Historical Jesus Studies (ever since I wrote this post, I’ve been on a bit of a journey about Jesus and I’ve read books and listened to lectures by some of the most famous historical Jesus scholars)
  • Forgiveness and Restorative Justice (started here)

Sometimes it was quite a kick reading through my old drafts. For example, I found a post with nothing written except a title: “All messed up. Awesomely dramatic, and probably fitting perfectly in at least 50% of these series!

Over the years, I know I’ve felt the strongest compulsion to write on mental illness, my spiritual history, and therapy. But dang, if those aren’t the hardest ones! I’m trying to remind myself of two things:

  1. What Brene Brown says about shame: “Shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot survive empathy.” (On the whole, I’m a fairly low shame person, I think, but if/when I feel it, it’s about those three aforementioned things, and motherhood.)
  2. The process of foster/adoptive parenting pushes ALL the buttons. It will activate all the complicated feelings, so working to express them now will only help.

You can tell I’m trying to psych myself up. Care to join me?😉 Also, does anything jump out at you as worthy of finishing?

March 5, 2016

Politics and the “Aloha Spirit”

Filed under: Books, Personal, Politics — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 12:24 am

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About a year ago, I read the book Unfamiliar Fishes, a history of the colonization/Americanization of Hawaii, by a favorite of mine, Sarah Vowell. Hawaii is fascinating, yo! Such a fusion of peoples and cultures! Such a history tied to the island’s incredible natural beauty! I was especially interested to learn about their impressive educational achievements, literally becoming one of the most literate nations on earth in a span of just over 40 years by in the mid 1860s.

But what stood out to me most was a statement Vowell came across in an internet forum debating the meaning of a particular Hawaiian word. A Hawaiian named Hoopii had prefaced his comments with this:

“As I read the comments posted by each individual about this specific forum, I do so in respect to each and every single person’s beliefs. I sense the passion in each of your concerns and I hope that I do not offend in any way.”

Vowell contrasts this “Aloha Spirit” with the statement of French philosopher Denis Diderot when he was working to compile the Enlightenment era Encyclopedie:

“All things must be examined, debated, investigated without exception and without regard for anyone’s feelings.”

While I embrace examination and debate, what a different world it would be if all prefaced their debate with Hoopii’s level of respect and concern for others’ beliefs and passions! But it’s tricky too, isn’t it? Over the past couple of weeks, I have posted several negative videos about Donald Trump on my Facebook page. I have felt truly compelled to do so if for no other reason than to let others know where I stand. I find many things about that man reprehensible, but the one that perhaps weighs on me the most is how I believe he is fanning the flames of racism (well, that and the fact that he has the strongest record of flat-out lies I’ve ever seen in the years I’ve been following the fact-checking website PolitiFact). My Facebook feed is a testament to the pluralistic society we live in with friends on absolute extremes of the political spectrum and everywhere in between. Sadly, my feed has sometimes revealed the success that Trump is having inciting racial animus, and it deeply saddens me.

And yet, still, I seek to have respect for others’ views, to look for their legitimate motives and beliefs, to still concern myself with their feelings. I challenge my students almost weekly to find common ground. I remind them that we are all human, and as such, have more in common than what differentiates us. But I’m finding Trump support to be one of the wider chasms I’ve encountered. I’m still trying to understand (this article was excellently thought-provoking on that point, though I’m not sure Trump fans themselves would agree) and I believe that I am capable of not allowing a stark political or philosophical difference to undercut a friendship, but I can’t say that I’ve always been concerned about whether I’ve “offended in any way.”

I still have work to do to internalize a Hoopii attitude. But is it always desirable? Are there limits to his civil and forbearing attitude? Thank goodness I’m losing sleep over this whole Trump phenomenon so I have more time to ponder that! Any thoughts for me?

 

March 2, 2016

Dinner at the zoo

Filed under: Family, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , — llcall @ 6:31 am

This is what dinner looks like now.

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I went to work one day last year leaving behind the stereotypical dinner set-up: table, chairs, you know the drill. I never gave it much thought, but the chairs were well-proportioned, allowing my feet to touch the ground, keeping my knees in a pleasant, neutral position. The backs offered just the right reclining angle for digestion. But most importantly, the chairs were evenly spaced around the table, well-appointed for comfortable conversation for our family of three while still preserving personal space.

When I came home from work that day, our table and chairs were gone. When I casually asked, “So, where did the table go?” I got a feigned, “What table?” from Neal while Addison giggled in the background. The table and chairs I took for granted the day before had been banished to the garage because “it was too cluttered” and in their place were three tall stools squeezed together under our retro yellow tiled bar. Because who needs personal space while you’re trying to chew your food?

Certainly not our girl, who thinks her stool is in fact a very small stage on which she is intended to reenact life at the zoo on a daily basis.

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Some days she’s a giraffe and my hair strands are the leafy nourishment that her prehensile tongue is made for, while I chomp on actual greens and try to coax her to do the same.

Other days she’s more carnivorous and nothing but a bite on my ear will satiate her hunger. In those moments, I miss the days of being arms-distance away, buffered by an oak table. But at least I can count on this ferocious warning first.

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This week we watched The Sound of Music and nothing would do but to sing, “Climb every Lindsay! Climb high and low!” at the top of her lungs while trying to perch on my head. Until she crumbled back down in a fit of glee.

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She cracks herself up, throwing her head back with utter abandon.

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Sometimes, though, the circus-zoo-asylum closes early and she turns contemplative. She wonders.

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So, how did God get created? How did that even work?

What is Heavenly Mother’s name?

Do you think we’re like God’s robots or something? Like God just thinks in his head what to do and then we do it? Like, beep boop, beep boop, she says, accompanied by sweet Mr. Roboto moves.

Do you think it was just the leaders in part of the South that wanted to keep slaves, and the other people wanted to let them go, but they couldn’t because the leaders didn’t want them to?, after a troubling lesson on the Civil War.

I’m more at ease with questions on the unknowable than I am with this more common view:

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At least every other day, Addison or I or both end up in a tirade about how much we hate the stools. The roots of our problems are, of course, opposite. I rant because the cramped proximity of the stools makes it more difficult to eat in stillness; self-preservation requires that I fend off predatory attacks with one hand while trying to balance my fork in the other. She rants about the stools’ dangers when she’s come crashing down on the floor after trying to once again scale one of the stools as if she were a caged monkey at the zoo.

Some days I feel like crawling out of my own skin just to get through a few bites without a finger entering my ear or a little tongue licking my cheek before I even know what’s hit me. But then, I look over to command one last time and the eyes of my little baby girl are staring back. And I’m transported. For a moment, she’s 10 days old again and we’re gazing intently into each other’s blue eyes. For a moment, she’s not a perpetual motion machine, but my baby again.

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How could I ever give up on a set of stools that make dinner look like that?

February 28, 2016

A foster-adopt update

The last couple weeks of writing I’ve been trying to tackle those two guest posts that I’ve promised for other blogs. I am daily feeling how much “writer’s block” I still have. I think writing 30 minutes per day is the best way to get back on track. But it’s also occurred to me that maybe for a few days or weeks, I should just write whatever comes easiest. Or in this case, what everyone keeps asking about!

Back in May 2013, I published part IV of my “new life story.” (Incidentally, that post is an important example of why I need to write, even when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard. I remember how difficult it was to put some of those thoughts into words and it took me about 8 full months to do it to my satisfaction. But oh, the strength I’ve gotten from re-reading it! It reminds me of things that feel crucial to continuing to move forward in my life.) How often do you write a short synopsis of what you’re going to do over the next three years . . . and it actually ends up being accurate?

In a few months, we plan to move a few hours away to a different county in California. Once there, we’ll restart the process of understanding the local public and private adoption resources, particularly focusing on foster-to-adopt programs. When Addison is between five and six years old, we hope to foster-to-adopt a sibling set of two kids. Maybe a five-year-old and a two-year-old. Or a six-year-old and a three-year-old. Or possibly a five-year-old and twin babies. Or . . . you get the idea. There’s an endless number of specific combinations, but we’d like the older child to be around Addison’s age.

Um, nailed it! Addison is six now and we’re officially certified foster parents. Hurrah! We’re still hoping for a “sibling set” (which my friend Lindsay says sounds awkwardly like we’re buying furniture — totally not how we think of it, in case you were wondering, but it’s the lingo), with the older child being close to Addison’s age. We’re still open to various age combinations, though Neal is really really REALLY hoping that we still get to sleep (AKA not an infant).

In the intervening almost-three years, we feel like we’ve done our homework. We went to orientations with both our county and explored some private agencies before we settled on one. We’ve attended a foster-adopt support group off and on for about a year and a half. We’ve read more books (obviously) and loads of regulations and manuals. And then there were the official trainings: PRIDE, CPR, first aid, and water safety.

Of course all of that was easy compared to getting the house ready! Some foster families struggle with the little nitpicky things, like locking up all knives, household cleaners, scissors, and medications. But us? They had to gently recommend that we get ACTUAL BEDS. (Apparently, nobody can be sleeping on little foam pads in the closet. Who knew?) Neal used his massive collection of power tools — did I ever mention he won the Ryobi contest? THANK YOU! — to build us a new bed frame, locking medicine cabinet, and more garage storage. A sweet sister from our ward gifted us a nice cozy mattress for the kids’ room. I dejunked like crazy thanks to a Minimalism game my sister-in-law Robin-Elise started on Facebook. I jettisoned almost 2000 items in November and December, even spending New Year’s Eve cleaning just so I could finish (because: goals).

Our final inspection was on January 5 and the house never looked better. (And surely, never will with a couple more kids in the mix!) We passed with just one minor recommendation: to change the location of the carbon monoxide detector.

So now we wait for a phone call. And try to keep the house from seriously degrading in the meantime. And continue to help Addison understand the actual import of what will happen next — not just her idealized version of big sisterhood. One of those recent such conversations ended like this, “Well, I didn’t really think about the sharing so much. Maybe I just want it to stay you and me and dad forever.” Heaven help us!

February 22, 2016

The Sweet Spot

Filed under: Books, Personal — Tags: , , , , , — llcall @ 10:48 pm

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“Another self-help book?” That’s what Neal said when he saw me reading this one Victoria recently recommended.

Always, is my response. I love nonfiction, in general, whether it’s about history or baseball or the recent financial crisis. But self-help books based on research into happiness and habits? Yes, please! I have to admit that after reading so many, portions begin to get repetitive. Like Gretchen Rubin, Christine Carter cites research from Daniel Gilbert and Sonja Lyubomirsky, for example, both of whom have their own excellent books I’ve read. But still, I enjoy seeing the different emphases each bring to the table. And as my life changes, I find that different pieces of advice apply that didn’t before — like setting boundaries around smartphone usage that I never had to worry about before last March.

In some ways, I struggled with The Sweet Spot because it is just SO packed with tips and suggestions. Gretchen’s Happiness Project and Happier at Home felt easier to digest because she was not so much attempting a formula or comprehensive how-to for success as sharing her story of efforts and attempts. I felt pressure to absorb what I could before I had to return The Sweet Spot to the library — as it was, I was two days overdue — and it just felt impossible. But I suppose that’s also an endorsement because I wanted to own it and mark it up.

While this is in no way a summary of suggestions from her book, I wanted to record some of the specific action items and insights I am taking away (some of these are efforts that I started before reading the book, but that I’ve tweaked based on some of her ideas):

  • Set “priority” calls. I’m very sensitive to noise (have I mentioned that a time or two or thirty?), especially when I’m trying to focus. Whenever we are all home together, you can bet my phone is probably muted simply because a ringing phone is extremely jarring for me. But ever since Addison started school, I’ve been paranoid about always having my phone on during the day. So when Carter said that during her work and writing time, she only takes calls from her kids’ school, I knew I had to get right on that. I guess they don’t call them “smart” phones for nothing! I’m still a little paranoid that my priority setting won’t work correctly and I’ll miss something essential, but if it works, this will be UH-MAZING for my life.
  • Stop multitasking. While we all multitask in some things, the biggest thing I’m working on is to keep my email closed whenever I’m not actively working on it. For much of the time, I’ve been teaching online, I’ve been in the habit of keeping my email open while grading or working in other areas of my course. I’m rededicating to keeping email separate from other tasks.
  • Have more fun. I keep coming back to this periodically . . . and I keep sucking at it. Ever since Neal’s sister Robin-Elise blessed us with Netflix, we’ve been pretty good about watching a comedy show together a couple times a week. But beyond that, I’ve created no specific escapist activities. Sometimes I’ll get sucked into watching comedy clips on YouTube or a funny animal video, but the sort of consistent “recess” Carter describes continues to elude me. (In looking back at some of my previous posts, I realized that I have even cut out some of the things I used to do for fun.) I’m trying something new this month: comedic audiobooks. I just finished both of Mindy Kaling’s books (the faux eulogy at the end of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is HILARIOUS, by the way) and now I’m on NPR’s Laughter Therapy for the Chronically Serious because the title was just too perfect not to. I’m finding dishes and food prep much more enjoyable with this addition, though at the rate I’m going, I’m going to run out of the library’s humor offerings too soon.
  • Tie activities together temporally. Actually, I can’t remember what she called this strategy, but the point is this: if I want to write for 30 minutes per day, I have to tie it to another activity that always or almost always happens. Carter’s biggest example is her workout routine, which she does right after getting up because no matter where she is, she always has to get out of bed. Last fall I tried to carve out some writing time and even though I put it on my schedule, it never happened. So this month, I’m trying out tying it to two different parts of my day: (1) right when Neal leaves to pick Addison up from school — perfect because it’s in the middle of the day when I’m usually more energetic and they’re gone for about 30 minutes exactly; not so perfect because 3 days a week this event doesn’t occur (one day we volunteer at school and the weekend). (2) Right when Addison goes to bed — good because that happens every single night (hallelujah!); not so good because I usually feel exhausted by then and it’s prime time for my evening meetings. I wish I could find one set time every day, but for now, I think I will have to live with this fluidity. (The next activity I need to tie to something else is exercise. I’ve been walking periodically since October, motivating myself by listening to my favorite Marketplace podcast only while I’m walking, but it’s still hit or miss in part because I haven’t settled on a specific time and tied it to another activity that always happens. Any suggestions on that one?)

I think the most fascinating chunk of the book for me was the part on “cultivating relationships,” even though I didn’t necessarily come away with any action items. Her first sentence of that chapter is not news: “If we look back at the past two centuries of research in sociology and psychology, the single strongest finding about our well-being is that our health, happiness, and longevity are best predicted by the breadth and depth of our positive social connections . . . .” But she shared some interesting findings about the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, the social thinking part of our brain (also called the “default system” because it’s literally our brain’s default) that I was not familiar with. We moved to the mountains for many reasons — the natural beauty, cost of living, and reduced consumer culture, chief among them — but in doing so, we also moved away from some of our closest social connections. While we’ve made new ones up here, it’s hard to replace family, and reading study after study about social ties has got me reexamining some of our biggest decisions through that lens.

So, another self-help book? Heck yeah.

February 9, 2016

February: Write!

Filed under: Personal, Social Services — Tags: , — llcall @ 4:49 am

I managed all of 8 blog posts in 2015 — and most of those were before February 3, it turns out. Not a stellar year for my blog.

Which would be okay if I had moved on to some other outlet, but what actually happened is that I got numb. I know I’ve mentioned this to so many people over the last 8 months or so that you’re all like “Numbness . . . blah, blah, blah” when I say that, but hear me out! You know I’ve had years of experience with depression. Although I feel that I’ve mostly conquered that battle, sadness is still like a warm and comforting blanket for me. But numbness, not feeling anything, or at least not strongly enough to put it into words . . . now that is scary. It feels terrifyingly dehumanizing. That’s the wrestle I’ve been engaged in since about May 20th.

I know the date because I did write a blog post about it (entitled Wasted. if you were wondering — the period is important there). Someday that post may see the light of day, but for now: something traumatic happened. A child I cared about was harmed in a terrible way by another child, a sibling I cared about. And simultaneously, I realized that all the blood, sweat, and tears I had put into supporting that family was for naught. “That family” would never be a family again.

Of course, it’s not my fault. I did what I could. But isn’t that the most terrifying part?! I did everything I could and it still didn’t make any difference when faced with intergenerational poverty and cycles of family violence and substance abuse and . . . I hate to live in a world like that, but that is the brutal reality. In the face of this wrestle, I’ve struggled to express myself even in simple ways.

But that’s all prologue now.

In January, I went to the Life Writing class I used to participate in when I lived with my parents. I hadn’t been since last March (when I wrote and shared this). A group of women were participating in a writing challenge in the month of February. I didn’t think much of it that night because, you know, I might get two foster kids in the month of February and writing will be the least of my worries. But as I mulled it over, I realized that if I’m going to break through this numbness, I need to write again.

Back in August 2010, I took an online quiz about what “creative type” I am. (I know this because I wrote a blog post draft that also never came to fruition, one of 254 in that category.) This is what it told me:

Creativity gives you insight

You feel that creativity provides insight into your own being. In fact, it is like therapy for you, enabling you to get to know yourself better. You seem to be looking for a way into the mysteries of the subconscious. It’s not really self-expression you are seeking, but rather the tools of self-expression: discovering what your creation will reveal about yourself. Art helps you reflect on, analyse and expand your personality. You long to be creative, and it’s not just because you need to deal with your emotions. It’s the tension between contradictions, and the need to resolve doubt that drives you to be creative. Painting pictures, decorating rooms, arranging shells in the sand — these are all creative processes that allow your introspection to roam. You can trace your life through the different ways you have exercised your creativity. For you, art is there to make sense of life. You are more attracted to artistic activities that demand reflection, planning and solitude, and the personal discoveries you make often provide answers for others, too.

Let’s be honest, I don’t really understand what all of that means. I’m not seeking self-expression “but rather the tools of self-expression.” Um, okay. (Someone explain that to me in the comments.) But I must say that overall, it’s a pretty good descriptor of why I wrote and why I need to write again. How will I get through this life-altering experience of foster parenting if I don’t write about it?

So, although I decided to start my own challenge on February 8th to get past some busy weeks, I’ve officially carved out 30 minutes per day to write for the next month. I’ve promised a guest post to two other blogs, but you’ll see me here a bit more too.

I’ve missed this space and YOU! (The 5 or 6 yous that tell me you still check here occasionally.)

September 16, 2015

Numbness

Filed under: Books, Personal, Social Services — Tags: , , , , , — llcall @ 7:29 pm

International Bank of Bob

I’m enthralled with a new book lately, The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time. It’s funny and engaging (there’s an ongoing bit about “poop coffee” — a real thing, by the way — that alone might get some people (Neal, ahem) interested) while remaining so terribly meaningful and sometimes heart-wrenching.

Right now Bob and I are in Bosnia in this trip around the world, and although I’m a bit familiar with the war and conflict that country saw, it’s newly eye-opening. Reading about Srebrenica, a town where Serb forces killed more than 8,000 Muslim Bosnians, has a lot more meaning to me now as a small town resident. That type of massacre would be the equivalent of murdering every single resident of all the neighboring towns in our Mountain Communities . . . in the course of 9 days. It’s still unfathomable, but it gives me a clearer perspective of what that would look like. And that’s just one of many genocidal massacres from the war.

One young woman Bob meets, Ajla, who was just 9 when the war started, described the moment that she and her brother thought their parents had been killed by a shell explosion (thankfully, they had not been): “My brother and I just looked at each other. The strange thing is, there was no emotion. We just started talking about who would do what: I can cook, you can go out and find work, we can ask my uncle for help . . . ” Bob mentions several times that Ajla seems to come back to the lack of emotions, numbness, overload, being puzzled at it even years later.

Although my experiences in my little town are in no way comparable, I think Ajla was getting at something of the same thing I was trying to express back in April about all the moments that I couldn’t feel. Since that time several traumatic events happened in our town, some of which were to children I was working with. I did cry the day I heard that particular piece of news, A LOT, but in the intervening months I’ve felt increasingly emotionally distant. I was still going through the motions of helping clients in all the same ways, but I’ve been unable (unwilling?) to access the same level of emotion for the challenges they’re facing. In a tearful discussion on my friend Kristine’s couch in June, I finally articulated it this way: It’s like I can either feel deep empathy and emotion while being confronted with people at a distance — like children starving in Africa — or I can feel little emotion while talking with a suffering child right in front of me. It’s felt like after many months of working in social services, I’m less humane and compassionate than I was before. And yet, I’ve certainly done more good for other humans.

What does that say about my strengths, weaknesses, ultimate capacity? What does it mean for my prospects as a foster mother? Just a few little things I’m ruminating on over here . . .

April 30, 2015

2014 “Holiday Letter”

Clearly, the “holiday letter” thing wasn’t happening this year, but true to form, when the flu kept me up until all hours of the night in January, I jotted down some highlights of the year. I held off sharing it, naively thinking we could take a couple of quick family snapshots to go with it. The fact that it took 4 months to get said pictures is a testament to the photo aversion in our family. But without further ado . . .

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If 2012 was a quiet year, and 2013 was quite eventful, then 2014 seemed to be somewhere in between. In March, life in our small town got a little busier when I took a second job working in the community. I am a part-time case manager, connecting low-income individuals and families with needed resources to increase stability (I’ve written about a couple of my meaningful moments here and here). I love my coworkers there, so the side benefit has been getting most of my social needs met as well!

During the summer, I traveled (!): a work trip to Idaho, a family reunion in Utah for all of us, and a three-years-in-the-making family reunion in . . . wait for it . . . Hawaii! We couldn’t save enough for Neal and Addison to join me, but I fell so hard for Hawaii that I’m determined to go back with them someday! To round out the summer, I took Addison on a little mommy-daughter trip to San Francisco. If we were in any doubt that she’s still struggling with small town living, this trip kinda settled it. She was inconsolable when it was time to leave, wailing “But I LOVE San ‘Cisco! Please don’t take me away. I think I was supposed to be born to Mark and Sarah!” (my awesome life-long friend who graciously hosted us). So, apparently Addison would choose the big city over me and Neal. Duly noted.

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The fall brought some fun things like Addison’s new preschool and her first taste of soccer, but on the whole it was rough.

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I had to say goodbye to my dear friend Kaila very suddenly, followed closely by my Grandma receiving a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. I’m grateful that I was able to spend some time with my Grandma before she passed (at the end of January), but my heart has definitely been heavy for awhile. Neal was pretty amazing through the whole ordeal, supporting me so I could stay on top of my work and making sure Addison sailed through my emotional roller-coaster.

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Thankfully, December ended on a happier note when I received a promotion at my online teaching job (moving into a more managerial position in addition to my teaching) and the purchase of our house finally went through! We spent our first Christmas just the three of us in our own home, and it was beyond wonderful to just relax and stoke a fire all day.

Our big task of 2015 is to finally become foster/adoptive parents, something we’ve been slowly working on for the past couple of years. We spent a lot of last year priming and preparing Addison for what lies ahead. She was a bit confused at first, often asking us, “So . . . when will I become a foster child?” We think she gets it now, however, as she’s taken to coming in for a hug with “I love you, guys. You’ll always be my biological parents.” Our undying extrovert can’t wait to get some foster siblings, as evidenced by her rushing into the agency director’s office at our first meeting and demanding, “When will my foster kids come?!”

We’ve got a ways to go before then, especially in the home improvement department. It’s going to be no small feat to get our 962 square feet ready for a family of 5. When the foster home inspector first visited, he asked, quite nonchalantly, “So, are you planning on keeping all these boxes around?” More storage needed; duly noted. Neal, always a creator at heart, got to work on space-saving ideas, beginning with this fantastic children’s book display:

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Have I mentioned you should vote for his entry (you can vote more than once) in this Ryobi Power Tools contest? (Oh, I have?😉 ) Pop over before April 30 at midnight (EST) to help make his custom-furniture-building dreams come true!

I’m pretty sure 2015 is going to be a wild ride (but a calm one, Neal, a calm one)! We’ll probably continue to blog about it sporadically here and at Raised by my daughter. With any luck, we’ll add two more personalities to this family before the next “holiday letter”!

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 T-shirts courtesy of our crafty sister-in-law Marisha

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