Happy New Year, dear readers!
The kids and I started our week break from school on December 22, so we’re still enjoying our vacation. It’s been lovely. David, Judah, and I woke up the day after Christmas with fevers and sore throats, which was disappointing, but also nice in a way, because we just rested.
During this break I’ve done a lot of sleeping in, lounging around in sweats, drinking hot tea, and watching movies with my kids. I introduced them to a childhood favorite of mine, Hook, last week, the boys are on a Star Wars kick (they’re watching all the old ones), and we also watched the first and second Nanny McPhee movies, which are so much fun.
This was my favorite December yet with our family. I noticed a huge difference in the kids last month compared with other years. I think in the past, the excitement of Christmas-time manifested itself in lots of big emotions and acting out and general holiday fatigue on my part.
But this year felt different.
I purposely planned a very low-key holiday season for us, and for the first time, we also followed our school routine right up until Christmas weekend. I realized it helped tremendously not to be part of Classical Conversations, which ends for the semester at Thanksgiving, and always seemed to result in the kids’ mentally checking out after that point–even though we have more school days to finish.
This year we stuck it out through most of December, and the structure helped to pass the time so that everyone could bear all the Christmas-gift-anticipation. And this is the second year we drove to Home Depot the first weekend in December and schlepped home a real, live Christmas tree.
After seeing David put together our artificial tree from the attic that first Christmas together, the little boys never fail to be astonished by the wonder of a real tree that smells like December, needs water, and rains pine needs across the hardwoods. I think Noah loved it more than his Christmas presents, and we had to explain to him that it’s rude to march into someone’s home and ask them whether their Christmas tree is “real or fake!”
Of course when we brought ours home from the store and screwed the trunk into its stand and pulled out the ornaments, we discovered only one strand of lights was working. Too exhausted to head back out into traffic, we decorated the entire tree with that one strand, and later in the week I picked up a few more from Target. Amie and I proceeded to take every ornament off the tree, rehang the lights, and decorate it again.
It was worth it!
A well-lit Christmas tree is a must.
I found myself enjoying my home and my kids and our lovely, live Christmas tree, and wondering what made the difference.
Having the kids a year older helps. Feeling less busy helps. Also I realized: having some space. 400 sq. ft. more space, to be exact. There was a whole big closet in which to tuck the console table and lamp, and another bathroom, and Judah and Amie weren’t tripping all over one another to make space in their shared room for Christmas presents.
Yes, our addition is a wonderful, wonderful gift.
Other Christmas gift themes this year were Star Wars, board games, Calico Critters, a kids’ cookbook, and lots and lots of Legos. I got cozy Smartwool winter socks and a kerosene lamp, which are both very hygge.
We enjoyed Christmas day with our family, then celebrated Christmas and Noah’s birthday with the boys’ birth family late in the week, and had a fun time opening more presents, putting together toys, and eating dinner and cake together.
I was still recovering from being sick, and did something I’ve never done: rather than make my child his birthday cinnamon rolls and cupcakes, I took Noah to Publix and let him pick out any box of cereal he wanted for breakfast (chocolate Lucky Charms, in case you wondered), and his own cake (chocolate with chocolate icing). It was very liberating for me, and Noah didn’t seem to feel one bit let down.
We asked him what he wanted for his birthday, and he said, “A Dark Vader costume.”
So that’s what he got!
Can you believe our youngest is five? I feel old.
I love five.
Actually, to be super honest, five is the first age I loved with all of my kids. And it just gets better from there, folks. It’s so much fun having older kids! Everyone in our home can now officially take a shower, wipe their own bottom, and buckle themselves into the van.
My work here is done.
Noah’s birthday is on New Year’s Eve, and David performed a wedding ceremony for some friends from church that night.
It was a beautiful wedding, and I got to spend the evening with friends I haven’t seen in awhile. We laughed a lot and danced until 11:00 (my friends and I, that is, not David, he’s not a dancer. Actually I’m not either, but I pretend to be at weddings), and then headed home and were asleep by midnight. That’s what 35 feels like, friends. I don’t mind it one bit.
Merry Christmas, friends!
Charleston is a two-hour drive away and some friends take their kids every year to see the Christmas decorations. Last week we decided to take a spontaneous day trip to check it out.
Here’s what constitutes a relaxing trip for me: not needing to pack. At all. No lunch. No snacks. Just a pack of wet wipes and a large bottle of water to share. Now that feels spontaneous!
We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather: it was in the low 70’s and sunny.
We had two plans on the agenda: eat lunch at Xiao Bao Biscuit, our current favorite restaurant in Charleston, and see the Christmas decorations in the Charleston Place hotel.
I know I’ve mentioned it before, but you guys, this place is amazing. I want to try everything on the menu. But the Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) is a must. We split three for the table, and added a fried rice with fish and avocado, which was delicious. Judah tolerated the spicy-ish Asian food. The other three gobbled it up!
We left our car by the restaurant, and set out for downtown. The way we prepared our kids for the amount of walking we did was to say, “We always hike as a family — either it’s a forest hike or a city hike. Today we’re doing a city hike!” We walked five miles and the kids were amazing. Hardly a complaint. Noah will be five next week, so we’re ready to start increasing our distance in 2018.
The winter train village in the Charleston Place hotel is magical. We spent a long time walking around and noticing all the details (the ski lift! The ice-skating rink!)
The quiet neighborhoods of Charleston never fail to make me happy. I love the landscaping, the window boxes, the little secret gardens tucked away behind iron gates. I truly cannot imagine being responsible for the upkeep on one of these historic homes; so I’m happy to enjoy them as a tourist.
Notice the holiday fruit arrangement above the door!
We walked through the market in the center of town and stopped at our favorite candy shop on Market Street for free pecan praline samples. We let the kids each pick a snack from the candy counter (the grown-ups might have chosen a praline too) and then walked to the pier to eat.
Yes, those are marshmallows on a stick, dipped in white chocolate and sprinkles.
I love people-watching on the pier because you encounter people from all over the world. The seagulls are pretty great too!
David and I realized during our adventure that this was the first time Gabe and Noah have seen downtown Charleston. Judah and Amie haven’t been in years and hardly remembered it. I’m so glad we waited until now to do it as a family; the kids are at a perfect age to really enjoy it.
We made it back to our car at 3:30, grabbed a cup of coffee/tea for the road, and made it home by 6:00. A perfect day!
Hi there! I’m overdue for a bookshelf post.
If my last list of book recommendations contained a lot of heavy reading material, I think this one will be more comforting.
When life feels heavy and stressful, I do one of two things:
1. Re-read the Mitford series
2. Read children’s fiction
The lovely thing about great children’s fiction is that while the language is simple, it’s also spectacular and moving. The best writers of children’s fiction know how to wrestle with real life themes in a compassionate way that doesn’t crush readers. They leave us feeling hopeful. So you’ll find a good bit of it dispersed throughout this post. Maybe you’ll even find some Christmas gift ideas! I’ll try to include a note with my favorites.
My Antonia, Willa Cather
I started this classic as a teenager, but never got around to finishing it. I tried again a few months ago and found it breath-taking. Think of it as a grown up Little House on the Prairie. Then, at a used bookshop in Charleston I found Cather’s novel O Pioneers. They’re both lovely, but if you’re going to buy just one, my favorite is My Antonia.
Saving Lucas Biggs, David Teague and Marisa de los Santos
I enjoyed this middle-grade time travel book so much. It was a captivating, creative story that I think is appropriate for 10-12 year olds.
The Almost Sisters, Joshilyn Jackson
A murder mystery set in the deep south, Jackson’s writing voice is fresh and winsome. I couldn’t put it down!
Dear Mr. Henshaw, Beverly Cleary
We’re huge Beverly Cleary fans over here; Judah, Amie and I have portions of the Ramona series committed to memory from listening to the audiobooks over and over. I requested Dear Mr. Henshaw from the library for Judah and me. We both enjoyed it, although Judah’s final pronouncement was, “It’s really sad.” Sad and hopeful too. A good book for walking around in someone else’s shoes.
Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers, Deborah Heiligman
The kids and I are studying Van Gogh’s paintings this semester, and a friend recommended this Young Adult book to me. It’s quite sad, of course, because Vincent Van Gogh’s life was terribly sad. But it brought him to life in the loveliest brush strokes. Heiligman’s prose read like a painting at times. I absolutely loved the book and will have my kids read it one day. You might want to pre-read it before giving it to your teenager due to a couple of themes.
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, Jeanne Birdsall
I can’t recommend this novel highly enough. It came in our school curriculum for this year, and was also recommended by multiple friends. Judah, Amie, and I read it together during our beach vacation and were all completely charmed by the Penderwick family and their escapades. We’ve continued with the series, and are currently reading Book 3. I’d recommend it for 8-14-year-olds (especially girls, although Judah thoroughly enjoys the books with us). The audiobooks are great too.
Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to Be Noticed, Sara Hagerty
In her second book, Sara Hagerty shares her journey of learning to embrace hiddenness with God. I loved it, marked it up, met with a friend to discuss it as we read, and will be rereading it in years to come. I enjoyed her first book, Everything Bitter is Sweet too, but in my opinion this one is even better. This would make a great gift for a young mom.
The Green Ember, S.D. Smith
I bought this series for Judah after hearing Sam Smith speak at a conference in the spring. We both love it! His second novel, Ember Falls, is a cliff-hanger, and we’re anxiously awaiting the final book in this trilogy. I’d recommend this series for 8-12 year olds, but think kids that are younger and older would enjoy them too.
The Bark of the Bog Owl, Jonathan Rogers
We bought the Wilderking series sight unseen on recommendation from Sarah Mackenzie of Read-Aloud Revival. I’ll admit, I was skeptical when I discovered that it’s a re-telling of the biblical story of King David. But I was astonished at what Jonathan Rogers did with a very familiar story. The characters are creative yet real, the setting is genius, and I laughed out loud many times. Five stars for this series; Judah and I will be reading it again for sure (recommend for 8-12-year-old boys).
The Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert, Rosaria Butterfield
A friend loaned me this book of English college professor Rosaria Butterfield’s conversion story, and I couldn’t put it down. She’s a wonderful writer, unique, honest, and bold, and it left me thanking God for His power to transform lives. I appreciated her personal journey of adoption as well.
To Be Where You Are, Jan Karon
We all knew there would be a Mitford title on the list, right? This is Jan Karon’s latest installment, which a friend sent to me as a gift. Truly I will never, ever get tired of Mitford. My mom summed how I feel about it best when she texted me, Just finished the newest Mitford and I’m sitting down to start it over again.
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Now wouldn’t this lovely version of Little Women make a great Christmas gift? It’s only $12.80 on Amazon Prime! Be sure to check out the other classics by Rifle Paper Company too. I loved this series as a girl, but haven’t re-read it since becoming a mother. I have to admit I enjoyed Little Women on a whole different level this time around. I want to be Marmee. I underlined several quotes, but here’s my favorite:
“Yours, mother? Why you are never angry!” and for the moment Jo forgot remorse in surprise.
“I’ve been trying to cure it for forty years and have only succeeded in controlling it. I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo; but I have learned not to show it; and I still hope to learn not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years to learn to do so.”
Dark Enough to See the Stars in a Jamestown Sky, Connie Lapallo
The big kids and I are studying early American history, and when I came across this title on Goodreads, I knew I needed to read it to fill in some of the gaps of the stories we’re studying. The book starts a bit slow, but press on: it gets better and better. Lapallo’s account of the settlers of Jamestown colony, through the eyes of one of the women, is powerful and heart-breaking.
Acting the Miracle: God’s Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification, Edited by John Piper and David Mathis
This was a great little book of essays about growing in Christ that I read slowly. I found it very practical and encouraging, and plan to re-read it.
Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
I know I mentioned this series back when we had our children’s book club, but I’m including it here too. David and I started reading the Chronicles of Narnia on our honeymoon in Barbados, and so while I associate the stories with growing up in Orlando and reading aloud as a family, they also conjures memories of a white sandy beach and our little island cottage.
This is why I love reading books together. They become apart of our memories, and every time we re-read them, we also get to remember our own story. I enjoyed the novels in a completely new way this time around. C.S. Lewis is one of the best writers I know.
The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch
I’m a little disappointed in the title of this little book, simply because I feel like it limits its audience. I think everybody should read this. Andy Crouch has a beautiful way of calling us to wise living in our tech-filled world by giving us a bigger, richer vision of our lives. He shows us a vision of reaching beyond the distracted, entertained life for a life that’s deeply connected with God and with people. His words are honest, inspiring, and practical.
Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder
The first time I read the Little House books, I was an eight-year-old living in Barbados and attending international school. My mom must have spoken to my teacher about my love for reading, because I remember being pulled out of class one afternoon and led across a breezeway to a white building that I knew held the dreaded head-mistresses office.
Inside was a surprise: a door to a lovely, wood-floored room, lit only by the brilliant sun flooding across tables. There were books everywhere. The library! I was given a hard-cover copy of Little House on the Prairie. I read that book, loved it instantly, and was allowed to return to the library to check out the rest of the series, one novel at a time.
That’s how I first discovered the Little House books, and I’ve been reading them ever since. Now my daughter is eight years old, and she’s listening to the audiobooks and I get to fall in love with the series all over again.
Caroline: Little House Revisited, Sarah Miller
Here’s a fascinating retelling of Laura’s story through the eyes of her mother, Caroline Ingalls. She was a courageous woman. I was always disappointed with her opinion of Native Americans, but appreciate that Sarah Miller portrays her as a real woman, flaws and all. The American pioneer women were certainly not perfect, but they have my utmost respect for their endurance in the face of death, danger, and a world of uncertainty.
The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Marta McDowell
Okay last Little House book recommendation, I promise. This would make a great Christmas gift for a teenager or adult. It’s pretty enough to sit on a coffee table and filled with the history and geography of the places Laura Ingalls Wilder lived. The author recommends reading it along with the series, and that’s what I did. It makes the books come alive in a new way.
I told David’s mom that I wanted to take on the challenge of cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year. I’ve cooked various parts of Thanksgiving in years past, but I’m 35 years old and decided it was time to see if I can do the whole thing myself. Plus I re-read the The Little House series this fall, and felt inspired to channel my inner Caroline Ingalls (she and Almanzo’s mother were always cooking!).
Although my job was decidedly simpler given that I didn’t need to grow all the food, de-feather the turkey, and grind wheat for bread, among other things. How on earth did they manage it all?
I planned out the meal a week early, and did nearly all of the grocery shopping the Saturday before Thanksgiving. This was the best idea, since I missed the crowds. I ran out to Whole Foods on Tuesday for the turkey and a couple of last minute ingredients so I wouldn’t have to put it in the freezer.
My mom helped me lots by supplying recipes and telling me to sit and write out a timeline of when to prep/bake everything, which helped the day go more smoothly. I bought this year’s edition of the Food Network Thanksgiving magazine and had fun choosing a few recipes there.
Here’s our menu:
Dry-brined roast turkey, gravy
Roasted Brussels sprouts salad
Cranberry relish (Linda)
Sweet potato casserole
Pumkpin pie (Linda)
Homemade whipped cream (Linda)
David and the kids offered to help, but our kitchen is so small, it was easier for David to play with them, and for me to let one kid a time come help me. Amie was up at 7:00 am tearing bread so I could dry it in the oven for dressing (I did not attempt actual stuffing, though I was raised on it!), and I always call upon Gabe to do my scary jobs, like browning the turkey neck in butter for the gravy.
I really, really love baking pies, and come November I start making one a week to practice for the holidays. Homemade pie crust is very easy if you practice it a few times (and especially quick if you have a food processor, though it’s not necessary). I love this all-butter pie crust recipe and have used it for years. If you cut the butter and chill it in the freezer before making the crust, it comes together even better.
A new addition to the menu this year was the roasted Brussels sprout salad, which my friend Liz told me about. It was a big hit, and is a nice side salad for any occasion. Here’s the recipe:
Several handfuls brussels sprouts, washed, ends and outer leaves removed, quartered
Toss brussels sprouts in olive oil, salt, and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper, roast at 350 for 20 minutes, stir, continue roasting until you can pierce with a fork
Cool and toss with mixed greens, toasted pecans, feta cheese, and Tessamae’s Lemon Garlic salad dressing
The salad with lemon brightened up all that heavy, (delicious) food. I won’t even tell you how many sticks of butter I used for Thanksgiving dinner.
I chose a spiced cider and bourbon cocktail from the Food Network magazine, and David was in charge of assembling the drinks before his parents came over with appetizers in the afternoon. The kids had their own fancy apple cider drinks. I should also add that David grew the sweet potatoes for our sweet potato casserole!
We roasted the turkey at Linda’s, so she did the actual cooking and whisked up the gravy for me while I was finishing things in our oven. She also made the appetizer, a pie, homemade whipped cream, and cranberry relish, so I certainly can’t take all the credit! What I would’ve done if I actually had to make the entire meal on my own, I don’t know.
I scurried around all day, but had plenty of time to sit with a book and a cup of tea before finishing things up in the afternoon. We’re almost finished with season 4 of the Great British Baking Show, so Amie and I felt compelled to stage a photo cooking with our cups of tea in hand, like the bakers.
We started with a fire pit, drinks, and appetizers here at 3:30. Along with the Brie baked in puff pastry, Grandpa and Mum-Mum brought a host gift of a baby frog.
We moved around the corner to Steve and Linda’s for another fire pits (can you tell our family is fond of fire pits?) and dinner on their newly-completed screened back porch
We had only one small catastrophe: the marshmallows on our sweet potatoes caught fire under the broiler! Thankfully they were easily scraped off and replaced.
I was really pleased with all the recipes, and sat down the next day and made notes in my bullet journal of what worked and what I’d change in the future.
It was a Thanksgiving challenge I very much enjoyed, but I’m certainly thankful that we do pot-luck most years!
Our sweet Amie has
endured enjoyed a variety of bedrooms.
When she was born we were preparing to move overseas and we lived in my brother’s house. When we brought her home from the hospital, we set her basket on the changing table in the corner of our room. Next, she slept in a pack-and-play in the walk-in closet of our two-bedroom apartment, until we moved her into the guest bathroom because she was so noisy. The child never even used a crib!
We moved to India when she was 14-months-old, and she shared two different bedrooms with her big brother, Judah. Finally, back home in Columbia, she shared two more: one in our rental house in Elmwood Park, and one right here.
The thing I love about Amie is she’s greeted every new bedroom situation with a smile.
We loved having our kids share a room for years. They built so many sweet memories together.
Truly, they never minded sharing until the last year or so. They got bigger. They developed more hobbies and more of a need for a little space from each other.
When we read The Penderwicks series and learn about Skye and Jane sharing a room (there’s a dividing line between the messy and the neat sides), we laugh because it pretty much summed up Judah and Amie’s experience together (I’ll let you guess who side was who).
And finally, just before Amie turned eight years old, she got her own bedroom:
I cleaned the whole house this weekend and so took the opportunity to snap a few photos.
Full disclosure: Amie’s room never looks like this.
She looked over my shoulder as I was loading pictures onto the laptop and said, “Oh my goodness! I love the way you made my bedroom look!!!” To which I replied, “You know that you can actually make it look like that too, right?”
This mother-daughter relationship is a happy dance of compromise. I let her keep her room messier than I’d ever prefer, and she cleans and organizes it once a week. Mostly for my sanity. I tell her that I truly don’t mind her clutter, as long as she’s actually using everything she has. It’s when toys and papers build up, tottering in wobbly untouched stacks, gathering dust, that my skin starts to get itchy.
It’s not that she’s such a messy person, she’s just a “collector.” Of many things. Shells. Hair ties. Friendship bracelets. Calico Critters. Stuffed animals. Chicken feathers.
When I recently suggested maybe she could purge some of the art on her bulletin board, she said, “But Mom! It all means so much to me!”
Amie and I had so much fun shopping for her room.
Since it’s visible from the living room, David and I told her from the beginning that we wanted to pick the paint color, and she was fine with it. We chose the light, neutral gray we used in our dining room and Judah’s room: Woodlawn Colonial Gray from Valspar.
Her bedding and the hanging lantern are from IKEA and we just transferred them from her old room. Actually now that I think of it, most everything else in it is from IKEA. I found the bedside table at World Market, big basket for stuffed animals at TJ Maxx, and bedside lamp is from Target. We brought that cozy brown leather chair in from the living room when we shifted things around.
At the beginning of this year, Modern Mrs. Darcy featured this Literary Heroine art pendant from Carrot Top Paper Shop, and I knew we had to have it. We ordered it during a sale, and I let Amie choose her favorite heroines.
See if you can figure out who they are!
In the last couple months, she’s become quite the bookworm, so I told her one day we’ll get her a bookshelf. For now she makes do with baskets, her cart, and racks.
Her one request for the bedroom was a big art table “with two chairs side by side.” Art is Amie’s passion. She loves drawing, coloring, sewing, cutting out bits of paper. Any kind of crafts.
We currently keep the family printer on top of that gray file cabinet on the right, which is why her hooks can’t be directly behind the door. Maybe one day we’ll be able to move them over.
It makes me happy to peek in and see her set up at her table with a coloring book or craft project. Creating fills her tank.
We actually had a good bit of work done on this room after the addition.
Here are a couple before photos:
And here we are now!
Amie does something called “Rhythmic Writing” as part of her school work, and it requires a chalkboard. Her bedroom was truly the only place in the house to fit it, and she’s thrilled. One more place to for designs and pictures!
This room was the first addition put on this house, many years ago. It was an enclosed sun room and doesn’t have a closet, so David and I bought two IKEA wardrobes when we moved in here before adopting the boys. They aren’t as functional as a real closet, but they’re pretty, and they work fine. I keep a few of her things on the top shelf in Judah’s closet.
It’s hard to even remember back to 6 months ago, when David and I were crammed in this room which felt very dusty and depressing with all the construction work going on next door.
Now it’s a bright, fresh, happy place that Amie loves.
And we’re happy for her!
Judah, Amie, and I got an early Christmas gift from our aunt to a showing of the movie Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone accompanied by the Charleston Symphony.
We drove to North Charleston Saturday afternoon and I downloaded our current read-aloud, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, on audiobook from the library beforehand, so we could enjoy the road trip.
We stopped for dinner at one of our favorite Tex-Mex spots, and arrived a the coliseum just in time to find our seats before the movie/concert began. It was a jovial, festive atmosphere. Lots and lots of people were dressed up in their favorite Harry Potter garb, grown-ups included.
The orchestra conductor opened the evening by encouraging audience participation. He invited everyone to cheer for their favorite Hogwarts houses and characters. It was a packed event, and there’s nothing like watching one of your favorite movies with hundreds of people having just as much fun as you are.
The movie was shown with captions, but we had no difficulty hearing the dialogue over the orchestra. It was seamless.
It was a late night, so I was thankful for the coffee kiosk at Intermission. And Judah and Amie were thankful for popcorn and peanut M&M’s. We loved every second of the performance; the symphony played the entire score including the credits: it was a 3-hour show! By the end, the audience was on their feet clapping and cheering. I was reminded of the power of live music, and am still scratching my head at the conductor’s ability to time the performance exactly with the movie.
No pun intended; it was truly magical.
Saturday went down as our favorite night of 2017!
This month we started meet season with our swim team, Columbia Swimming.
David and I decided to take Gabe and Noah out of swimming this year, partly because the rates went up, and partly because neither showed great enthusiasm for it. In fact, both were happy when we told them they could quit!
Being part of a swim team takes some commitment because it’s a year-round sport. The kids practice right through the summer. But as of this year, there’s really been no question in our mind of whether the commitment’s worth it; we’ve seen so much good come of it for both Judah and Amie. They’ve gotten stronger, more energetic, and more confident. We’ve made some wonderful friends. And the longer they swim, the more they enjoy it.
Judah now practices three times a week for an hour and half, and Amie twice. It’s a lot, but I will say it helps tremendously that the pool is just five minutes from our house. I can drop them Tuesday and Thursday mornings, race home to put in an hour of home school with the little guys, then pick them up and have a few minutes to chat with my friends. Judah’s third practice is on Saturday, which is nice too.
The other tricky thing about swimming is it’s a traveling sport; there’s only one meet in Columbia this year. We’ve decided to compromise by not doing every meet, and mostly competing on Saturdays, so we can be back home for church Sunday.
Thankfully most of the meets are within a couple hours away. Still it’s not the easiest for our family since David is a pastor; he can get away a couple Saturdays, but uses most to prepare for church Sunday. We’re making it work!
Since this month’s meet was in Myrtle Beach, which is 3 hours away, we decided to stay overnight and have the kids swim Saturday and Sunday. And my mom was very kind to come along and help.
Here are a few snapshots from our trip:
North Myrtle Beach Aquatic Center:
Saturday afternoon warm-ups:
CS 12-and-under teammates:
A couple of events:
Amie in lane 2
Judah in lane 2
Judah in lane 3
If you’re interested, here were their events:
50 and 100 Back
50 and 100 Free
50 and 100 Breast
25 and 50 Free
25 and 100 Back
The Aquatic Center is quite small, and the boys lasted in the bleachers for about 10 minutes of the first warm-up. Thankfully the weather was beautiful, and we found places to set them up. We brought toys, Uno, and lots of snacks, and my mom loaded them with activity books from the dollar store, which turned out to be the biggest hit of the weekend. Swim meets last a long time, most of it is waiting for a 50-second race!
I have to say here that Gabe and Noah were incredible all weekend. I have so much to learn from their flexibility and enthusiasm for whatever life brings their way — even if it’s Goldfish and sticker books at a picnic table!
The great news about a smaller swim meet is that parents were allowed on the pool deck. We set up outside, and my mom and I took turns running in to watch events. We could stand right up at the edge of the pool and cheer the kids on, and I could even bring them a Gatorade in the bleachers mid-afternoon (which isn’t allowed at other meets).
We took a risk and got a super cheap motel room so we could be right on the beach. I think I have to say it was worth it, although there were some patchy moments. Maybe I wouldn’t do it again, without David or my dad along. My mom and I have both traveled a lot overseas, so saying it was one of the worst places we’ve ever stayed is saying a lot. But it could’ve been a lot worse. There were no bedbugs!
I love my mom. She can go with the flow better than most. And we have lots of things to laugh about.
And we woke up to this:
Judah and I walked a mile up the beach to our beloved vacation spot:
This is what he thought about our motel this weekend:
When we met up Sunday afternoon, one of the kids’ coaches asked, “How was your night?” And Judah said, “Well, now I know what it’s like to stay in a one-star hotel!”
Thanks, Judah. Hey, at least there was a hot tub!
The kids finished up around 3:00 on Sunday and we hit the road for home. We were so thankful for a fun swim meet experience after all the hard, scary meets of last year. I think a year makes a big difference. Both kids improved their times in every event, and say they’re excited for their next meet in Greenville! As a parent, I love watching them conquer their fears and blossom.
I’m here sharing some of the things we’ve learned by growing our family through adoption. You can read Part One here.
Here we go …
Being in close relationship with a hurt person is emotionally draining.
Oh my, do I wish I prepared myself for this.
Never mind, there was actually no way to prepare myself for this adoption reality. Some things are better left a mystery until the grace of God helps you bear them, one day at a time.
I anticipated a high level of physical exhaustion when we adopted two young children, but the emotional toll was far more difficult.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase: Hurt people hurt people. I imagine you’ve experienced it in your life to some extent.
Well our guys were 4 and 2 — so very young — but they were wounded. And they hurt people. As our social worker heard some of our stories, she said, “I am amazed at the sophisticated level of manipulation that can come from children this young.”
It was a survival tactic, a way to get attention. There were other parts of their story at play too, that led to this extreme need for self-protection through manipulation.
The other was an obsessive need for control.
When hurt people are hurting it feels like the very best thing they can do is dissolve into tears and run to you and say, “I’m hurt and I’m sad,” and let you draw them close. Isn’t it funny how rarely that happens?
Young children exhibit their hurt in the most un-lovely of ways. They do everything to push away the people who want to help them heal. They are prickly. They are sullen. They fight tooth-and-nail against what you know is good for them. And it is relentless.
Here’s another mystery: it’s understood in the adoption world that the kids most often exhibit this behavior to their adoptive family, the people who want to be closest to them. Often they will appear perfectly sweet and normal to the average person, even extended family. That’s because you aren’t a danger. You aren’t the one trying to peel back the layers, reaching into that terribly wounded and guarded core.
If you know someone who has adopted older children I beg you, please believe their stories. Chances are they are not exaggerating. They are not being dramatic. They aren’t being negative. These things are really happening to them and will keep happening for some time until their precious children begin slowly to trust and to heal. Please just listen to your loved one — no judgments given. Do not tell them they’re exaggerating and they just need to loosen up. Ask what they need from you in this season. And by all means, keep praying for them.
This has taught me more than anything else what the love of Christ is for us broken, wounded sinners. We do the exact same thing with Him (or at least I do). We numb ourselves and distract ourselves and lash out against others and make excuses — anything but become vulnerable before Him and draw close and let him bind up our wounds.
So hurt people hurt people. And then those hurt people hurt people.
I saw it at play in myself, I’m ashamed to say. I was under such strain and exhaustion from the battles that I lashed out at the people I love. I distracted myself rather than sit still before God and let Him minister to me. I lost my temper and many times grew resentful of my boys.
As for the manipulation and comments, a wise friend told me, “Never, ever let them know that it bothers you.” The more you smile and fight back with kindness, the more quickly they learn that that kind of behavior gets them nowhere. They don’t have the power to crush you.
And I’m here to tell you, she was right.
It was very important for me to show solidarity with the boys’ birth mom, since I was compared to her night and day. I speak kindly of her and she always speaks kindly of me in front of them. We became friends and they couldn’t pit us against one another. It was important to show solidarity with David, because they tried to drive us apart. It was bewildering, really, this need to pit the people in their world against each other.
They had different ways of acting out against David and me; I experienced a lot of the manipulation; David experienced a lot of indifference.
But friends, there’s so much hope! Our boys have learned that passive aggressive behavior and manipulation do not work in the Gentino house. We tell them, “Use honest words. Say what you mean.” And they’ve come a very long way in learning to communicate their feelings in much healthier ways.
I guess I would tell a fellow adoptive parent to find ways to fortify yourself against this emotional battle.
You will feel utterly drained. You will have little emotional margin. Take care of yourself. Try to exercise and get fresh air when you can, even if it’s just a 10-minute walk. Try to pick one simple non-taxing hobby that makes you happy and carve out 20 minutes a day for it (read fiction, yoga, work in your garden, knit).
Find a safe friend you can vent to who will pray specifically against this spiritual battle in your home. Please try to find a fellow adoptive parent who will uniquely understand how you feel.
I would also ask you to do something I learned to do: keep a hand-written, running list of good things you see in your adopted child. Of things you like about them. Of victories. Of ways you get a glimpse of their little heart softening, wanting to let you in. Even if that glimpse only lasted 30 seconds. It helps.
I’m thankful for friends and family, and an amazing social worker who promised me at the very beginning, “You can text or call anytime and tell me anything. Nothing will shock me or make me judge you.” This was a gift.
Find ways to laugh with your spouse, your friends, your kids.
Silliness heals. Playing goofy games and tickling heals. We sang dozens and dozens of songs together; no matter how dreadful the day, we ended nearly every night singing Twinkle, Twinkle or Row, Row, Row Your Boat and smiles.
Adoption will bring out the ugliest parts of yourself. This is a good thing.
I never knew how much of a sinner I was until we adopted the boys. David would say the same thing. Stress and trials bring out the worst in us. The sort of constant 24-hour-a-day stress of adopting older children with a difficult past is kind of crushing.
I never knew I had an anger problem until our adoption.
Well, I do. I have a big anger problem.
I was stressed and complaining all the time. Family members and friends who I want to look good in front of saw me snap at my kids and speak harshly to them.
It was humiliating.
This level of self-discovery was terribly distressing to me in the beginning — and some days still is. I felt like a complete failure, every single day. I wanted desperately to be a better mom. I berated and rebuked myself and generally made myself more miserable than my adopted kids ever made me.
You know what?
That was pride. Plain and simple.
I raged against God, How could You let me act like this? Why don’t You change me, make me better? Why won’t You answer my prayers?
It seems that the motivation for those questions was wanting to look good in my eyes. Wanting to feel good about myself. Wanting people to feel good about me. Wanting, deep down, to be independent from God. I wanted a gift from Him more than I wanted Him.
Now, by God’s grace, I am learning to think about this outpouring of sin a little differently.
It’s a gift. He is rooting around, digging up weeds that have laid hold to the good, green growth in my heart and are choking it. He’s making me face the truth about myself, so that I can be more free in Him.
The second truth is this: it is a long process. I will not master my temper in a month or a year. I will not grow more patient tomorrow. I will not become wholly content by Christmas. Maybe, perhaps, I’ll grow in mastering these things over a lifetime. I’ve spent too much time and energy raging against this slow process. I want God to change me now, make me a good mom now.
Lately I am embracing His will for my life in a deeper way.
For reasons unknown to me, it is not His will to change me in an instant. Will I sit still and wait? Will I submit to His process? Will I become needier and more dependent on Him because of my impatience and my temper?
Will I believe that my greatest need is not to be an awesome mom, but, as Sinclair Ferguson says, to know the Lord better?
Will I believe that He delights in me as His precious child, that He enjoys me? Will I spend time with Him, getting to know Him, rather than just asking Him for things and then running along my merry way?
It helps me have more patience with my children to understand that I am on a journey just like they are. We all of us have a lot of growing up to do.
God knits families together in so many different ways. It is always hard, but a wondrous thing to experience.
Like Rosaria Butterfield says, adoption involves pain. There are other ways to grow a family that can be beautiful and painful; for example, blended families with step-parents and step-siblings. Or single-parent families who have a close community of friends to lean on.
It’s a truly lovely thing to see God’s faithfulness in these “out-of-the-box” families. He can knit hearts together, over time, that do not share the same genes or all the same memories. He’s in the business of making things new.
And so we’ve emerged from the battle with two boys who are still learning what it means to truly connect to a family, but who have made tremendous strides.
Our boys are not defined by their past or by the term “adoption.” They are so much more than a label, just like we all are.
Their story has great dignity to the God who’s writing it, and He uses it all for their good and His glory. I firmly believe that.
We’re in a blessedly sweet season of not thinking “adoption issues” most days. We aren’t getting many tough life questions. The boys know their story in simple terms and they are at peace with it, for now. I know that as they grow and transition developmentally, more questions will come.
That’s okay. We’ll be here and we’ll be ready.
For now there are many gifts.
Gabe runs up and gives me spontaneous hugs and kisses — something I never, ever thought I’d experience with him.
We have these pure, lovely moments, laying on my bed together, chatting. They aren’t asking me for things. They aren’t complaining. We just see each other and we talk about nonsense and we giggle.
There’s an immense love among the four siblings, who really all adjusted to this process of being a family quicker than David and I. Judah sits and reads a book to Noah on the gold chair. They gather at the table for games of Uno. When Gabe or Noah gets hurt and cries, Amie says, “Come to Amie’s Hospital! I’ll help!” They follow David around, incessantly asking to help with projects.
As I finish up this post our four kids are on the trampoline with neighbor friends, battling and shouting and laughing.
Gabe and Noah needed a family, but we also needed them. So much. Our life is richer and happier and far more colorful because of our boys. God uses them daily to stretch us and teach us about His love and provision. And just to make us smile.
Of course there are still question marks in my mind, things I fear in the quiet moments. But I’ve seen His faithfulness in bringing the six of us together, in making Gabe and Noah part of His covenant family, and I rest in the knowledge that He will do abundantly more than all we ask or think. He already has.
My capacity for love and my capacity for pain and my capacity for joy has grown.
I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
This month we celebrate 2 1/2 years with Gabe and Noah.
If you’ve followed the blog for awhile, I imagine that this length of time has flown by. Remember when there were just four of us Gentino’s?
Gabe turned 4 the month after adoption, and has now lived with us a third of his life. And Noah, who was 2 at placement, has been in our life longer than he was without us. We still have an open adoption, and see their birth family several times a year.
People ask me if I feel like the time has flown. My answer is that the first year the boys lived with us felt like the longest year of my life. But after we made it through, yes, time picked up and flew.
One of my favorite descriptions of adoption is by author Rosaria Butterfield:
Wanted or not, adoption always starts with loss. Adoption always combines ambiguous loss with unrequested gain. An adopted child faces this paradox — this unrequested gain — at each developmental stage. His or her family must choose to either welcome the complexity or make the child go it alone. We choose to walk alongside our children, even as we don’t always understand how deep or how raw the complexity rests. This journey is frightful. At its core is this: do I love Jesus enough to face my children’s potential rejection of me?
I still have no fitting words of my own to describe what it feels like to bring two complete strangers into your home, forever, and begin to build a family together. Unlike falling in love and getting married, with adoption, you make this forever commitment before the feelings of love.
You act out your love, day after day, even when your insides are screaming and raw, and trust the mystery that the feelings will follow.
I thought our boys were as cute as heck from the first time I saw their photograph, but I was honestly not one of those adoptive moms who had the mushy love feelings from Day One.
But I’m here to tell you we have grown into our love. We’re still growing into it. And in a way it’s more beautiful for the crucible we passed through to get here. It’s beautiful because of the mystery.
I’m able to look back on our experience with a measure of perspective now. And I’d like to share a few things we learned through adopting our boys.
I realize that several of these lessons I’ve mentioned over the past couple of years. I guess this is my chance to have more of a birds-eye view, with 2 1/2 years of God’s faithfulness to show us more of what worked in our family. This is just our story. I’m no adoption expert; each situation is unique.
But here are a few things we learned, and are learning, things I tell my new adoptive friends when they ask for help.
Bonding and training are helped by a quiet, predictable routine.
This is mind-numbing. Truly. I like a quiet, predictable routine in general, but add two wild and rash little people who are grieving into that quiet routine and it feels like torture. Each hour is an eternity. You will want to jump in the van and drive. Anywhere. And fill your days doing anything to avoid the painfully slow minutes at home. You will want to turn the TV on all the time or pull out the iPad or tell everyone to go away and scroll through Instagram. You will want to escape.
But simplicity and being present pays off, and I’d do it again.
Routine helped our little boys feel safe, and taught them who their family is and where their home is. We also learned that the onslaught of normal attention from a family of four was tremendously over-stimulating for them. They were used to sitting in front of the TV all day. And suddenly here are people who make them sit at the table for meals and read books to them and take them to play in the backyard.
Those things feel mundane to our big kids; hours of that sort of attention were too much for our little guys in the beginning. It was taxing for them. They needed nice long afternoon naps for at least a year and early bedtimes. If we’d added lots of shopping and play dates and having people into our home into the mix it would’ve been a recipe for disaster (or at least more temper tantrums). We didn’t want to set them up for disaster: we wanted to set them up for success.
They needed to grow accustomed to normal, quiet home life in a family before they were strong enough to face lots of other activities.
Now they are fantastic. We can have a higher level of busyness in our life and they transition from activity to activity well. But I still check regularly for their tolerance level. If we miss too many days of quiet afternoon rest time or mornings at home they tend to spiral.
Respect and obedience precede relationship.
David and I weren’t exactly sure how we would go about disciplining Gabe and Noah when we met them. We wanted to sit back and get to know them a bit more. We wanted to focus our energy on attachment first.
Well, that philosophy lasted one week. And in the meantime, all hell broke loose. It’s amazing how quickly a child — even one who’s a complete stranger — can sniff out your weaknesses. The boys discovered they weren’t going to to get consequences for not minding us, and they turned the house upside down with their shenanigans and defiance.
All we wanted to do was spend time bonding with them. But we couldn’t. They wouldn’t stop long enough to let us — they were too busy upsetting bowls of cereal and laying on the floor crying and drawing on the walls and stealing their siblings’ toys to throw in the trash.
We realized in that week that there was going to be no attaching to an out-of-control toddler and preschooler until they understood who the authority figures in their life were.
And so we went back to the basics, exactly like we did when our biological children began blatantly disobeying us as one-year-olds.
We taught them to obey us.
We did not do this through long explanations or sermons. Young children can’t grasp those abstract concepts (I love the simple explanation in this parenting video). We taught them that they have to obey, “Because I said so.” If they disobeyed, we carried out the consequence. Over and over and over again. Those initial weeks and months spent mainly at home became very beneficial because this training was time-consuming and exhausting.
The boys were at first utterly shocked at the reality of discipline. But I’ll tell you: we saw an almost instant transformation. This did not mean that they listened to us and didn’t get their consequences many times.
But it was like the lights switched on in their brains and they suddenly saw us, as real people. People they needed to respect.
It’s difficult for me to explain to you the mystery of how obedience and bonding go hand in hand, but the only way I can understand it is that to really love someone you must respect them. If you don’t respect them — if you can manipulate and argue with and walk all over them — you will, deep down, despise them. They will be small to you. This is not a healthy way to live.
David and I needed to be big in Gabe and Noah’s world for them to feel safe and to grow their love for us. They were used to being in charge, to ruling their house by their behavior, to being guided by their emotions, looking out for themselves.
Over time, as we were consistent and firm and loving (and we did this imperfectly, of course), they began to relax into our home. They began to trust us. We weren’t their victims. They didn’t have the power to tyrannize our family. Their bad behavior didn’t concern us. We were the authorities in our home.
I can’t tell you how important this concept has been for our family.
Our young guys still don’t get long lectures; we give them a very few principles that they can understand. We still insist on first time obedience, “Because I say so.” No warnings, no threats. But we also explain to them: “Our home is a safe place for everyone.” And “We treat people with respect.”
So we don’t throw tempter tantrums. Ever. We ask for things nicely and say “thank you.” We do not argue with Mom and Dad. We don’t call our siblings names and speak to them sarcastically. We don’t destroy things, either our own or other people’s.
Of course this holds true for our big kids too. They are sinners just like the rest of us. Because we invested that time with them when they were young, we rarely have problems now that a simple conversation can’t solve. The energy in our home that might go into power struggles and back-talk and whining now goes into playing card games and discussing books and movies and playing dress-up.
In short, we can bond.
I’ve seen this commitment on my and David’s behalf set our boys (and Judah and Amie) up for success. I know it sounds strict. But what was the alternative? Chaos and frustration and resentment among family members. Needing to leave fun events or public places because of out-of-control behavior.
It took a lot of work, you guys. A lot of energy. With regards to our adopted children, I’ll say over these last years we’ve seen enormous improvement but the tide to return to old ways of behavior is still there. If we don’t consistently stay on top of behavior and follow-through our spunky guys love to push our buttons and see what they can get away with.
Part of that’s personality, part of it is that we’re still making up for lost years. This can still feel exhausting some days, like you can never truly let your guard down. But it’s still worth it. Our boys are happier when they obey. We’re happier when they obey.
If you’ve adopted and commit yourself to this process, I can promise you it pays off. Take heart! It’s some of the most important work you’ll do.
Not only is our home now a peaceful, enjoyable place (where no-one’s toys get thrown into the trash), but friends and family happily invite our boys over for play and sleepovers, and offer to babysit for us. This doesn’t mean they’re perfect, of course. But where people used to dread having them around, they now welcome them.
How can this be a bad thing for Gabe and Noah? I want them to have these experiences, to have friends and new adventures, to be a joy to those around them, just like God created them to be.
I’m so very proud of them because they have risen to the challenge. They are now strong enough on the inside to exercise self-control and be kind and friendly to people. They are funny and carefree and have a zest for life unmatched in our family. Truly, they are free.
Tomorrow, I’m back with Part Two of this series.