Monday, February 20, 2017

Kid Update: Jake

So, full confession time: this post is more of an amalgamation of updates.  Some belong to him, many belong to me.  I'm still adjusting to what is cool to share in teenager land.

The first has to start with me.

Because, let's face it, I never, ever, never in a million years expected to be parenting a teenager in this phase of life.  My people are little.  We're still on learning to read and watching Caillou, picky-eaters, potty training, sleeping through the night and diapers, for crying out loud.

Teenagers?  That's a bridge for another, far, far away time.

So when I say there are many ways in which I wasn't prepared, Casey wasn't prepared, and our family was so very not prepared to be doing what we're doing today, you can all hang with me on that one, right?

Understanding that this is the context in which I'm telling you this story, there are a few miraculous things we have to talk about first.

1. I was an 8th grade teacher who specialized in neurological development.  I like 8th graders {I'm weird, I know}.  So even without being in the teenager phase of life, I've spent a great deal of time learning how to best deal with all their quirks, oddities and am generally accustomed to how an 8th grader thinks, what he needs to grow and thrive, and how to fill gaps that might have been created under the influence of a stressful life circumstance.  In short, how to love these weird, odd little humans who are neither adults nor children.

2. I have a background in trauma.  Because, simply put, two kids walked into my school when I was 14 years old and shot it up on a rather infamous scale.  I spent my young life as a traumatized teenager.  All my friends were traumatized teenagers.  So when this 14 year old kid needed a place to go where his mental health issues wouldn't be a surprise and someone would be reasonably well-versed in how to help him... yeah, we had the tools to tackle that big task.  {Correction: we're in the process of slowly working through those issues, though, as is true with all trauma, they will never completely go away.}

3.  I began praying for a fifth child six months before we got the call about Jacob.  This is the one that gets me every time I think about it.  The one that, if I didn't already believe in a God of miracles, would convert me.  Casey and I had already planned out our family.  We'd agreed on four. We both had incredible peace about what a family of six would look like.  How we would handle things financially, in terms of time - everything.  All of a sudden, out of nowhere in October of 2015, I had this strange, nagging feeling that we should have five.  It was a stirring I didn't understand, didn't have the slightest clue what had started it or where it had come from.  Casey was adamant: there would be no fifth child.  We'd agreed on four children, and four was enough.  And, let's be honest, he's right!  But I couldn't let go of this calling I felt.  So in a moment of rare clarity, I turned it over to God.  I prayed a prayer that went like this: I have no idea where this came from, but if it is nothing more than my own selfish desire, please take it from me.  But if it's you, Lord, and your plan, then I trust you to work it out.  I don't know how you will accomplish it, but you'll have to get Casey on board and make it happen. 

I can vividly recall standing in the shower, hot water beating down upon me as tears poured down my face, sometime after we got home from our trip to Disneyland.  Having that exact conversation out loud in an empty bathroom for reasons I couldn't even comprehend myself.

The conviction didn't go away over the next few months, and by Christmas I had come to think that I must be praying for twins.  I mean, how else could we end up with five?

When the call came in at the end of April, I got on a plane to Washington without even a moment's hesitation.  Over the course of the next week, it became apparent very quickly that there would be no one else to step in.  I didn't have to clamor or fight; Casey and I were the first and last of the line to step in and raise this boy.  And it became obvious why I had been praying for a fifth child: God had been preparing us for this all along, even though we didn't know it yet.

We had the desire.  We had the tools. Our family was equipped to take on this big task. By some miracle, even our financial circumstance was prepared ahead of time, though it would cost us thousands upon thousands of dollars we hadn't anticipated spending in order to make it happen.

The fingerprints of divinity were all over this circumstance each and every step of the way.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells a wonderful story {which I am about to completely mis-quote, because I can't find the exact wording.  I wish I'd written it down when I read it!} in which he envisions Jesus, sitting on the throne, inspiring David with the very words to the Psalm that He would later repeat as He hung on the cross.  The point being, Jesus knew that He himself would one day need those words, and so He gave them to David to record a thousand years before He would utter them.

It's a beautiful image.

The King of all things knows what we need, and begins equipping us to play our part in His story long before we have the picture of what that story will include.  He is here with us in the shadowy places of our lives, in the midst of our challenges and burdens; present, watchful; guiding us in ways that we neither see nor comprehend in the moment.

But His guidance is unmistakable just the same.  And we can live a life of hope in the midst of our struggle, knowing He who we follow is in the business of redemption.

Jake's story, I believe, is one of redemption.

He started 9th grade this year. 

At a brand new school, where he knew no one.  In a state far away from all his childhood friends.

He joined the orchestra and plays the viola.

He got all dressed up and went to his first homecoming dance.

Stag.  Which is okay, if I'm really being honest, because not one of us in this house knows anything yet about teenagers and dating.  One step at a time!

He has taken a number of trips with us and had tons of new experiences, from Mesa Verde to the Denver zoo, museum, race car driving, mini-golfing, Vail, Breckenridge; we even drove out to Utah for Thanksgiving.  

It has been especially fun to watch him get to do some of those fun, family and tradition-oriented activities that he didn't often get to do the first time through.

He is learning about what it means to be a big brother, and how to function in a family environment.

Which is probably the most fun part of all.  It has been amazing to watch how easily this family has come together - both on his end and on ours.  He likes being part of a family, and the kids have so readily accepted him as one of their own.  {And that is NOT to say that he isn't also heartbroken that his own family isn't still in tact.  Clearly that would be his first choice.  While we're at it, that doesn't mean it has always been an easy process on anybody's part.  We've all had our struggles, but we've also come an incredibly long way, and it's soooooo cool to see.}

He turned 15 in November.  We  had a small family celebration without Casey, who sadly had booked a show way before Jake came to us.

Then to really celebrate, we went to Casa Bonita when Case was back in town.  It was so much fun!

He has taken an interest in magic, and enjoys doing card tricks.  He has also taken a small interest (a completely spontaneous, natural and not forced interest by the way) in reading!  He likes horror stories the best, and we've found him a good series of completely terrifying books that he's enjoying.  Right now, he's reading one of my all-time favorites: The Stand by Stephen King.

We had a great time celebrating our first Christmas, and the holidays were one of those potential obstacles I had worried about which turned out to be more easily conquered than I'd anticipated.

Jake did an amazing job during his first semester, and earned a 3.5 gpa - all A's and B's - despite the many hills he had to conquer.  He is working on making friends, gets great reports from all his teachers, and is being wise about the choices he makes in both actions and people.  It's truly amazing.

He is resilient, optimistic, helpful, kind and loving beyond anything anyone has the right to expect.  He tackles new challenges without flinching and recognizes that his future isn't determined by what has happened to him in the past.  There have been plenty of struggles - because anything less would be unhealthy after what he has been through - and he has been willing to courageously confront things that are painful, emotional and just plain hard.

We are so proud - so, so proud - of who he is and how far he has come, overcoming huge obstacles, in such a short space of time.

Choosing to be an instrument of love requires us to obey His word and His will, and to continually move forward, taking the next brave step out in faith - often even before we can see where the path leads.

But in my experience, it is those journeys that are the most rewarding.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Kid Update: Leah

Sweet Miss Leah.

Leah is one month away from becoming a seven year old.  At (nearly) seven, she is so very many things: hard working, an excellent big sister, kind, compassionate, opinionated, playful, serious, stubborn, mature, empathetic, a care-taker, a Jesus lover... I could go on. 

She is my little mother.  She loves her siblings, loves to help me and to hold leadership roles both in a classroom setting and particularly within our family.

She is wise well beyond her years.  She is capable of an enormous amount of empathy and compassion, of maturity, sense of justice and right and wrong, of  incredible talents, intense intelligences and high aspirations.  

The development of each of these traits is incredible to witness.  

One thing I have not discussed openly is our struggle with her giftedness.  It sounds like such a contradiction in terms - which is why I haven't talked about it before: she is highly, highly gifted.  And it's really hard.

To even give the sense that we are complaining about this giftedness seems, to many, as if we were complaining about having won the lottery.  She is immensely talented, and will be intellectually able to literally do anything she wants, her whole life long.  Boo-hoo, right?

That being said, giftedness generally - but this level of giftedness particularly - leads to a number of emotional intensities and special needs that require an immense amount of time, patience, wisdom and grace; often that push me to the very ends of my own limitations.

She is a perfectionist to a paralyzing degree.  I'll never forget listening to her on the baby monitor in the middle of the night.  At not even one year old, she would wake up at all hours and practice enunciating words that had given her particular trouble during the day.  She wanted those suckers to be perrrr-fect.  And nothing less would suffice.

She has never lost that sense of determination, nor has she lessened the standards to which she holds herself.  It leads to an enormously debilitating internal struggle: if she even senses the chance to make a mistake, she can become so overwhelmed and frustrated she will not even make an attempt.  Or, frequently, that sense of being overwhelmed creates explosive feelings that she literally can't deal with, followed by outbursts that are destructive and ugly.  It doesn't matter if she could do it - the mere suggestion that something might interfere with her perfect outcome can shut her down before she starts.

It is an exhausting process for her.  There is always the potential for one of her perfectionist-landmines to explode in all our faces, without warning, at any given moment.

Added to that is the fact that she is developing intellectually faster than her six year old body can keep up with.  In other words, there are simply some skills that she can't do yet; some things she isn't ready for because she's only six, though the capabilities of her mind and her will extend much further.  She literally can't live up to her own self-imposed mental standards because... she's still six!

Our biggest challenge by far, though, is the battle she faces with her own emotional intensity.

I don't quite know how to describe it, except to say that her radar for emotions is bigger.  Where you or I are able to take in information and emotion and process it in what might be considered a "normal" way, what she has taken in is just bigger, in both quantity and intensity.

You and I pick up cable TV with our radar.  Her emotional radar is the kind NASA might use to explore the universe.  For a six year old to deal with all of that emotional input and the intellectual complexities it poses on a day to day, minute-by-minute basis is no small task.

Put another way, we're Watson.  But she's Sherlock.  And if you're at all familiar with that analogy, you know that it's no picnic to be Sherlock - or the people who love him.

That's not to imply that things are all bad, because they certainly aren't.  Leah is sweet, funny, kind, capable, helpful and loving. She is polite and respectful, gets along well with everyone she meets, and if you met her you'd never know how deeply she struggles behind the scenes.

Of this I am sure: The Creator of everything has created her exactly as she was meant to be, for a purpose that is mightier than we can imagine or understand.  Not in spite of the things that set her apart and force her to overcome, but because of them.

We are so, so lucky to get to shepherd, coach and guide her, and to share her days (even when those days are completely, exhaustingly difficult.  Right now, they are).

God has used her almost as much as anything else in my life to show me His goodness, His ways and His blessings. So often, she has been the tool that God uses to s-t-r-e-t-c-h me in my own capacity as a mother, largely by helping me to understand my own inadequacies and need for patience, forgiveness, gentleness and grace.  

Those are precious lessons that I could not pass on - that I might never even have learned - without her.  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Kid Update: Logan

Our wonderful Logan boy is almost four and a half.  In some ways, I can't believe that time has gone so fast.  In others, I have always felt that he is much older than his years, and in many ways his little body is just catching up with where he has been all along.  

I have learned so much about men after having a little boy. Boys are boys, right from the beginning, and Logan is no exception.  He is wiggly and wild, likes to climb and is constantly in motion. 

He is strong and brave, loves his sisters and is so tender and sweet with them, but also has that boy energy that needs to come out; that big man's desire for respect tied up in a little body.  He loves cars and tractors and anything with wheels, Star Wars, superheroes and things that fight.  The girls' baby dolls hold no interest from him (though they did once) and doesn't want to play kitchen with his sisters (though he can be persuaded like a good brother).  

Yep, we're raising a future man.

When he was 18 months old, he zigged when he should have zagged in the bathtub, and ended up breaking part of his front tooth against the faucet.  In July, we finally had to have the tooth extracted.  Logan was a champ - seriously, like the bravest kid ever.  No tears, no fear, nothing - about the whole process, and now his cute little smile includes a gap that will be with him for the next several years until his adult tooth takes its place.

He started preschool this year.  Really, his second round of preschool.  We did a very light schedule when he was three because he so badly wanted to "do school" like a big kid.  He excels in school, and is doing amazing things.  

At four, he does all the CC memory work with us (math, geography, English grammar, Latin, history, science, and timeline).  His memory is amazing.  When I started Leah, she was four and a half, and I skipped two subjects her first year because I didn't want to overwhelm her.  Logan has done all seven subjects with flying colors, and knows solidly half of them at 100%.  It's impressive.  

I also started him on some serious kindergarten math, and slowly, a few sight words.  Because, holy moly, he's ready for it.  I will never take for granted the privilege of being here to witness the educational journeys of my children in the special ways I am privy to!

I adore his personality.  Like his big sister, he loves adults and will often prefer to "buddy up" to them instead of kids his own age.  I routinely get awesome reports from his teachers at church that he is helpful and kind, wanting to make sure that every kid has something to play with or enough snack.  He likes to help pass out materials if they are doing a project.  He loves to help at home, and virtually without complaint will help with anything from making my coffee in the morning, to washing windows, preparing dinner or helping with laundry.  He makes his own bed every morning and is responsible about taking care of clothes and toys.

He loves taking care of his sister, and they are so sweet to watch together.  Although often she takes advantage of him and tries to take his stuff.  And every now and again, he likes to pull rank and boss her around, none of which goes over very well.  Kids.  

The reality is, we don't have much bickering in our house.  We have kids.  We have a family, made up of different personalities, wants and needs, and we are all constantly together.  But the amazing thing is that they so genuinely enjoy one another's company that the overwhelming majority of the time, they all figure it out pretty seamlessly.  It is both humbling and impressive to watch.  

Well...Much of the time, anyway.  Considering we're all just a bunch of stubbornly sinful humans in need of lots of grace!

He is so, so, so beyond excited about having a brother.  He does awesome with the girls, and truly is one of the most gentle and considerate brothers I've seen.  But... that boy-ness.  It begs for a companion! He loves having Jake around, but it will be awesome for him to have a brother close in age to rough house and climb and spend his childhood with.  I was pretty neutral on the gender front, but for little Logan's sake there was just a tiny piece of me that was hoping for a boy to even out our household.  

It has been a pretty fun journey with this sweet little guy. 

It's a noisy, fast-paced journey that is continually in motion. 
 And we're loving being a part of it. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Kid update: Olivia

With all the craziness of the past 9 months or so, I haven't been very good about taking time to write down all the wonderful things happening with the kids.

We are so enjoying the fun, delightful phases they are in!  So, without further ado, a little bit about our littles (and one big).


Livvy Joy is two and a half today.  She is our little peanut, our tiny girl with the great big voice.

She has again returned to being an easy kid (thank goodness!), although she does make a point of holding her own as the littlest.  She enjoys bossing people around, and will tell you where to sit or go or what to play with without hesitation. 

She is still a momma's girl, but we've seen her branch out.  She adores Jacob, which is super sweet to watch.  She goes to church nursery and nursery at our school co-op without fuss.  She is about as sweet as they come, and is continually asking for hugs, "kuggles" (snuggles) and kisses.  She prefers to be carried down the stairs as opposed to walking by herself.  She always did enjoy being a baby, and she hasn't exactly lost that quality as yet.  

Her words and mannerisms are adorable, and I so desperately wish I could freeze time on this one.  She is funny, sweet, and absolutely adorable in the ways that she communicates.  Her sweet, heavy-footed, off-balance little toddler run makes me grin every time I see it.  The way she pronounces words; standing at the back door calling the dog to come in; the funny ways she phrases things: where me other hole? while struggling to put her undies or pants on all by herself.  Followed, triumphantly, by:  OH!  There my other hole is!  Silly Livvy!  The way she knows her mind, and will tell you what she wants and doesn't want.  No me yike dat! she'll exclaim at any offending item.  She melts my heart.

She is my little girl of song.  The child loves music, loves to dance and sing.  We began going to Music Together in the fall, and she fits right in.  Musical intelligence is definitely one of her strengths.  She has an amazing capacity for memorizing lyrics and turns much of what you say to her into a song of some sort.  

She is busy all the time.  She loves to sit at the table and work with the big kids.

And she is always finding ways to keep herself busy.  She likes to play by herself as much as she likes to play with her siblings. The phrase, yet me BE! often passes her lips when one of her well-meaning siblings tries to play with her or engage her in something they are working on.

She still does not much enjoy having her picture taken, and won't ham it up for the camera like some other little cheeseballs I know.  

She is silly, but often serious.  Her little brows will come together when she's thinking or focusing on something, and she spends much of her time looking downright angry.  But, she also knows how cute she is, and isn't afraid to use to her full advantage.

And when she doesn't want to do something... well, there's just no making her!

She potty trained in the fall, and is getting to be such a big girl that I can scarcely believe where the last two and a half years have gone.  

I'm so glad we get to spend the next 15 and a half making memories with her.

I changed my font at