Friday, January 24, 2014


"It happens and I don't know anyone who can explain it. A child walks in the door and that child belongs to you. The odd thing is that it is seldom the kid you would expect it to be....Sometimes it's the kid who is the neediest, the one you have to spend the most time with. And sometimes it's like falling in love. Inexplicable chemistry." - One Small Boat by Kathy Harrison

Yesterday was Robert's birthday, though, according to him, "The F be replacing all the TH's".

(He does this sort of thing to make a spectacle in our living room, to get a rise out of us. So we react in kind and shake our heads and laugh. I practice my street talk and he says it's improving and this is just one of the ways we love each other.)

Somewhere around midnight the night before, as timely as ever, I was overcome by the surging truth that the paper plate banners simply had to come out. This will probably be the one and only time he'll be under my room on his birthday, and he needed the full Martin Birthday Experience, which, in this case, ended up being the paper plate banner (the gift that keeps on giving!) and a bunch of balloons strung up by yarn. (He's up and out of the house well before it's light out, and I secretly hoped they would scare the liver out of him.)

School was canceled for the kids and though I could write a whole saga on that kind of drama, I'll just save it for next week because there's plenty more where that came from.

I spent most of the day in the kitchen, making a recipe he messaged me via Facebook, back when he still had hope in the intersecting of our culinary worlds.

Loaded Chicken and Potatoes. 
People - so good.

And because I really love him, I made him a homemade birthday cake, which almost never happens. (Again, a recipe he sent me.)

It was a homemade cheesecake stuffed inside a homemade red velvet cake, frosted with homemade cream cheese frosting. 

Hey, kid? I love you.

(Don't tell him I just called him a kid because he's especially sensitive about this sort of thing now that he's twenty, but I'm saying anyone who still sneaks up and tickles their dad falls under the category of "kid". And I'm sticking to it.)

Here's where the story takes a turn, because birthday or burfday or not, Robert's still a human being and so am I. We're both known to show our peopleness from time to time. He gets crabby or belligerent. I act too busy or annoyed.

I wanted recognition for the effort I put into loving him, for spending my day in that blasted kitchen when I could have had my nose in a book.

They say love is full of grace, but apparently not mine, because I keep seeing the way I want to secretly lord mine over my people, making them feel small next to my sacrifice. It's gross and I hate it, but there it still is, never going away.

Instead of oohs and aaahs and thank yous, he was grumpy, texting his life away at the table when he knows that's the one time we ask him not to. He didn't make eye contact, didn't have a word to say about anything, huffed and puffed when Cory told him to put his phone away.

Happy birthday, this is a disaster.

I wanted it all to be bigger than that.
I wanted myself to be better.

I wanted the fairytale that doesn't actually exist, but I wanted it more than ever that night, because birthdays are a bigger deal than he's ever been shown, and I wanted him to feel that for once.

What we all got instead was ordinary. Imperfect.
We got real life, which is what we've gotten every day for the past six months with this guy.

And I have to believe that's the way it was always supposed to be.

I thought about what we were doing exactly one year ago, and about how much had changed since then. In some ways, our hearts feel somehow further apart, but boil that down, and it's obvious that now we're more fully together. We're a truer version of family, warts, fights, gripes and all.

I decided to let it go. To open my hands and let loose my ideas about what love should look like on any given day. I decided to keep on loving him well, freely, even when he's difficult or sad.

(He's done the same for me a hundred times, and he hasn't even known me that long.)

Just about that time, his sunshine came out again. No reason or warning. No explanations.
I feel like he decided to let some things go, too.

A family is a safe place to do that.
We don't have to debrief every swinging mood.

He asked us not to do "the candle thing", so we promptly ignored him, mostly because Silas had been planning his candle placement since 9 a.m., but also because we can be stubborn, too.

Then he said he's not much for being the center of attention, "so can we skip the singing?" And we belly-laughed because his intention and purpose in every moment of time is to ensure his position on center-stage. Oh my word, I don't even.

His reward for that kind of nonsense was a double-round of Happy Birthday, round two sung in Spanish.

Our tallest homeboy will be moving out in just over a week.
I can't talk about it.
I can't talk about it, for real.

I'm terrified and ready and mostly, I'm deeply, passionately terrified.
And sad, I'm sad, too.

I'm interested in getting reacquainted with a little evening-peace-and-quiet, but I already know it'll be too quiet and too boring and I'll miss him yelling "MOM! MOM! MOMMMM!" through the house and I'll be overcome with nosiness about all the details in his life I'm no longer privy to and I'll still want to meddle in his relationships and finances and WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH MYSELF?

Be prepared for a hearty dose of over-processing in the days to come. Consider yourselves warned.

My family has sort of learned to change on a dime and I'm proud of us. Robert is part of us now, and we're part of him. Forever, come what may.

I don't necessarily love saying I have a twenty-year-old son, because nineteen seemed old enough, but he's reminding me every chance he gets that it's now mandatory that I make all necessary adjustments.

So, fine. My oldest son is twenty.

He's becoming more of a man every day and he's still all kid.
He's affectionate like a child and tall enough to pick his Dad up and toss him around without warning.
He's sensitive and loyal.
He loves his boys and takes parenting them seriously.
He's teachable. A good listener.
He's generous with his heart.
He's a hard worker.
He's the class clown.

He's just the son and brother we needed.


  1. I already cried my eyes out tonight at our old church - and now the tears are coming out again. I was holding it together until the picture of just your oldest and your youngest. And then your list at the end.
    Happy burfday, Robert!!

  2. This is a REALLLLLY good post shannan.

  3. This is quite possibly the most perfect family photo of "the kids" ever. I love every single thing about it :) I'm praying for you all as Robert prepares for his big move!

  4. Oh heavens, I love your kiddos. I want to meet them all. And Robert is like Zack's twinsies, not to mention that you're my soul sister.

  5. Such a beautiful post. So much beauty in the ugly of real life. Giving up our pictures of perfect love is one of the best things we can do for those we truly love. Much awesomeness in this written piece of yours.

  6. robert stories are my favorites. i don''t know why. i guess bc they are so real. i love the pic of all 4 of your kiddos. and don't get too worried about the grumps- they usually go as quickly and weirdly as they come. teenager/young adult hormones are not to be understood- im learning to just say my peace and move on. they hear you. and they hear the love. keep on lovin despite it. ;)

  7. happy birthday to robert!! how sweet and precious is your family!

  8. Don't take his lack of excitement personal it's the age and I am sure he simply didn't know how to react if he has had a rough upbringing it isn't the norm for him.So he had to work it out in his head and deal with his emotions in his own way.

    That Cake looks Amazing ! He will remember this as I am sure it touched his heart more than you know.

    Nice to see him Smile though ! Happy Birthday Robert ! Best Wishes ~ Cheers Mr.

  9. i feel like i kind of know where you're coming from here.

    we have a just turned 25 year old with her two tiny girls living here since november. we "adopted" her when she was fourteen right before her home-life officially went side-ways. (by adopted i mean she came & stayed with us periodically to escape home and we offered to keep her but she chose her crazy life instead so we loved her through it) i don't know if this means i became a grandma at 29 or just another auntie to those girls but there is something about us - we're woven together as a family.

    the truth is - she needs to move out on her own. the drama gets old, the lack of appreciation is wearing but the love. oh for the love. she needs someone to meddle in her finances, her attitude and her choices but mostly pour out grace. i want her to grow up already but at the same time im going to miss them all to pieces. the good thing about it is when i don't see all the struggles right under my nose i can pretend everything is peachy. i think having her here causes me much more worry.
    but on the other hand i know whats out there...
    thankfully the one who loves them more is there too.

  10. What a beautiful love filled post. May God's continued blessings be on you He is with you all and knows exactly what each of you needs at any given moment. I love the photos.

    Love and hugs ~ FlowerLady

  11. I love your family! And I love your writing! Thanks for sharing!

  12. Thank you for your honesty. I have had those same moments / days when I want to be acknowledged for my efforts. I shamefully want gratitude and recognition and sometimes I get moody, distant, ungrateful. Thank you for the reminder to offer grace and love our people unconditionally.

  13. You're such a good mama, Shannan, SUCH a good one!

  14. Happy Birthday to Robert!

    The birthday meal looks delicious and calorific, but at twenty, who thinks about calories?

    And a good reminder that the things we do for others aren't supposed to be about us. I often feel the same way too...secretly wanting recognition for all the trouble I went to in an effort to shower love on others. When I get past my pouting, I laugh at myself for being such a baby. I guess it's a good thing we are a work in progress and there is grace for us all.

  15. Parenting our "adult-children" is hard!!!!! I have to constantly manage my expectations and just let things be what they are....which is sometimes great and sometimes not! Thankful you were able to let things go during the burfday!

    I heard a quote at a conference once and I cannot remember the author, but I have used this quote and passed it along many times especially in regards to my grown kiddos! "A mouth closed except in prayer is the vehicle for a miracle!"

    LOVE the picture. I think a large canvas is calling it!

    1. I agree. Adult child rearing is harder than any of the other years. (Child rearing is over then, yet they will always be your child.) Love that quote. I think my tongue bled from biting it when my children went to be out on their own and I still say things I shouldn't. You teach, pray and expect, but they are individuals with choices to make and consequences to suffer. In the end it's their lives and God is never surprised. Sorry to go on and on. ;)

    2. Love that quote and thanks for sharing it with us all.... :-)

  16. Oh, my heart. Shannan, I loved every line of this post. The real rawness and love comes shining through. And these words?
    "They say love is full of grace, but apparently not mine, because I keep seeing the way I want to secretly lord mine over my people, making them feel small next to my sacrifice. It's gross and I hate it, but there it still is, never going away."

    That's me. I hate it, too, but it's something the Lord is using to teach me how to really love. And I'm 50! with a nearly 25-year-old, a 22-year-old, a nearly 12-year-old, and 3 and 18 month old granddaughters. I ask you, "HOW?" I still have my battles, but I am, oh, so blessed. As are you. I'm so glad you shared all of it. So glad!

  17. OH MY.....You know this post hit home! See we foster and we adopted 2 boys from the system and WOW had it been a crazy road. I am just so in awwww with this post and it has tears in my eyes. THANK YOU!

  18. Oh I love him. And I love you for giving him to us.

  19. Happy birthday to Robert! What a handsome young man. And he is so lucky that his family is stubborn and loves him enough to do all the things that he secretly hopes you will do! My youngest just went to college so I absolutely understand all the "I'll be overcome with nosiness about all the details in his life I'm no longer privy to and I'll still want to meddle in his relationships and finances and WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH MYSELF?" feelings. Still experiencing those feelings with his sister who is a senior in college. Hang in there! I would imagine your other 3 kids will keep you plenty busy and serve as a nice distraction :)

  20. you have such a beautiful family, shannan.
    you have me in tears over here.
    God is so good.

    i'll be praying for you...i know it'll be hard when he leaves, but your hearts will always be knit together.

  21. Robert has a beautiful face, true man-child. You'll cry a lot when he moves out and you'll worry a lot. When my son moved out at 20 I cried.....a lot even though we had just brought our second daughter home from China and had a 3 yr and a 1+ old, it didn't matter and it didn't ease my sorrow. When he asked if he could come home for a year to save money for his wedding I practically did a jig. Well he will be celebrating his 5th wedding anniversary in June with his year old son. There is still something about when he comes and hangs out with us by himself and teases his now 11 and 8 yr old sisters that I love.

  22. Happy Birthday Robert ! When you move on to start a life of your own, your mom will probably need a hug ,if you give her a hug she will probably need another one, with that hug she will ask you to stay for dinner, after dinner she will probably say stay one more night, one more night will turn into breakfast and breakfast will turn into lunch and the next thing you know she will have a hold of your hand looking at you with the pride, mixed with worry and sadness knowing its time to let go but she knows you will be fine, you belong to god, you belong to her she knows deep in her heart everything will be all right. She will just need one more hug, one more smile,one more moment with her boy.
    I think I better go call my son!

  23. love that last line...son and brother we need. He knows just what we all need! good stuff. happy birthday Robert!! you got a great family.

  24. I cannot even tell you how much this hits home! It is a blessing for me to know what happens here is normal! :) Love to your family!

  25. Robert is so handsome!! Happy birthday to your oldest!! I wish I knew how Robert came to be yours!! I always wonder!

    1. He came slowly. :) But if you click on the link in this post where I say "exactly one year ago" it will take you to the post when we officially considered him "ours". And there's a bunch of other links in that post that tell about what led up to that. :)

  26. I suspect the grumpy mood was directly related to the fact that "birthdays are a bigger deal than he's ever been shown." He was feeling it, in the safest way a 20 year old boy/man knows how. Happy birthday Robert!

  27. His face lights up when he smiles!
    And, I love Ruby's fingers up behind Calvin's head - LOL!

  28. I get it. I totally get it. That's why this Shakespeare quote is one of my favs: "Expectation is the root of all heartache." Throw that expectation out the window!

    Oh, and your Loaded Chicken and Potatoes looks MUCH better than the one in the link! You nailed that food pic! :)

  29. your family is so very, very beautiful. You make me want to praise God!

  30. I know exactly how you felt and were ashamed of! Can't count how many times I pictured more, when less was given from my four girls. I Love, love, love (imagine Pride and Prejudious!) you, your writing, your love, your openness and esp. your kids!!! God sustain you through this life change. (I've learned, life is change. There's just no getting around it!)

  31. I just stumbled across your blog today and I think it is absolutely wonderful that you and your husband have such an amazing and diverse family. Thanks for sharing!

  32. Hi Shannan! This is a wonderful post, Happy Birthday Robert! I needed this post today as we have just this week brought a fourteen year old 6"5' young man into our family. Right now it looks to be just temporary. I totally get the "mood swings" you speak of in this post. One moment he is all smiles and two seconds later we can hardly get him to talk. Thank you for reminding me that I don't have to try to fix it all for him, just to love him through it. I would love to chat sometime as I know God has placed you in my life for "as such a time as this". (:

  33. Happy birthday to your big guy! Now we are both parents to 20 year olds! It looks like a lovely spread. Don't be so hard on yourself. It is our job as pArents to teach respect and you certainly earned it with your loving birthday celebration. Maddie ruined every holiday and celebration for a few years but we never stopped expecting better from her and now she's mortified that she ever behaved that way.

  34. I remember when I realized that I wasn't going to get the appreciation for all my loving efforts with my firstborn. It was frustrating and hard to work through. I now know that when the kids come full circle and become adults, that is when they will realize how good they had it and appreciate their childhood. You have given your son a wonderful life and even if he isn't showing his appreciation, know that he at least feels your love and that love will last him a lifetime in his heart, affecting everything he does and everything he is. As mothers we give and give and give and the rewards are not for us. They are for them.

  35. He's moving out?
    I know you said you don't want to talk about it for real, but seriously?! Where's he going????
    Still close by, I hope!!

    And another thing.
    Why am I just now putting it together that you're not JUST his mother.
    You're the grandmother to his boys.
    THAT is amazing.
    Do you prefer being called Grammy, Nana, or Granny??
    That deserves a post.


  36. I needed this post. I can totally see my baby brother doing the exact same thing. The sullen looks and then burst into smile. I saw my brother in your sons eyes... I lost my brother in December. So thank you.

    God is shining down on us. Ive heard so many miracles in the past two months, since hes left us. I see your son and hes everything I wish my brother had become - and could have become, had he not left us. this is convoluted and messy, but what Im trying to say is thanks. The imperfect moments are some of my happiest memories.

    1. Friend, I'm so sorry for your loss. If this brought you even a sliver of joy or peace, I'm humbled and honored. Thanks for trusting us with your heart here. Praying for your family tonight.

  37. This whole post made me cry. I stared at the photo of all four kids for awhile and thought what an angel you are. ♥

  38. i can relate
    mine is a girl. and she's not a homeboy (HA!) but i can relate
    and because of that, i'm sorta an emotional wreck after reading this

  39. Happy Birthday Robert! Again, with the right words miss shannan!! praying for you all as you start a new chapter in your lives. the pics are precious!!

  40. This post made me cry too. I always want the fairytale that doesn't exist. You are a great mama.

  41. I'm trying not to cry because I'm reading this in public. We adopted an older child recently. It's hard, very hard. Recently while praying my husband suggested that I look at her as my ministry and not a daughter. The daughter part will come , but in the meantime consider her my ministry so that my feeling don't get hurt and my expectations don't get crushed. It's so easy to place expectations and romantic notions on our adopted older children, but its unfair to them. Because they haven't been raised by us, my daughter was raised by wolves. So she is not use to the normal ness of everyday family things and celebrations. During our training we said we could love without being thanked or appreciated. But the doing is so much harder then I thought.

    1. I get every single word of this.
      Few things have come as close as breaking me...
      It IS hard. But I'm praying that God shows you a glimpse of glory, just in time.
      Press on!
      And MUCH love.

  42. Happy Birthday, Robert!

    What a lovely family you have. Love the picture especially the bunny ears! :)

  43. I can relate as well... but I am the "Robert" in my family... My parents "adopted" me nearly 7 years ago and have been by my side through everything (heartbreaks, jobs, marriage, the birth of my baby and today, the loss of my Mimi - my mom's mom). Thank you for your words. I always try to explain to my mom how much her unconditional love means to me but I never feel adequate... just know as the "child", you are amazing. Your love for him is more than enough. Your meddling is welcomed (even if not at the time) and he will always be thankful to have you... to have a family.

    1. Well, now you're making me cry a little and it's TOO COLD TO CRY!


      Thanks so much for this. Truly beautiful.

  44. It's going to sound terrible, but sometimes I miss the way my Robert and I got to interact when he was in jail, he was so open, willing to ask for help, calling home every single day - now the text message responses are done begrudgingly and the whole new fangled "conversation" deal? Not catching on in our home. Trade out construction paper pennant banners for your paper plates, and our boys had very similar birthdays. I get that my need for the kid to acknowledge my big love for him comes out of my selfish broken understanding of love - but that voice can be super loud sometimes. I want him to acknowledge the awesomeness of a birthday week, and his first Christmas stocking, and the daily lunches I pack with love and prayer and hope. I want him to say "I see it, it matters". But really, when it comes down to it, I want him to say " I see all of you, YOU matter to me, your love matters to me". I get the space you're in (I live there too) and am praying for you, your family and Robert as you also prepare for the great " letting go". It's such a 90%terrifying/10%joyful place to be. - Mia

    1. I get this, 100%. I've had those same thoughts. It's so much easier for these guys to be vulnerable on paper.
      Keep loving that boy well. I have to believe it makes a difference!

  45. I can see a movie that begins on this day and flashes back to all of the other days you mention in the post you linked ("exactly one year ago"). When is your first book coming out for people to buy? Because I think we are all ready for the second one, and then the movie. I hope it's not crass to say your family ought to be a movie, but your writing is phenomenal, and look how many people are drawn to it! You make us all think more deeply about our own lives; and you make us all wish we could meet yours in person!

  46. Great mama, great family, perfect pic! I may not be living your story, but I am better for reading it. I'm struggling with a relationship and your words on love and "humanness"guide me.