The Language of Family

When my sons came home from Ethiopia in 2009, they were four and five years old, thus they had years to learn to speak, listen, and communicate.  Immediately, we jumped into the challenges of parenting children who literally cannot understand what you are saying.  Quickly, I discovered that I had to simplify my language – I learned a few words in Amharic, but really, I began communicating through my arms and gestures and pointing at things.  One of the first things I remember is “ow, house owie” when trying to explain why “hurting the house” (i.e. coloring on walls, picking off paint, setting curtains on fire) is bad.  Messi acquired English quickly, Bolt a little longer.  Within the next 18 months or so, I could effectively communicate with my sons.  However, I still found myself speaking “simply” just to avoid trying to explain terms that are hard to define.

Fast forward to 2017.  My sons are in middle school, we are hurting, grieving, and surviving.  However, I feel the emotional “language” of our family never really caught up with the developmental stages of my sons.  We still use a lot of “happy, sad, mad, frustrated” when we all know that emotions are much more complex than that.  What appears happy may actually be confused or what appears angry may reflect sadness.

Over the past few months, as I have sat in both the therapist of my son and of myself, I find myself thinking about the language I use to communicate with my sons.  It is still simple, which can be useful, but the problem is that the language of being part of a family is not simple.  Families are messy and involve love, hate, grief, joy, contentment, safety, anger, frustration, and so many other feelings and ideas.  I have been trying to make a conscious effort to expand the language of our family to reflect on its complexities.

Of all the language I use, the one term that comes out daily is GRACE.  Give each other grace to grieve, grace to be angry, grace to laugh, grace to be annoying, and grace to walk in the moment.  As I tucked my son in tonight, on his first day of school, and he was being a punk, I had to take a step back and verbalize that “it looks like you need a little grace tonight”.  Of all the language, I use with my sons, grace is the one I want them to remember when they think of our family.


Parenting Through Vulnerability

I am not a crier.  Sure, I will get teary during a moving part in a movie or book, but as for crying about my feelings, it just doesn’t happen much.  I am much more likely to lash out in anger over my grief than to cry.  However, over the past few months the tears find me during unexpected moments…driving home from the grocery store, seeing that empty seat at church, or trying to open a jar that refuses to budge.  Interestingly, I feel like writing has helped me release my anger, but has also left me feeling raw as I lay out my story for my friends (and the world) to read.  One unexpected result of this new vulnerability is the effect it has had on my parenting.

I think it would be fascinating to ask the boys to describe me as a parent, but I don’t know that they would be able to describe my parenting personality.  Prior to becoming a single parent, I think they would think of me as the facilitator.  I am the rule follower and like to have everything done before we have fun and have a tough time relaxing until things are done.  I like the dishes done when I get home from work and the house clean before we watch a movie. I also like to be prepared for serious conversations.  The past few months have been chaos as I struggle to juggle logistics through grief.  Through this process a new mom has emerged.

The boys have seen me cry, and not just silent tears, but my body wracked with sobs, more in the past 5 months than in the prior 8 years combined.  It isn’t like I do it on purpose, but sometimes I am just completely overwhelmed and they are sometimes present when that happens.  In the past two months or so, I have begun talking with them about it.  Sometimes I will come home from work and say, “it has been a really rough day and I need to just go into my room for a little bit”.  One night, in particular, something was triggered, and I began crying as I was making dinner.  As soon as I finished cooking, I told the boys I needed to go process alone.  I came back about 30 minutes later to find them having eaten, and now cooperating to put away dinner and clean up the kitchen.

I have been talking to both boys a lot about giving each other grace.  The frequent conversation is something like “we are all grieving in different ways and we need to give each other the grace to have a bad day”.  It has been amazing to see them respond to that…. sometimes Bolt will stop picking on Messi or they will clean up without being asked or stop arguing with each other.

Being vulnerable with my sons hasn’t really involved me laying out the specifics of what is on my heart and mind, but rather acknowledging that something is going on that is larger than what they may understand.  Sometimes I say, “oh, I got some sad news today” or “I had a phone call that upset me” and that is enough to make them pause.  Earlier this week, as I prepared to meet with my new therapist for the first time, I kind of laid out the plans for the night and said that I would be unavailable for an hour and when they pressed me on it, I explained I was seeing a therapist.  They asked me why and I didn’t spill the details, but did say “the news about your dad and the baby have upset me and I need to talk to someone about it”.  I have been careful to try not to bash their dad in front of them, while still acknowledging that his actions sometimes upset me.

I feel like it is through me being willing to show my emotions and talk about how they are affecting me, that both my sons have responded in a way where they are more willing to talk to me and ask me tough questions.  Remember, I do have two middle school boys, so having more serious conversations does somewhat reflect their developmental stage.   However, I don’t think they would be as willing to engage in these conversations with me if I was not exhibiting my own vulnerability.

I think there is the tendency as parents to try and be the strong, stable ones for children.  There is value in making our kids feel secure and safe.  However, I think there needs to be a balance.  My kids need to see me working through my own issues and asking the tough questions, so that they understand that this is a normal part of the human experience.  They need to see that mom does not have it all figured out, but is striving to keep growing.  So, I guess for me, this season is teaching me the value of living authentically and vulnerably, not just for myself, but for my sons.

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Juggling Hats

As the dust has settled over the latest news to rattle my world, I have settled into a deep fatigue.  I have been struggling to find enough hours in the day to do all that needs to be done from exercise, walking the pups, keeping house, working, cleaning, and mom-ing.  On top of that, I still need to work on the process of grieving and healing, because I know if I don’t do that work, then everything else will suffer.  The boys have returned from 10 days with the grandparents and we are getting ready for the upcoming school year.  I started up grad school again this week and my job is beginning to feel like less of a mystery.  It is hard to prioritize both what needs to be done on the practical level, while also prioritizing what my heart and soul need.  The past few days, I have actually done a lot for the latter…Saturday I spent the day in fellowship with an amazing group of women, all adoptive moms, as we talked and ate and laughed and got our first tattoos.  I remember sitting around the table that evening and feel some of my burden be lifted as I found a community willing to walk alongside me in my season of loss and grief.  Sunday, I braved meeting a woman I had never met from church, as we went to see Wicked in Philly.  It is not something I would have been comfortable doing a year ago, but now is the time for stepping out of my bubble.  Tonight, I did a much harder thing and went to see a therapist.  I saw one a few months ago, but didn’t feel like it helped much, but after last week, I knew I needed to find someone, and hopefully someone more skilled at the circumstances I am facing.  It was good and she already gave me some tools to help work through some of what I am experiencing.  Here is to hope that I can find a balance between all the hats I am juggling and am still able to find rest for both my body and soul.

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Let me just start by saying, I am writing this from a really raw place.  Yesterday I received some news that set my healing process backwards and plunged me back into a state of confusion and anger and grief.  It is like the scab that was beginning to develop was ripped off, along with several layers of skin.  My two deepest sorrows – my ex-husband’s infidelity and our infertility have merged into this mess that feels like it may destroy me.

I have talked about how prior to adopting the boys, we (as in my ex and I) struggled through the lonely road of infertility and then several failed in-vitro fertilizations.  What I didn’t explain is that our infertility was what they call “male factor” meaning that I was seemingly healthy, but my ex was told that without scientific intervention the likelihood of him ever fathering a child was slim to none.  We spent about 9 months in the thick of IVF without success.  I subsequently gained 30 pounds as a result (something I have never been able to lose) and developed polycystic ovarian syndrome…a condition worsened by weight gain, but also makes it harder to lose weight.  So, for the past 10 years we have not used birth control in hopes that one-day God would grant us a miracle.  Bolt and Messi did not heal that hurt that the infertility caused, nor did I expect them too.  I had always wanted to adopt, but I had also wanted to experience pregnancy and a newborn sharing the traits of the man I loved and myself.  When my ex left, I closed the door on us ever becoming biological parents.

Yesterday morning I awoke to several messages from around the country asking how I was dealing with “the announcement”.  It was several hours before I would find out what this “announcement” was and yes, you guessed it, my ex and the woman he left me for are expecting a baby that was conceived while we were still married.  One son found out via Instagram (since my ex posted it before he had actually spoken to both boys) and the other found out from a phone call, but I had to find out from everyone else.

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So, if you ask me how I am doing, the answer is “not well at all”.  This has triggered so many things in my heart and soul.  It has reopened the barely healing wound of the affair and divorce.  It has opened the scar left by infertility.  More than that, the rejection I faced from my ex, I now feel from God.  They posted what a “blessing” this baby is and it feels like a rubber stamp on their affair and God’s way of saying that he blesses it.  I know God doesn’t, but how could he reward their infidelity with the most beautiful gift…a child?  Talk about kicking a person when they are down.

I am sitting here alone tonight while my kids are 3000 miles away on a vacation with their grandparents.  My ex not only didn’t have the balls to at least email me in compassion over our shared grief and story, but he let me find out through the web of social media.  He also told our sons when they were on vacation and when they weren’t with me to help them process and understand.  The boys claim to be excited, but in their voices, is an undercurrent of confusion.

I feel like I am living in some nightmare.  This isn’t my life.  This announcement was absolutely my worst nightmare.  I feel like the God who had taken me into his lifeboat to rest has thrown me overboard and now I am drowning.

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Reflections on Charlottesville

Yet again I found myself watching in horror as the events of Charlottesville unfolded.  There are days that I experience disbelief that in 2017 we are still seeing such overt displays of racism and bigotry.  In just a few weeks, the 54th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech will take place and it feels like we are still fighting the same battle that he fought.  Racism was on full display in Charlottesville on August 11th and 12th and many people have spoken out in horror about those events, which were horrific, indeed.  However, let us not forget the more subtle acts of racism and intolerance that take place on a daily basis in the communities around the United States.  There are women who experience mockery for wearing a hijab, or the people who cross the street if they see an African American man walking towards them at night, or the gay man that is beat up outside of a bar just because of his sexual orientation, or the Hispanic student mocked about “the wall”.  My own sons have had the experience of being followed by guards at stores and last fall my son was mocked and told that the new president would send “people like him back to Africa”.  When we observe this more subtle acts of intolerance do we just look the other way?  I know I have, at times thinking “oh I don’t know what to say or how to help and don’t want to cause more problems”.

When reflecting on racism it is easy to think “oh, I am not like that”.  It also makes me wonder how far any of us is from becoming such a hate filled soul.  There is the part of me whose heart breaks for those who marched proudly in racism and hatred.  What kind of experiences have they had that makes them think that this is all okay?  What kind of deep pain makes them want to lavish others with hate?  I don’t know, but maybe that is just as an important part of the question.  Yes, we should all stand up against intolerance, but it is perhaps more important to prevent it.  May our daily lives be lived in love and empathy and compassion.  May we all reach out to the broken and the hurting and embrace them.  May we teach our children to seek out the lonely and unlikeable.  May we all love as we have been loved.  I leave you with this song lyric that has been on repeat for the past few days.

And hold all the mothers, whose babies bleed from bullet holes
And feel all the hunger, the bellies and the bones
Shout for the prisoner, cry for justice, loud and long
And march with the victims, as Jesus marches on
And sit at all the tables, ’cause Jesus eats with everyone
And dance to the music, if you can’t sing its native tongue
And cry for the wombs, the mothers and the empty arms
And hold high the warriors, fighting now for freedoms’ song

And love, love, love, love
Like it’s your own blood
And love, love, love, love
As you have been loved
Love, love, love, love
Like it’s your own blood
Love, love, love, love
As you have been loved
Love, love, love, love, love
Like [you have been?]
Love, love, love, love, love
It’s all about love!
Love, love, love, love, love
His name is love
Love, love, love, love, love

Dear Me …
You did not learn this in a day or two or three
So ask a lot of questions
But Jesus loves us, this I know
And there are no exceptions

“Dear Me” ~ Nichole Nordeman

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No Longer a “We”

I got married at the ripe old age of 21.  Granted, I was a pretty mature 21-year-old, but I was still very young.  I had gone from living with my parents to college, where I had two roommates, then I met my ex-husband and we married the summer before our senior year of college.  I don’t regret any of that.  However, because I married so young and never lived alone, I never really developed my own identity.  I was always part of a “we” as an adult.  There are wonderful things about that.  I didn’t flounder in dating land for years.  I didn’t get my heart broken by boys and men.  I learned early to make sacrifices for the happiness of another person.  Essentially, we grew up together.  We really began our adulthood as a couple.  We made our first major financial decisions together.  We experienced some of our greatest sorrows together.  We became parents together.  My adult life has relished being part of a “we”.

Overnight, the man who felt like half of me, vanished.  I honestly felt like someone had cut off all my limbs and I didn’t know how to walk or even move without him at my side.  That is the beauty of marriage, the whole “two becoming one”.  But when that one becomes two again, it is messy and it is like learning to swim without any limbs.  I missed the comfort of waking up next to the comfort of my best friend.  I had never made any major decisions as an adult without his input and suddenly I found myself having to make decisions for myself and my sons without him.  While I was trying to figure this out alone, he was planning his new life with her and her kids.  He jumped from one we to another we.  Even now, months later, I still talk about my life and my parenting as “we” …I suspect I will get better taking individual ownership over time, but I am not there yet.

Despite the grief over losing my partner in crime, I am finding some freedom in it.  Suddenly the future is the great unknown.  I get to do things I find fun, plan events that interest me, and spend my evenings focusing on my priorities. Other than my sons, I don’t have to consider another person when making decisions.  In just a few short years my sons will probably be on their own life adventure.  One may live with me for a while, but for the most part I get to start planning my own future.  I resume graduate school for public health at the end of the month and by the time I graduate, both of my sons will be in high school.  I feel like in some ways, suddenly the sky is the limit.  I don’t know what the future holds, but maybe, for the first time in my life, I am learning to embrace the adventure known as life.

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The Present Parent

I often find myself wondering how I ended up alone raising two nearly teen boys.  I know the logistics, of course, but seriously!  I wouldn’t say that I am a girly-girl, but I am not a tomboy either and I often look at my sons in complete confusion.  They laugh at farting and wear their clothes to bed and argue about the benefits of deodorant while falling out of their chairs in hysteria over The Simpsons.  I love Anne of Green Gables, collect teacups, enjoy sewing, and watching Gilmore Girls.  Of course, we have things we enjoy doing together like going to the Jersey Shore and boogie boarding or soccer (them playing, me watching), and eating great food, but often the male mind is a complete mystery to me and here I am raising two young men without the benefit of a male voice in their daily lives.  I know many single moms do it, but none of them are me!  I also think the timing of their father leaving us is just so perplexing.  I feel they are at such an age where they need a father and theirs moved across the country.  Sure, they talk to him on the phone and he buys cool gifts, like a new BMX bike for Bolt, or plays Playstation 4 with them online, but the day-to-day dad they have known and loved for the past 8 years is gone.  I find myself having to still be the mom they know while having to take over some of the roles their dad used to do.

Messi and I spent all day Saturday building a birdhouse from scratch.  Many failed attempts later, we completed it, but it looks just a little off.  Not that I felt like a failure, but I just sat on the floor in frustration wishing I knew how to help him with the project better and wondering if he was thinking “I wish dad was here”.  I know there were moments I thought it, but those same moments are followed by the crushing reality that his dad chose to leave them.  So, yes, the birdhouse is complete, but then Amazon delivered 2 precut kits that he put together while I worked today…and they look much better!


Then, I knew Bolt had his first crush on a girl and Messi has been teasing him mercilessly.  So, I let the teasing go because that is what brothers do, but when it is just Bolt and I driving in the car, I try to talk to him about different things.  So, I finally found out that they are boyfriend and girlfriend (whatever that means at this age)!  They text funny things like “how is your day?”.  I will admit I am approaching this news with equal parts terror and excitement.  I am excited because my socially awkward 8th grader actually likes a girl and talks to her.  I am terrified for those exact reasons.  Not to mention, I am trying to teach him about healthy relationships and sexuality and purity and everything, all while his dad is demonstrating exactly the opposite.  Such a hard place to be.  At the same time, I encouraged him because this girl he runs track with and I am so happy he likes someone who enjoys the same activity he does.  Don’t we all want relationships with people who share our passions?

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I sat on the phone last night talking about this all with a friend and with my dad.  It is so frustrating to be the only “present” parent.  I am the only one here every day to help my sons navigate becoming young men.  It is scary place to be, but also an honor and a privilege to walk this journey with them.  I know it is going to be full of false starts and detours and mistakes, but I need to trust that God will give me wisdom and guidance along the way.