Don’t call us, we’ll call you

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:

Book display

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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January 7, 2014

2013 Holiday Letter

Filed under: Family, Lindsay loves Neal, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 4:38 pm

I totally did it again, guys. I wrote and sent out something that could reasonably be termed a holiday letter. Boom! Three years in a row is a world record, right?

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If 2012 was a calm(ish) year for us, 2013 was full of big changes. Chief among them was moving from bustling Orange County to a small town in the mountains north of Los Angeles. We live in the Los Padres National Forest near “the Grapevine” for those familiar with So Cal freeways and traffic reports. To say that this is a big change is probably an understatement: the population of our town is about 2,600 people, smaller than the number of fans Neal’s blog has acquired on Facebook over the last year. There’s no stoplights, though there is one very useful blinking red light. Bears, racoons, squirrels, and feral cats abound. For fun, there’s hiking. Or hiking. Or sledding when it snows. Neal has truly fallen in love — because this out of our front windows:

First snow

And despite Addison’s initial protests that she “just can’t handle it anymore because there are not so many people here,” she is beginning to love it as well.

As for me, I really love our little mountain cabin, but still need to work on getting out of the house. Between a very busy semester of teaching and taking on a new role as a supervisor over other online instructors — and the inevitable dip in my health after the demands of moving — I was pretty home-bound for the first few months in our new digs. But my goal for 2014 is to go on at least one hike! Or a walk to the post office. One of those.

Neal has made good use of the hiking trails as well as taking Addison to our nearby park and library nearly every day. When he’s not busy collecting firewood along the paths near our house, he became one of the Babble 100 — Best Bloggers of 2013. No big deal. I was pretty surprised at the award considering he’s had very little blogging time for the last half of the year, but clearly, he made what little time he did have count. Addison and I are very proud!

Addison’s even more proud of her daddy’s computer game skills. They’re fond of playing “the pirate game” together. I’ve grown accustomed to hearing exclamations like these while grading papers: “Let’s steal some trade goods! We need to go to Tortuga! We got some plunder! Why we hit a sandbar?!” Despite the piracy, she has become an increasingly loving and affectionate almost-four-year-old. She’s taken to giving us spontaneous hugs while saying, “I love you, mommy. I love you, daddy. . . . But we will not always be together because we will die.” Clearly, death continues to be a favorite topic of conversation, rivaled only by her growing love of sparkles and princesses and accessorizing. Heaven help us.

We hope 2014 is good to you and yours!

warm yer bum

The fruits of their wood-collecting efforts

Sometimes this place isn't quite stimulating enough for her...

Sometimes this place isn’t quite stimulating enough for her…

And sometimes it's freaking awesome!

And sometimes it’s freaking awesome!

And my favorite Neal comic of the year — I can’t wait till she’s actually a teenager and we can compare her anguish then and now:

The breaking heart

November 4, 2013

Mommy update: 34 years

Once upon a time, I tried to write “mommy updates” about every six months. I was interested in chronicling my evolving identity as a mother. Now I barely manage a blog post a month, so any regularity is out the window (though actually, if you count this adoption-related post from May as a “mommy update,” which it basically is, then I guess I am still hitting the six-month mark). But it’s my birthday, and what better celebration than to write about ME!

I don’t think I’ve had a lot of epiphanies about my own parenthood lately. The extroversion/introversion thing still kind of sums up my biggest struggle with parenting. Addison wants to talk 24 hours a day; I want at least 6-7 hours of silence every day. You do the math. On Wednesday, I left her in the car for about 30 seconds while I ran in for something. When I came back out she said earnestly, “You know, Mom, being alone is no fun at all.” I’m trying to sympathize, but it’s hard to understand when, clearly, being alone is like in the Top 5 best things EVER! My delightfully extroverted friend Victoria is my go-to source for a window into Addison’s psyche.

Speaking of Victoria, I could not adequately update you on the last several months of my life without her figuring into it prominently. See, she did this really crazy, wonderful thing, which was to fly me and Addison out to visit her house for a few weeks in June. And while I was there she got up with Addison (and her girls) every single morning so that I could sleep in and not get too worn out.  And THEN, if that wasn’t crazy enough, in October she flew me up to our other grad school friend Emily’s house for a week, this time without Addison. Emily was about the most gracious hostess imaginable, letting us scatter our stuff all over, eat her food, and keep her up entirely too late talking. But oh, it was grand! I love these women and their generous hearts, which translate into truly generous actions!

I don’t think I realized how much I missed adult-only conversation with girlfriends until these two trips. I have made some good friends in the years since  Addison was born, but in most instances, our interactions have been limited to times that there were also kids swirling around. Part of further understanding my own brand of introversion is recognizing that conversations with kids around, though enjoyable, usually don’t rise to the level of soul-feeding for me — partly because it’s hard to go in depth into some of the things I enjoy exploring (faith and doubt, women’s issues, identity, relationship dynamics) when you could get interrupted at any moment and partly because I am sensitive to environmental noise (which never stops when Addison’s around). (Sidenote: if you’re interested in introversion, read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Intriguing doesn’t even begin to express it!)

The topic of friendship has been on my mind a lot, actually. I felt I was a little slow to make new friends in our last location; I even started to wonder if somehow my ability to make friends had eroded over the years. I have known I was an introvert for a long time (reading Quiet actually made me realize how interconnected some of my most cherished personal traits are with my introversion), but at the same time, I have always had a number of deep friendships. And I still do, but most of those are long distance these days, and I was starting to worry that for some reason I had lost my edge in really connecting with people. Which is why the “girls’ week” I spent was such a godsend; I remembered  that I can connect with people — some previous ability had not suddenly been lost. I just need to contemplate how best to meet my social needs in light of my physical limitations, work and parenting responsibilities, and new location. I need to determine my “personal social balance” and then act to make it happen. (I’ve taken your comment to heart, Alysa.)

Speaking of the new location, for all my excitement about creating our new life in the mountains and the spiritual promptings I received that this was the right place for us to be, it hasn’t been the smoothest transition for me. About the time Addison stopped telling us that she just couldn’t take it here and settled into life in the mountains (which corresponded with her making friends in the area — shocking, right?), I started moping around the house (or rather, in bed) saying I couldn’t take it here.  The weather got chilly and with no heat in the house we were routinely going to sleep and waking up in 50 degree or lower temperatures. This triggered some Fibromyalgia flare-ups including one night of some of the most intense pain I’ve had in a couple of years. Not to mention the persistent don’t-leave-the-house-for-a-week, even-thinking-about-leaving-the-house-makes-me-want-to-cry fatigue. I am holding out hope that this is still fallout from the moving process, but I have begun to worry that the altitude and weather here are going to take a major toll on my health. Needless to say, this health situation has put a bit of a damper on achieving that personal social balance — it’s surprisingly hard to make new friends from bed. (I just need one of my preexisting friends to come live next door — come on, guys, who’s it gonna be?) On the flip side, it’s been great for my reading as I joined a Facebook-based book group and tackled Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (UH-MAZING! Read it. Like yesterday.), Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person (thought-provoking in teasing out different psychological traits), and Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane (definitely sucked me in, which is saying something for a nonfiction reader like me).

The other thing that’s put a damper on my first couple months “on the mountain” has been financial stress. After taking a leap of faith to rent this house in July (which was a bit more expensive than what I initially wanted — $875/month vs. some other places we considered in the $600 range), weeks went by and I still only had one teaching contract for Fall semester. I was sweating it until late August when I received not only a second teaching contract but a “promotion” (I put it in quotes just for you, Neal) to a supervisor over other online instructors. Yet even with that small income boost, our monthly expenses still exceed our income, not to mention all the additional one-time costs of setting up a new house (did you know you needs pots? Like to cook anything at all. Annoying, right?). I’ve felt the stress of being the sole financial provider in a huge way, and it’s manifested itself in ways that I have not typically experienced — forgetfulness, confusion, lack of focus, spontaneous crying outbursts (I know, I know, I cry all the time, but that is almost always sympathetic crying — it’s like the difference between tearing up at a Hallmark commercial and tearfully hyperventilating over a meeting being rescheduled). This level of stress and the physical manifestations of it really caught me off guard.

Luckily, things are looking up! (Thank goodness, or this would be a real downer of a birthday post.) Our heater was fixed on Thursday and I’ve been mentally weighing the relative costs of heating the house vs. moving again — needless to say, I’m typing this in a balmy 65 degrees! I’m at the tail end of a cold and hoping that with no major trips planned in November (I also went to Idaho in the last couple of months for work), my fatigue will start to let up as well. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, I have to sing Neal’s praises just a little bit because despite the fact that we worked out a pretty detailed schedule of when we would each care for Addison (8-3 Neal; 3-6 me; 6-7:30 together), I have complied with the schedule exactly 0 times in the last two and a half months . . . and he hasn’t even freaked out about the lack of routine. He’s been more sympathetic to and flexible with my inability (unwillingness, sometimes) to get out of bed than I ever would have expected, based on his total preoccupation with schedules. The mountains must agree with him. Hopefully, I’ll start to agree with them, too.

July 17, 2013

Of slumber parties and dating advice

Filed under: Family, Lindsay loves Neal, Motherhood, Neal's writing, Personal — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 9:21 pm

Last month I had a slumber party with one of my best friends. I vacationed at her house for 2 weeks so one might argue I had 13 slumber parties with her, but it was only one particular night that we stayed up obscenely late (read: 12:30 am), giggling and talking about boys and dating and first kisses. For one giddy night, we pretended that we didn’t have three toddlers that were going to wake us her up obscenely early sleeping right in the next room. We told stories of the girls we had once been, eventually getting around to how we met our husbands and created our own little girls.

It got me thinking about what advice I might give to my little girl one day when she is not so little. So here, Addison, is my almost-34-years-old, been married for 6-years-and-3-months advice. Someday, I hope we can discuss it during a late night slumber party . . .

Don’t look for a checklist. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

If you find the checklist, don’t imagine that guarantees happiness or ease. Plan to marry a work-in-progress (since everybody is), knowing that you will never know what the final version of that life will look like. Think long and hard about what this person’s version of work-in-progress looks like — ask them, too; it’s a good idea to find out if you have the same ideas about what progress means — and then ask yourself, am I willing to take this person’s progress as my own? Do I want to go on a very uncertain and possibly rocky journey with him?

Speaking of journeys, take a road trip together, possibly a very uncertain and rocky one. I would be happy to come along! Nothing puts a boyfriend through the wringer like hitting the road with potential in-laws two hours after you meet them — just ask your Dad!

But don’t just take road trips: Live near each other for a year, observing his day-to-day habits. I can’t take credit for this one; it was Grammy and Gramps’ instruction to their adolescent daughter. But now I know why, because that romantic haze — wherein your new love seems perfect even though they are, in fact, a work-in-progress — is a real thing. The “dopamine bubble,” some researchers call it. Don’t be its victim.

Observe as many couples as you can, as closely as you can, for as long as you can before you get married. I lived with four different married couples and, wow (!), it’s eye-opening to sit in the crosshairs of the occasional marital conflict.

Ask him if he’ll go to therapy with you anytime you ask. Maybe therapy won’t be your thing — there’s always the chance you’re more well-adjusted than your mom — but ask anyway because his response might be very revealing. Even if nothing could ever possibly go wrong because you are like two peas in a pod, promise each other that you’ll get help together anytime one of you feels the need. You keep your end of that promise.

Make sure you think he’s funny, even if no one else does, because humor will be the next best thing if you can’t get over to the therapist immediately.

Meet his parents. Try not to throw up two minutes later in their bathroom, but if you must, you must. See if he cleans it up after gently tucking you into the nearest bed. See if they invite you back.

Never say you can’t live without him. I know it seems like a romantic superlative, but whoever he is, you have lived without him before and you could do it again. Hopefully, you won’t have to and, hopefully, you won’t want to, but you could, always.

If at all possible, find someone who will write about you as beautifully as your father has. It’s not the only way to gauge someone’s love, but it will give you goosebumps for years to come. (In exchange for those goosebumps, you may have to work to support your starving artist. No big deal.) If he can’t write, have him read this just to test whether he can at least appreciate good writing:

When she was born, the waves of that sea crested over her one last time, and then crashed, spilling away on a fading tide, draining from her lungs and clearing from her eyes. In the residue of these waters were my wife and myself and a little girl, who looked directly at us, and screamed. As we beheld this tiny sea creature, wafting ocean spray formed drops that ran in rivulets down our cheeks, and then also spilled away.

And there we were, all of us washed up on dry land. Addison, the most recent castaway, cried out immediately in bewilderment for something to take the place of the soothing waters of her life as a fish and to quench her powerful thirst. Her mother provided much of that, and would continue to do so, for the next year of her life. But in the first moment that I stroked my daughter’s hand, she grabbed onto me, without even looking, and didn’t let go. I knew that my wife wasn’t her only safe harbor.

She placed herself completely, without a hint of reservation, in my hands. It was hard to fully grasp then, and it still is. She needed me. But I also realized during that time that she didn’t just need me as I was, but that she needed all the potential in me. I didn’t immediately feel like a different person. Rather, I felt the weight of my obligation to become the best father my daughter could wish for. Some fatherly instincts were automatic; others I’ve tried to cultivate.

Eventually she lost her automatic grasp reflex, and now any time that she holds my hand it is an act of volition. When she merely held my finger she was barely on the cusp of serious decision-making, and she never wandered far anyway; but now she can grasp my hand with hers, her sweaty little octopus hand, and every time she does, my heart swells a little. Because she is choosing me.

If he knows exactly what Dad was talking about here — you summon all the potential in him, too, and that heart swell, well, it doesn’t even begin to describe it — he may just be the right person to invite on your own work-in-progress journey.

May 15, 2013

Lindsay (and 15,000 other people) loves Neal

it's a beautiful thing

For Mother’s Day, Neal wrote this sweet little tribute to the miracle of life (and aliens — he’s always gotta work in aliens somehow) along with this comic. We were hoping it would go big on Facebook, and break his previous comic record of around 800 shares. 15,000 shares later, Facebook estimates that somewhere around one million people saw this comic. Wowsa!

But as with all things internet, there were some haters in the bunch. Some people saw it as discriminatory against moms who had c-sections, adoptive moms, stepmoms, same-sex couples, and of course, fathers. If you follow Raised by my Daughter’s Facebook page, you know that one dude in particular was freaking ticked! Multiple f-bombs were thrown! As funny as I found his comment, I won’t reproduce it here; after all, I can’t be sure no animals were harmed in the making of his comment.

Although I told Neal to just ignore it, when I went out for a few hours with Addison he crafted this measured response:

Actually, Brian, I’m a stay-at-home-dad and I’m the one who made this comic. I’m proud of what I do, and I’m proud of my wife, too. I don’t feel like someone has to be the loser when someone else gets appreciation. In my world, “all the awards” is a hyperbolic statement that demonstrates a feeling of awe and respect for moms that is so big it’s hard to even articulate. I guess I’d say that I imagine that there are INFINITE “awards” available for people who do good; it doesn’t need to be a zero-sum game where one person takes away something from someone else. So, many people can deserve an infinite portion of that infinite amount, and no one needs to be the loser in the equation. When my heart is full to the brim with love for someone else, why not express how that feels? It feels like ALL THE AWARDS.

He and Brian went on to have a more mellow conversation about giving Dads credit, too. Peace once again reigned . . . until we found another page that had shared the comic, unleashing a totally different firestorm. This was one of my favorite comments from that page:

Yeah, it’s great parenting to tell your kids they’re an alien parasite. Sounds like the typical liberal mindset. When they were getting probed, that didn’t feel like an alien experience at all.

I’m fairly politically savvy, but I’m still trying to figure out exactly how Neal’s comic represents a “typical liberal mindset.” Since Neal didn’t clue me in on his subversive agenda, maybe you can enlighten me!

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But none of that was why I got on here to proclaim my love for Neal. It was actually all about the essay I wrote a couple of weeks ago,“Dang, I look good”: Reflections on body image. It’s a touchy subject, you know, and I don’t consider myself totally adept at handling this particular touchy subject so I wanted to run it by Neal. I am beginning to see, though, that there’s no such thing as “running something by him” after World War III almost ignited over my forgiveness and restorative justice piece. Either he cares A LOT about good writing, or he’s just trying to pay me back for the past 6 years of merciless editing, but he was just shredding my work. And I was getting ticked. Not because I can’t take constructive criticism but because he seemed to be somewhat confused about my fundamental point in the essay. So is it X or Y?, he would ask. It’s both X AND Y — it’s a paradox. (You know I love me some paradoxes.) We must have cycled through that same conversation in various forms about 20 times, all the while me bemoaning dichotomous thinking and accusing him of trying to put me in a box.

Really there’s a whole essay to be written about the process of writing that essay. Neal not quite getting my fundamental point in the essay ultimately translated into confusion about a fundamental thing about me, and that just seemed maddening after being together for 8+ years. Who knew that something that I think of as foundational about me has not quite been clear to the people I’m closest to even after all these years?! But I guess now is as good a time as any to clear that up, and so I revised that essay. I revised the crap out of that essay. I rewrote whole sections. I wanted to get this right.

Is the reason all this prompted a Lindsay loves Neal post still unclear? It’s this: Even while I was rolling my eyes as he told me my parallel structure could be enhanced (Dude, I invented parallel structure.* I was writing in parallel structure before you were born! Don’t talk to me about parallel structure.) or I needed a little more explication in my stream-of-consciousness portions (Seriously? You want the narrator to retrospectively interject into my stream-of-consciousness thoughts. Do you even know what stream-of-consciousness IS?!), my heart is also bursting. Bursting, I tell you! I can’t believe I get to have a writer’s workshop in my own bedroom, with the hottest guy I’ve ever met. And he actually knows what he’s talking about (even though mostly, I’m right). Here we are discussing the trade-offs of various writer’s conundrums, and I’m annoyed as heck, but my writing is getting better, clearer. How did I get SO lucky? Later, while brushing our teeth, we laughed about how amazing it will be to have our little writer’s workshop every day once the kids grow up and leave home. As long as he never questions the Oxford comma, we’ll make it.

So even though I’m not quite done with that essay (before this week is over!), it reminded me all over again: This is the life I wanted. To be challenged about both the fundamental things about me and parallel structure. To debate the conventions of stream-of-consciousness and laugh about stick-figure comics. This is the life I wanted.

* I didn’t invent parallel structure. I wish I did, though; it’s one of my favorite things. Like in the whole world.

April 5, 2013

Getting back in the saddle . . .

Two months! I think that’s the longest silence since that first year of “blogging” when I only vaguely understood what a blog was. You can infer at least two things from this drought: (1) teaching two online classes has kept me busy and (2) I’ve been sleeping at night!

That said, this week my allergies have given me grief so I’ve been awake between 4:30 and 6:00 a.m. many days. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to blog a bit, but it turns out it’s harder to get back in the saddle than I expected. I was trying to jump into some heavy self-reflection, which used to tumble right out of me, but today it felt more like pulling teeth. I guess I’m out of practice, having had to somewhat muzzle that voice in my head in order to plow through the semester.

In an effort to ease back in to things, then, I offer instead a semi-ordered list of recent happenings.

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THIS! This, my friends, is Addison’s poop chart. FINALLY covered in stickers. All it took was a complete overhaul of her diet. How do you think your digestive system would respond to this DAILY diet, which she was on for two solid weeks before we saw any action:

  • Fiber cereal
  • 12 ounces prune juice
  • Laxative, adult dosage
  • Beans
  • No/limited dairy

Yuck, right? Her pediatrician says it’s no biggie because “she can be on a laxative every day for the rest of her life and it won’t hurt her.” But personally, I’m a little unnerved by the fact that my very small child needs that much assistance to do a basic bodily function. On the bright side, at least she’s doing that bodily function on the toilet now.

For maybe the first time ever, I actually got my taxes filed in February. It turns out that a sure-fire way to make doing taxes super easy is to earn only $3,700 in a year!

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On March 20, Neal and I officially went on the best date ever. It was a long time coming — 8 years to be exact — but the Banff Mountain Film Festival was worth the wait! We were first supposed to catch the festival way back in March of 2005, but for reasons beyond my control, I stood him up. (Also, I cried about standing him up though it wasn’t even a proper date; although I had only known him a short time, I think I already had a strong sense that any day not spent with him was a bit sad.)  We tried again in 2006, but it was hard, living in different states and all. On the day he proposed in 2007, he already had tickets but I decided vomiting would be more exciting. We tried again each year we were in Utah, but little things always seemed to come up — like giving birth to Addison, for instance. So obviously, on the drive to this showing, I was sure we would get hit by another truck. But we didn’t! And it was fantastic! If you like mountain culture and sport, Australian mates walking across Antarctica, or small dogs, this would be right up your alley!

Also in March, Neal was spotlighted on a fellow dadblogger’s site. I even got a little shout-out in which he acknowledges that he only started blogging in order to crush me. Thanks, sweetie!

Later in March, my Dad and I took Addison roller skating for the first time. I was going to include just one of these pictures, but the whole sequence was pretty indicative of how the evening went.

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My favorite moment of the whole night (probably my favorite of the year, actually) came right at the beginning. I had not told Addison that we were going for a ward party, so you can imagine her surprise when she got to the rink and started recognizing people. “There’s Hunter. There’s Fisher. There’s . . .” Turning to me, waving her arms frantically, and screaming at the top of her lungs: “ALL MY FRIENDS ARE HERE!”  It’s not very often that you totally blow your kid’s mind!

Despite my love of dental hygiene, I officially got booted from the task of brushing and flossing Addison’s teeth. Although her dental check-up went fine (aside from the fact that she has jacked-up teeth that are too big for her little mouth), Neal decided that I wasn’t dedicating enough time to Addison’s teeth. He has a unique flossing method, indeed:

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That’s a pillow under her head, in case you were wondering. Is it possible he missed his true calling in life?

Just last week we went with some friends and one of Addison’s BFFs to the Orange County Great Park. They were about to start charging money for the hot air balloon — there’s nothing like a last chance at a free ride to motivate me to get out of the house!

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Although Addison insists her favorite part was seeing a lizard, I’m pretty sure it was actually when she stole one of their OREOs and hid in the cavity of the big rock she’s standing on above. It gave me a little scare, thinking she had been abducted, but it turns out she did the abducting.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, I cooked THREE whole meals in one week. REAL meals, too. My Aunt Helen has a new product called MealRecipes that include menu plans, grocery lists, and cooking schedules. She let me test-drive a 3-day MealRecipe to see if even a delinquent like me could do it (those are my words, not hers). I am happy to say that I made 3 tasty meals, including a phenomenal stir-fry that my Mom said was the best she’d ever had and Neal wants me to make on a weekly basis (yeah right!). I didn’t even substitute any ridiculous ingredients and I only asked one really stupid question; I’m pretty sure the recipes are fool-proof!

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I heartily recommend you make your own fantastic asparagus stir-fry or Amatriciana pasta!

Phew! I was gonna say that pretty much covered February and March, but I just remembered that it skipped a few big events: Addison’s birthday (you can get the scoop on the former here), a Bakersfield visit for Ayda’s birthday, me taking multiple exercise classes (sign of the Apocalyse? maybe), Easter. But it’s better to start somewhere, right?

I picked up a second class for Spring semester (goodbye easy taxes — we’ll probably break $12,000 this year!), which means that I think my blogging time will still be limited. But I’m determined to not cut it out completely like I have been. That said, I could use a little push to get me going again. For those who are still hanging with me, which of these topics (all drafts in various stages of development) are you most interested in me finishing?

  • Forgiveness and restorative justice, part II
  • Did I get stronger in 2012? Last year’s theme recap
  • 2013’s one-word theme (yes, I have one, and I’ve been working on it)
  • “Baby” update: 3 years
  • Mommy update
  • Dearest Addison (3rd birthday letter)
  • Adoption update — New life story, part III
  • “Dang, I look good”: Reflections on self-confidence and body image
  • Marriage counseling: 8 Lessons

And Nikki, I’ll give your vote special preference since you were kind enough to bring my blogging hiatus to an end!

February 6, 2013

Forgiveness and restorative justice, part I

Once upon a time, when reading letters from incarcerated people was my job, I got a letter from a man I’ll call John Doe. John was not actually a D.C. prisoner — he was in federal prison — but he had somehow found the address of D.C. Prisoners’ Legal Services Project and decided to send us a letter. The envelope was surprisingly thick, far thicker than any other I had received there. Despite that, I was still unprepared for what I found inside: multiple pages of careful cursive explaining just exactly how he had raped and brutally beaten a relative of his. I can still remember some of the details, though, thankfully, most have faded with time. Because the organization dealt solely with civil issues related to incarceration, we explicitly instructed people not to share details of their criminal cases with us. As far as I remember, this was the one and only time while working there that anyone ever specifically told me about their crime. It was certainly the only time anyone ever told me about it in such excruciating detail.

My first response was nausea. Next came anger and disgust. The fact that alongside the horrible confession was an intense outpouring of remorse didn’t seem to make a difference. My job was to write John a cordial letter letting him know that our mission was only to serve D.C. code offenders, and wishing him luck. But I didn’t want to do that. I did not want to give the time of day to someone who had done something so horrifying and despicable. For quite a while I sat at my desk, thinking, I can’t do this. I can’t help this man. Wouldn’t sending him my best wishes be the same thing as violating his victim, his RELATIVE all over again? And if I can’t help him, then how can I help all the others, people who might be hiding these same dark secrets?

I put John’s letter aside. I had inherited an enormous stack of letters (a few hundred at least) upon starting my work at the Prisoners’ Project. It had been months since the last intern had been up-to-date with all the incoming mail, and though they specifically told me that I need not get through them all, I had immediately resolved to respond to every single letter. These were real people, after all, being assaulted in their cells at night, deprived of medical care they were constitutionally guaranteed, or just seeking an affirmation that someone, anyone cared. No one else knew of this anal-retentive vow of mine; I knew it would be easy to just slip that letter under the pile and let it become the Fall intern’s responsibility. But this was a crossroads — I knew it even then — the first of many I would face working in the justice system. And if you’re an insomniac prone to replay all your daily decisions, you can’t just walk away from a crossroads, hoping the next intern will have the courage to face it. But it was tough. I had to decide that, even with the horrific details running through my mind, John Doe was still a human being worthy of my good will and energy, and not just an animal — or worse than an animal — that had done this cruel thing to someone he should have protected. It took me a few contemplative weeks, but I finally typed him a letter.

***

Following this decision point, I was ever more certain that criminal justice was my life’s work. My initial plan was to go to law school, either to continue working as an advocate for the humane treatment of incarcerated individuals or to go into restorative justice. Restorative justice, simply put, is an approach to criminal justice that focuses on repairing the harm done by an offender, as assessed by the victims, the offender, and the community — not solely the state. I shared this quote once before about one of the things that, in my view, is critically wrong with our “justice” system, but it is so apt:

As currently practiced, incarceration not only provides offenders with an excuse for not contributing to the welfare of their families and communities, but it practically enforces their noncontribution.  Indeed, if anything, the sentencing reforms of the 1980s and 1990s have enforced radical irresponsibility and unaccountability, and it is the families and communities of offenders that are bearing the burden.

Enter restorative justice, wherein the victim, the victim’s family, the offender, the offender’s family, community representatives, and state representatives can dialogue about their perspectives and strive to come to an agreement on what kind of punishment is suitable and how restitution can be made.

Over the years I’ve read a lot of articles and watched many documentaries chronicling restorative-justice community conferences and victim-offender mediation, but this recent New York Times‘ piece by Paul Tullis is as fascinating as any. I highly recommend you read the whole piece to understand the enormity of what occurred in this particular situation, but I want to pull out a few points that are particularly salient to me.

The critical participants in the conference were these:

  • Conor McBride, who killed his girlfriend, Ann
  • Kate and Andy Grosmaire, parents of the deceased Ann, who felt called to forgive Conor and undertake the restorative-justice process
  • Julie and Michael McBride, parents of Conor
  • Sujatha Baliga, director of a restorative-justice project
  • Jack Campbell, local prosecutor

The conference began with the charges being read, after which the Grosmaires spoke. Andy, Ann’s dad, talked about how she loved kids, and acting, and wanted to open a wildlife refuge. Her mom Kate started at the beginning: how she nursed her as an infant and sought treatment for her “lazy eye” as a child so that eventually she could drive. “It’s another thing that’s lost with her death,” she said, “You worked so hard to send her off into the world — what was the purpose of that now?” As Baliga recounted, Kate “did not spare [Conor] in any way the cost of what he did. There were no kid gloves, none. It was really, really tough. Way tougher than anything a judge could say.”

Way tougher than anything a judge could say. Truth. Just one of the ways that I believe our adversarial legal system undermines accountability is that it often does not create space for victims to express how they have been injured, which can be the very thing that communicates to the offender the full weight of his/her actions. As 19-year-old Conor said, “Hearing the pain in their voices and what my actions had done really opened my eyes to what I’ve caused.” Even the skeptical prosecutor agreed that the Grosmaires comments at the conference were “as traumatic as anything I’ve ever listened to in my life.”

Following the Grosmaires, Conor had to offer a detailed account of what he did, even as Ann’s father further questioned him. Although in some cases offenders must allocute, or publicly confess their crimes, in order to accept a lesser-sentence plea bargain, this is another aspect of accepting full responsibility that can be missing from our legal system. You would think that offenders would not be anxious to walk through the details of their crime, and certainly some are not, but then I always think back to John Doe. John Doe, who wanted so much to be able to apologize to his victim, his family, anyone who would listen; who wanted so much to unburden himself by telling every. single. detail. of his crime and how he loathed himself for it, that he wrote it all out and sent it to a total stranger. It was only later that it hit me how sad it was that I was possibly the only person who knew that much about both his crime and his remorse. While not all victims would want to read that letter from their attacker, many would. We know this both because of growing interest in victim-offender mediation and victim reports that restorative justice programs increase their satisfaction with justice and reduce their post-traumatic stress symptoms. I can only hope and pray that at some point John Doe’s victim learned how much he regretted his appalling actions.

Although forgiveness and reconciliation is not the end goal of restorative justice, it is, in many cases, a byproduct. In the case of Conor McBride, the Grosmaires’ forgiveness had a profound effect: “‘With the Grosmaires’ forgiveness, I could accept the responsibility and not be condemned.'” As author Tullis explains, “Forgiveness doesn’t make him any less guilty, and it doesn’t absolve him of what he did, but in refusing to become Conor’s enemy, the Grosmaires deprived him of a certain kind of refuge — of feeling abandoned and hated — and placed the reckoning for the crime squarely in his hands.” When I worked for the Prisoners’ Project and later during my research, it became sort of cliché to have people tell me some variation of this: I’m not a saint, but I didn’t do this thing that they’ve got me locked up for. And therein lay that “certain kind of refuge,” that feeling that they were hated by society, persecuted by the police, and abandoned by their families, which for many redirected their attention and energy away from grappling with their own responsibility.

Some have accused me of not wanting offenders to get their rightful punishment because of the work I do. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In reality, I envision a system in which offenders can feel the full weight of their responsibility and answer for it, without being ultimately “condemned” such that there is no possibility or motivation for change. Because how can you feel the full weight of something without struggling to lift it? And why would you undertake that struggle at all if the law, society, and every person you meet has already convinced you that the weight of your sins is too great? I believe a more rehabilitative system would serve and protect victims, offenders, and society far better than the unforgiving and dysfunctional behemoth we have created thus far. Underlying my beliefs, of course, is the decision I made at that first crossroads: that no matter what they have done, every human being is worthy of my good will and energy.

As this is just the first part and these issues are endlessly complex, I welcome any thoughts, questions, concerns, or disagreements that will help me as I work on part II. This stuff matters to me, a lot, so if it matters to you too, speak up!

Also, I have to give a shout-out to Neal who looked at a couple of earlier drafts and nitpicked over ever. single. freaking. word. Dude’s a smart guy and a talented writer even if we almost came to blows a time or two. 

November 22, 2012

Pictures for the (Thanksgiving) Weekend: Gobble Gobble ARR!

Filed under: Family, Lindsay loves Neal, Pictures for the Weekend — Tags: , , — llcall @ 6:42 am

You guys know I’m NOT into Thanksgiving, but if anything could change my mind it would be this . . .

Who else is glad Neal decided to do THIS for a living?

Wouldn’t it be great if the Pilgrims and the Native Americans AND the Pirates sat down for that first Thanksgiving?

Addison’s love of all things pirate these last few months has certainly opened my eyes to so many interesting possibilities. Have I  mentioned that when she sings the opening song from Beauty and the Beast, it’s a bold, “Little town, it’s a pirate village!”? How much better would that movie be with some pirate talk in the mix?

So anyway, Happy Thanksgiving. If that’s your thing.

November 16, 2012

Neal’s surprise . . . shhh, don’t tell!

I love surprises! Have I mentioned that before? Although I’ve loved surprises since childhood (my mom could literally leave an unwrapped present in a drawer and tell me not to look and I would wait, and wait, and wait so that I didn’t spoil the surprise!), the older I get the more I realize that one reason I like them so much is because they bring a certain adrenaline rush with them. If I want to do something for someone, but just the thought of it feels exhausting, I start to tell myself (unconsciously) what a fun surprise it will be! They will be so surprised! It will be awesome . . . and surprising! Pretty soon I’m getting a little adrenaline kick and making something (sometimes ill-advised) happen (adrenaline is definitely a double-edged sword).

Neal and surprises? Not so much. It’s not that he hates them; it’s just that he would rather break his own arm than be thrust into a “surprise,” of almost any kind. Still, even before I dropped him at LAX this morning for a six-day trip, I was plotting, What could I do to surprise him upon his return? Because me and surprises, we’re unstoppable. He’s getting used to it, and working on not breaking his own arm.

But then I hit on it! One of the biggest and best surprises I could possibly give him! I resolved right then and there to get rid of these:

If you think I’m being hyperbolic about this being the best surprise ever, then you don’t know how obsessed Neal is with excising all of my sentimental clutter. These have been hanging out on the floor of our bedroom, under my watchful eye and Neal’s annoyed feet, ever since Addison went all shot-glass deathmatch on the rest of my collection. He’s begged and pleaded for me to let them go. He’s threatened to never move into a tiny house with me if these are still around. What can I say? Sometimes you just want to hang on to some of the last remnants of that adventurous twentysomething you used to be. The one that road-tripped all over the continental United States, hitting virtually every major city at least once, sometimes with people she only met online about 12 hours earlier (yeah, my parents weren’t crazy about that one either).

In my head, these glasses would make a perfect little tea party set for Addison. In reality, of course, she would eventually sever an artery (hers or someone else’s) as well as someday ask what green plant was “smokin'” in San Francisco and why everyone was so “cheer”ful in Boston.

So I’m taking a picture, memorializing them on ye olde blog, and cutting them loose.* Thanks for the good (non-alcoholic) times!

* I got this idea from the book Unclutter Your Life in One Week, which despite NOT uncluttering my life in one week (Neal said I needed to be more participatory) is full of good ideas for organizing life.

October 28, 2012

Luxury items: Neal

Filed under: Chronic illness, Family, Lindsay loves Neal, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 12:52 pm

It’s 3:00 am and I’ve woken up sick. There were some little inklings that I might be headed this direction, like when I laid down and couldn’t get up for a couple of hours yesterday afternoon. Or when I thought I might vomit just before I got in bed. But otherwise, I have a lot of things planned this week and had no intention of spending half the night awake and green and trying very hard not to lose everything I ate yesterday.

But while I do those things, I’ve been thinking of Neal. How lucky am I to know that tomorrow morning when Addison wakes up ready to grab another day by the horns and beat it into submission — or at least make it clap for her constantly —  I can still stay in bed and nurse this sickly body? I won’t have to explain to Neal what to do with her, what to feed her, how to dress her for church, or what to pack in the diaper bag. I learned what a luxury all that is two summers ago at a book group where more than a few women were bemoaning the fact that they could not leave their husbands alone with the kids without returning to dirty, naked children, piles of food on the floor, and kitchen cupboards left open (Neal sometimes does that one). It’s both a luxury and a choice, but today I’m focused on the luxury.

I cannot imagine a better father than Neal. He’s so mild and calm and sensitive. I’ve had to encourage him to develop a stern-parent voice (cause you’ve gotta have one of those with a kid like Addison on the loose), but I’m grateful that in the now 8 years I’ve known him I’ve heard only two harsh things escape his mouth (neither of which were directed at me or Addison). His ability to stay calm under pressure has been no small feat over the last week as Addison inexplicably forgot how to fall asleep and STAY asleep (because, really, the mere falling asleep is USELESS to us!). I don’t think I could have stayed as good-natured while Addison pitifully explained to me over and over again, “But I don’t know how to sleep” at 1:00 am.

Of course, sometimes Neal and I have our differences in terms of parenting practices. Like last week when I heard Addison banging something against her gate in protest of quiet time. It turned out to be the thermometer. The thermometer we bought just the day before to see how high her temperature had gone. When I took it away, she was inconsolable, sobbing, “But daddy gave it to me. Daddy GAVE IT TO ME,” which I knew could not possibly be true. Except that it was. He dutifully explained to her that he had made a mistake in giving a two-year-old a brand new, expensive (defined as anything over $10 in our house) thermometer to attempt to crush against walls and various other surfaces. But what I loved most was when he came back into our room and said, “Did you see how I didn’t throw you under the bus there? ‘Cause I could have.” I love that we share an underlying vision of how we want to raise our daughter and rule number 1 is don’t throw each other under the bus. Rule number 2 involves bringing Jawas into the conversation as often as possible.

From Raised by my daughter, of course

In short, I adore my Neal. The way I can depend on him, every moment of every day. The way he’s gotten a teeny-tiny bit more flexible about our schedule changing at a moment’s notice, even though he is almost certainly hard-wired against said flexibility. The way he reflects on parenting by drawing stick figures in his spare time. Life is just so much better with him by my side.

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