Friday, July 31, 2015

Paying Attention (what makes me cry)

My friend Emily reminds us to pay attention to what makes us cry. For some reason, I've caught myself thinking about this more than usual, in recent weeks.

I'm really not much of a crier. But apparently, it's still something I like talking about because I think I've given that disclaimer on my blog about eighty-six times now.

I cry over the normal things, like weddings (duh) and anytime someone says something particularly kind about one of my kids. I also tend to cry over poignant displays of patriotism, kids who aren't loved well, injustice, swelling choral groups, sometimes symphonies, and bikers.

A couple of weeks ago, while at the (in)courage retreat, I was in the middle of a pretty ordinary conversation and cried twice in the span of twenty minutes, over two distinctly different things. It got my attention.

The first tear-jerker was a Misty Copeland commercial. I'd seen it at some point but had forgotten about it. Yada yada, instant boo-hooing.

It breaks me to think about a thirteen year old being told her body is "all wrong". It stuns me to think of the strength and resilience it took that young girl to get from there to where she is now. I think of my daughter, muscled-out since the age of three, with strong thighs and a booty I haaaave to stop smacking and grabbing. (I will. I will stop. She's getting too old. I'm done. But it's just the best thing ever.) I think of the ways she's built differently than her friends, already. I think of the ways I want her to not give a single rip about it. I think of me, my entire life, being skinny-shamed in order to make everyone else feel better about themselves, and the damage that did. I wish I'd had more voices telling me I was perfect. I wish the same for you.

(Did you cry? I need to know. We'll call it "research".)

After we were off Misty and a different collection of women had gathered, conversation veered briefly toward friendship. Instant tears, again.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of that one, but there's something special about being truly known by someone. Friendship between women can be a thing of pure beauty. Maybe you're in a time where that's lacking in your life or maybe you're fulfilled. Both positions are hanky-worthy if you ask me.

My emotions are walking an extremely thin line this week as evidenced by a few moderate melt-downs. Today I wanted to cry but couldn't (full disclosure: I thought my kids deserved a quick guilt trip, but God thought otherwise) then burst into tears an hour later because I tried to schedule a counseling session for one of my people and they turned me down. (Long story. Sob.)

(It's my party and I'll cry if I want to?)

Welcome to a day in the life of Me, where anything slightly out of the ordinary is obsessed over until the next new thing comes along. It's a sickness, but where would a writer be without the gift of extreme self-rumination?

The stress level is building over here and it can only climb so long.
I'm paying attention to my body and the weird ways I'm (not) dealing. It's time to start thinking about some good ways to burn off steam. (Stay tuned!)

For now, jump into my pity party.
Are you a crier? What makes you weepy?

Cry Me A River,

Monday, July 27, 2015

Labor Pains

Two days ago, I swayed on my parents' hammock in a stolen, quiet hour, devouring Everything You Ever Wanted by Jillian Lauren. I was sucked into her story, immersed in her pain, gulping it down like it was the only air left in the room. If she'd been within my reach, I would have sobbed into her hair. I'd have kissed her on both cheeks and the forehead. Yes. This. You wrote my story, and now there's no other option than for you to move into the vacant room in the basement. Don'teverleaveme.

Ten hours later, I sat with my mom in the E.R. while she suffered through a few tests (she's fine!) Because she's a trooper and one of the nicest people I know, she joked with the nurses and tried to put them at ease. When asked about her pain level she said, "Well, I've had kids. So this is a 7."

For a split second, I thought she was talking about the pain of a torn-apart heart.

I can't talk to you about contractions, epidurals, or mastitis. Oh, but I know a thing or two about bearing children. I could pen an anthology about all the ways a heart can break. If you don't have time for that, I could show you the flattened gaze of a toddler in his passport photo, and you'd see a glimpse of everything. Some say my kids were too young to understand, but those same people run to their infants' cries and spend their lives making the world safe and cozy. It's what we do. If you think my kids don't remember, I'd ask you to imagine your own without you. Just for a second, allow yourself to go there. Does it hurt? Do they feel it?

When I speak, I can't get two sentences into my son's adoption day without turning my back to the audience to compose myself.

It was one of the most beautiful days of my life.
It was hands-down the most painful.

And I'm just the mom.

Back when I doodled hearts on my notebook, back when I met a boy with clear, blue eyes, back when I walked the aisle a full head taller than my dad in a too-short dress, I never pictured this sort of motherhood, constantly leveraging the miracle against the loss.

This is adoption, the bearing of a shape-shifting weight. It's holding something precious in your hands but getting lost sometimes in the fallout. Adoption is the gas-slick rainbows of my childhood - as magical as the regular kind, but far more complex, and with an edge.

Last night was a rough one.

There are hard parenting days, and then there are hard adoption days. Those are the ones that level me. A decade into this gig, I haven't progressed beyond curling up in bed and sobbing so hard I choke.

I was not built to be rejected so persistently by someone who loves me so much.
(Or was I?)

I was not cut out for this job.
(Or am I?)

People get uppity when someone implies that adoption is harder than garden-variety parenting. It's all hard. It's all the hardest job we'll ever do. I get it. Honestly, I have no built-in control group. My kids are all over the map and one feels almost no loss at all (yet?) I don't know what the heck I'm talking about. I'm not qualified to weigh in when it comes to comparing, and there's really no point.

But I'll do it anyway.

When hormones and dysregulations and sibling rivalry and boring ol' disobedience end with someone sobbing because they miss their birth mom or they're mad we didn't teach them Korean or they feel unlovable at their core, "hard" veers off the cliff and we all crash and burn.

When your kid won't stop lashing out and it's turning your home into a war zone but for the life of you, you don't know what else to try, you don't know how to love everyone right, you would do anything/have tried everything/just want to make it stop, the air can rattle with the reverb of anxiety and fear.

When you're lonely, but you're terrified of being judged by people who haven't walked the same ground, well, you do what it takes. You hoist yourself up and you hug those kids harder. You make new friends, because your family is so worth it. If you can't understand us, you don't deserve to. (That's what you say to yourself on the worst days.)

I am tired of spit-shining my kids' loss.
I'm sick to death of pulling my sleeves down over my contact burns.

We have so many good days. We're working now, not nearly as broken as we used to be.
But we are entitled to these days, too. We've earned the right to sob our guts out until our hair clings damp against our foreheads and our eyes are rubbed raw.

I would give my right hand to erase their hurts, but I know the scars aren't wasted. I'm not confident in my ability to say the right thing or explain it perfectly to my kids when I can't wrap my own head around it, but I do know this: 1) I will love you every single second of your life, no matter what. 2) I will never give up on you. 3) You can say whatever you're feeling and you won't be in trouble. Tell me the truth. Tell me.

We were made for each other, not by a God who inflicts pain, but by a God who is famous for the way he can make a solid Plan B almost feel like it was always meant to be.

I believe childbirth is the most intense pain a woman experiences. I don't have to have felt it myself to trust it's true. If there's someone in your life who has adopted, you can offer them the same. Be their safe place. Get loud about the ways you see them. Cheer them on. Root for their kids. Do they parent in strange ways? I sure hope so. Do some of their kids have massive feelings that spill out in some pretty frustrating and annoying ways? I'm sure of it. Love them anyway. Love them just the same as if they were quiet and tidy. Let them be sad with you. Celebrate success. Believe what they tell you.

Morning came, just like it always does. Today is for eating French toast with puffy eyes and forgiving each other for the thousandth time. We'll pray for grace we can't manufacture on our own, and we will find it somewhere in that asphalt swirl, where the light catches a hard place and makes it gleam.

*Amazon link

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Story

The story of my life is that I do things like hop on planes as though I'm that person. I put on make-up and haul my laptop in a cute bag and I walk with my eyes facing front, pretending I'm someone other than a girl who has never, ever executed an online pre-board (honestly, I don't even know what it's called and I'm not convinced it's even real...) I sit at the gate and flip through my phone like everyone around me, the notion washing over me, who have I become? I swore I'd never be a chronic boredom filler, but I let it recede. There's a local-famous person just a few seats down and when I point my phone directly at him and take a picture, he assumes I'm absent-mindedly scrolling through my Instagram feed.

Cory and the kids dropped me off curb-side last week with the kids still in pajamas, and it's really the only way to travel. I'll remember that the next time I schlep off alone to O'Hare, driving for hours, angsty that I'm lost, worried about parking and maneuvering and shuttle buses, pre-emptively anxious about airplane toilets (<< the WORST).

I'm not a good traveler.

Before every single flight I've ever made, I lie in bed a night or two beforehand and ask Cory, "What if I die?" I never feel okay until he promises me I won't. And when one of my kids tells me the night before this last trip, "I'm worried you'll get lost from us," I promise them the same - I'll come back. I promise - We all know better, but I take liberties and boss God around a bit. He is God and I am not, it's true. But my kids have born enough heartache and these are promises I should be allowed to make without reservation. Keep us needy in other ways, God. Please.

The story of my life is that I often get homesick for my family, once I'm "there". I always want to take them with me and I never feel fully right until I'm back home.

You're nodding along because you know it's true, this is what it means to have a family. It doesn't matter if you're the mom or the daughter or the sister or the girlfriend.We tie our souls inextricably to others and when there's too much slack, well, we're adrift.

But the story of my life is that sometimes, once I'm squirreled away, "disappeared into the sky," trusting my kids are still kissed and cared for; once I'm among people whom I love and who love me back, I fall into step. The blues recede, and I wiggle my shoulders into a different dress.

I'm linen when I thought I was always cotton.
Still me, but with time on my hands and a clearer head.

I sit in a barn among an unlikely sisterhood and feel untethered, strangely emotional, unsure of whether I'm mostly happy, mostly sad, or somewhere in between. There's a common thread between us, and I'm speechless over the way we're bound. They have welcomed me well and accepted me as fully Shannan.

But I can't bring them home with me.

The story of my life right now, with the last mockingbird in denial about the setting sun and the neighbors kicking up a fuss, I know I'm in need of people who not only acknowledge my life, but understand it. I need compatriots. I've become numb to the ways a weird life gets lonely.

The strum of a guitar, the song and the moonlight, they cracked something deep inside me.
I'll patch it up with tar and pitch. I'll patch it with a wish.

It won't be like this forever.

The story of my life is that I was meant for a hayfield, but that's not all.

I understand the weeds, never prettier than when they grab the light. I'm a sister to the busted-up sidewalks of this city. The flower that pushes up between them has my heart forever.

We think of ourselves as wholes, but maybe we're actually a thousand different intersecting arcs.

We are so many things. We won't stop contradicting ourselves. We couldn't if we tried.

We're incomplete works of art in a studio where progress sometimes looks like reheated soup and yesterday's socks.

The singular story of my life, and yours, is that it never stops bending/fading/snapping into view.

This is the story of life.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Gift of Stress

I've always been a summer girl, made for the season when I showed up in the heat of June, my fate sealed when I tied my soul to a blue-eyed man in late August, the sun setting in heat waves as we drove into a future we couldn't even picture if we squinted.

Our first house was bought in the thick of summertime.
Four years later, I wore my lucky skirt and bare legs when we signed papers for the farm.

Calvin came home in August, and Ruby, one year later. Silas embodies the Indian Summer that kicks past the calendar and into late September.

My life is a landscape of summers; a soundtrack of flip-flops and fireworks, a language of flowers.

 This is my first summer under a deadline.

Though I wouldn't have chosen this timing, the circumstances carry the distinct upside of commanding my focus, meting out my self-discipline in haphazard pockets of writing, then melting me into the edges of what I would choose over and over again.


I'm writing a book, and the window is slipping down the jamb. It's happening, it's real, and there's never enough time to work. The kids are all home and there's fun to be had, but I can't do it all, so I do what I can.

My in-between reward is my actual life. For every day I hunker down, there are five days of messes and projects and errands and chocolate chip cookies when it's really too hot to turn on the oven.

There's drama and angst, but oh, do I choose it.
The watermelon was a dud, but the blueberries are perfect and yes, I choose it.
I choose bare feet tracking dirt across my floors, and I'll sweep them, I will. But I won't mop. The messes don't matter. There's big work to be done, but not today. Today, we rest. We play. We struggle into the mundane. We do it together, just like we did all those summers ago.

I won't tell you the work is easy.
I'm guessing (hoping?) this isn't the most fun part.

But I already love my book. It gave me a gift when it barged into the sacred space of my summer. It stole my heart when it forced me to find solace in the everyday life that I chose - the life I won't stop choosing.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Hard Reality of An Easy Family Trip

I keep meaning to tell you about Miami.

Cory has always had a burning in his heart for the Magic City. It has a little to do with the food, a little to do with Dexter Morgan, and a lot to do with the music. For a man whose hips have never, ever swiveled, the Cuban/Latino-infused beats have a way with him. Like, it moves him. Literally, very slightly.

When we realized we would only be a couple hours away, it seemed like a no-brainer to go.

Funny thing: We were warned against it. By multiple people. "Everyone is naked there." But we threw caution to the wind, our dreams alight on the high hope that at least some of the good people of Southern Florida would clothe themselves for our arrival.

Our prime destination: Little Havana.
The research told us it was like stepping into a different country. I loved the sound of that.

As a multi-cultural family with a global worldview, the idea of traveling trans-Continentally is inspiring. I would love for my kids to experience the rich cultures God created. It's mind-blowing and important and I want them to see it for themselves, to really understand their place on the map and the obligation they have to others. I don't want no America-centric humans up in here. 


As a family on a one-vacation-in-a-decade budget, it all seems....improbable. At least for now.

Voila, Miami.

Here's how we vacation when possible: Full immersion.

(Or in the case of Miami, 2/3-immersion, on account of the rampant rumored nudity.)

Forget the touristy stuff. We want to experience the real-worldness of a new place. Eat in their local dives. Walk the neighborhoods. Stare across the street at an ordinary, chain-link-fenced stucco home with a dilapidated swing-set and imagine what it feels like to step out the door in the morning and board the bus to school.

Cultures only run as deep as the humanity we're willing to notice, and the eagerness to simply imagine a different life has to be worth something.

So, that's what we did. We loaded up our rental car, buckled the kiddos hip-to-hip, blared Cuban music, and hit the road.



 {Ace Hardware, please.}

 {the mom is beginning to show early signs of despair...}

{Bob Goff doppelganger alert!}

Wasn't that a fun day? Aren't we darling?

Here's what happened an hour or so after we left the city: mass mayhem with broad displays of general unruliness, resulting in much bargaining/threatening/shouting, culminating in Cory yelling louder than he has yelled in at least three years of parenting, while barreling down a 4-lane highway deep in the mangroves of Southern Florida.

And that wasn't even the half of it.

After an overpriced dinner at the McDonald's drive-thru ($14 for the kids, and we tried to order cheap, say what?) and radio silence for the last 45 minutes, we strode wordlessly inside our condo, where Cory called a family meeting.

(Editorial note: We call family meetings roughly once every two years.)

Though the yelling and angst had run dry, the tears were just beginning, as evidenced by Ruby, who commenced sobbing.

Followed by me.

Silas marched to his little condo-bedroom-home and brought me a "Siley shirt" to make me "feel better" (cue more tears) and also offered one to Ruby, who politely declined.

Red-eyed and ashamed, we all felt so sorry.

The root of it was, we expected too much. THERE IS A COST TO INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL. Even when it's only pretend.

Silas made his rounds rubbing all the weepers' backs. Calvin sat stony-faced and exhausted. Cory sent us all to bed.

Maybe you've never been on a vacation in your entire life and you hate this time of year because of people like me who clog up your feed with pictures of palm fronds. Maybe you see my family looking so bright-eyed and sunkissed and think, "It must be nice to be them." Maybe you assume we always get along. Maybe you assume our home is usually peaceful. Maybe you assume I'm an awesome, patient, fun mom or that having a husband who works in the jail might be a handy card to keep in your hip pocket when the wildlife gets way, way too wild.

(That last part is true, but only for like the first month or so. Then it loses its punch and/or you feel guilty about making empty jail threats to minors. Whatever.)

We're all just humans, doing our best and failing often. The only thing I have to offer is my commitment to telling the truth on the internet. I'm not sure if it helps, but it sure can't hurt.

So there you have it. The best days can end in the most human ways.

Pass the mojitos.