A History Lesson

If you don't learn from history, history will repeat itself.

We have all seen it to be true with family and friends. Stuck in a lifestyle no sane person would ever choose. Poor choices led them there, and more poor choices keep them there for decades. The rest of us think, "Really? Again." Yes, again.

I am going to learn from history. Right now. This 6th day of October, the year 2015, I will never again move my family into a home under construction / while remodeling at the start of a school year during which I am the teacher and our home is the school setting. And, if I do, I refuse to pack up my family for a trip before I have unpacked the house. Never. I mean, unless God intervenes. But, seriously, never.

Last year, I corralled the kids to the front of the house for first-day-of-school pics. I mentioned grabbing anything they'd like to bring "to school." Avery spent 10 minutes meticulously packing her backpack with various supplies she could rummage from drawers around the house. Ivan tossed a pencil and library book into a drawstring bag. Garrison finally grabbed a pencil when prompted for a second time that he would still need a writing utensil even though he was "doing school" at home.

Because the carpets were being ripped out that very day, the first day of school, I let the kids wear their shoes inside. Gasp. And also go to town on the carpet with markers. The boys drew out games of hop-scotch and tic-tac-toe while Avery made herself a desk labeled so that no one would be confused.

She also wrote and illustrated a story in the corner of the room. I guess that was during creative writing class.

When I looked to my calendar at the end of the summer, our scheduled moving day coincided with the first day of school. Lucky for everyone, we encountered a few setbacks along the way. The plumber stepped through the ceiling. Twice. In separate rooms. Then he left without a word. Yes, he did. And, the cabinet installers bolted the island into the wrong tiles. It was time to cry.

At least I didn't have to make lunch in the bathroom like last year. Food. In the bathroom. Just gross.

Somehow I've made it through mentally unscathed. Thanks to these cute helpers.

And they come with their own work gloves.

This is the year I've planned the most, stuck to a schedule the most, and even started school a week early. However, one month into school I saw that I was 3 lessons behind in math.

I guess that's why we finished school by wrapping up a science lesson at 6 PM one day last week. Yes, that's the reason, and it's not at all because I'm a slave driver.

A sneak peak at our kitchen.

Just a peak. Keith had taped off exactly where the cabinets were to go in...so there'd be no mistake. However, we also learned it doesn't matter where that tape is since some people will bolt an island in anywhere they want.


PTSD or Something Like That

I moved into our house with neither a functioning kitchen nor bathrooms.

Correction, I had a toilet. One lonely toilet in the kids’ bathroom.

This is the state in which I found the house when I zipped over to beat the movers. Embarrassingly, I admit that we (i.e. Keith) hired movers to take the big stuff 10 houses down the street.

The kind movers didn’t know what to do with me. I wavered between crying fits and staring blankly at the walls. The younger one kept asking what was bothering me so much and tried to assure me that whatever it was would be okay. Poor guy. He didn’t know what he was getting himself into.

I was having a nervous breakdown because I felt I hadn’t adequately cleaned the floors before putting furniture on them. But look at what I was going to have to move just to clean them. You’d have a nervous breakdown too.

Plus, I have issues. Mostly about the cleanliness of floors.

I’m also going to blame PTSD. Or maybe there’s some diagnosis that would explain heightened emotions on the anniversary of a traumatic event.

It was 2 years prior that armed men showed up to our house in Ethiopia looking for the founder of the ministry we worked with. Armed, meaning big machine guns. And men, meaning about a dozen lined up in a semicircle enclosing our front door.

And 4 days later that infamous call from Keith that said, “We’re leaving.” And I had 3 hours before a van would be there to take us to the airport.

Bon voyage, dear Ethiopia.

Our cook Birkea didn’t know why I was hysterical as I hugged her and sent her home for the day. I miss all my Ethiopian friends, but I really miss Birkea. She loved my kids so well. Always hugging and kissing on them like a grandma. Making their favorite dishes, despite my meal planning. And, every Friday afternoon around 4:00 she’d come upstairs to my room, which doubled as our homeschool classroom, and serve us popcorn. It’s like she was saying, “Okay, Mom, school’s over for the week.” The kids would cheer and beg to start Friday Family Fun Night a few hours early. I’d usually cave because somewhere way deep inside I do have a heart.

So, moving into a house with no kitchen or bathroom (or clean floors) isn’t the worst that could happen. Definitely not the worst.

And, in the 11th hour, Keith and his dad installed a sink so that I could brush my teeth like a human, and not like I forced the kids to do in the backyard before tucking them into bed.


Another Move

On a Thursday we had no plans of moving. But by Friday night we were putting together an offer for a house just down the street.

We’d been quite content here in the matchbox, albeit bursting at the seams. It’s big enough for people OR things. We chose people.

Then, I received a ceramic travel mug and a very impressive blender for my birthday. Two additional kitchen items with no home. Gasp.

I solved one conundrum by squeezing the mug in with the fancy glasses. It’s an extreme measure, I know. Now every time I open that cabinet, my brain cramps a tiny bit and I think to myself for a moment, “What’s this mug doing over here with the fancy glasses?” And I consciously do some deep breathing.

The blender? It is amazing, but there is no solution for it. It will not fit anywhere. It is currently a homeless appliance sitting on out in the open on the counter.

Do I return it? No way.

So, we are moving. It’s our last option.

We didn’t want to move and were definitely not in the market for finding a new home. Just a few days prior to finding the new house, we’d had a contractor come over to lay out plans and give an estimate to add on to our current home.

That addition would have given us one extra bedroom, a legit playroom…plus a little extra space for homeschooling. I didn’t need much.

This is the current playroom. It's just the area below Avery's bed, which hangs from the ceiling...thanks to Keith.

The new house gives us exactly that. Plus, it’s the same square footage we would have had with the addition.

The most exciting thing about this house is that it comes with a life-sustaining animal.

Five of them actually. The kids affectionately named them Kevin, Stewart, and Bob (for the Minions), Miss Phyllis (for their favorite babysitter), and last Abraham Lincoln (for their favorite president).

The debate among them, as if it would change their daddy’s mind, is a debate over which is better: the 5 animals we have or 1 dog. They desperately want a dog. A conversation among children is most interesting when it is of no significance.

Avery is head over heels for these 5, but she matter-of-factly stated a disclaimer that if it were our beloved Boston Terrier Simon, she would choose him. Of course.

Ivan is dead set on getting a dog and pleads with Keith over every “free” dog we see on the side of the road. Last week it was the free-puppy-with-a-purchase at a garage sale. The other day it was a collar-wearing dog who had merely wandered too far in our neighborhood. Because he thinks he can convince Keith, he turns to me for my opinion. Ivan, please.

Garrison, who always votes for quantity over quality, used a different logic this time. During the brutal Texas winter, he plans to put one of the animals on his face to keep warm. I mean, that’s normal, right? So all votes are in. Four against one.

These animals. I’ve already grown weary of them, driving down the street 2-3 times per day to check on them. And, they’ve “produced” nothing yet. The thing I’m looking forward to the most, more than a place to put my blender and enough cabinet space to separate the mugs from the glasses, is relinquishing responsibility of these animals.

We can’t move in yet. The house isn’t livable. I mean, it was. Then, I kindly asked if we could move the island a bit to make better use of the kitchen space. We had a few calm discussions about it.

Then I walked in one day to find the entire kitchen in the garage. And, that was only the beginning.

I’ve lost count of my trips to various home improvement stores, and ever growing is the pile of samples I must haul around with me.

If I’ve learning nothing more during this venture, it is this: 1) I have amazing and usually obedient children who don’t mind an excessive number of boring shopping trips to look at kitchen counter top options. 2) My husband generally has great taste and always wants the best for our family; therefore, I should trust him in all things…at least concerning our home.


June, the Birthmonth

My friend Sierra jokes that “June is for Jessica.”

This year, Keith finally listened.

I arrived home on the 1st to a homemade sign rigged to raise with the garage door. “Happy Birthmonth” said the letters drawn by my kids.

When I entered the backdoor, they jumped up from behind furniture to surprise me and serenaded me with a slight change to the traditional song. “Happy birthmonth to you…”

It wasn't so much the surprise as the hilarity of the event that did it. I'd been driving for more than 3 hours on a giant coffee and weak bladder. While my kids rushed me their cards, I had to excuse myself for a little clean up clean up before returning to the party. Lucky for me, I was wearing crocs and a cotton dress, which made it easy.

The cards they made me. Bless their daddy. He must have told them all to say “one day is not enough,” but he refused to help them spell “enough.”

The kids were dying to show off their presents, which were in addition to the cards. They led me to their rooms and pointed out the cleanliness and general lack of clutter. The bedside, shelf, and table that seem to collect what I would deem as garbage were now all clean.

Then, drum roll for the best part. All beds were neatly made, even mine.

My kids. They know how to win me over.

I don’t know why I demand that birthdays are a big deal. I must have had some traumatic experience on a birthday, and this is the effect. Or, maybe that I have a summer birthday and never got a birthday pencil in school. Sniff. Until 8th grade when my English teacher Mrs. Suter made a list of all summer birthdays in May and gave all of us neglected kids our first birthday pencils. That was life changing. Thank you, Mrs. Suter.

The other morning, Keith was taking an extra long time in the bathroom. Then a few hours later, the phone rang. It was a girlfriend many states away calling to inform me that my surprise gift from Keith was a plane ticket to go visit her, which he purchased hours before while in the bathroom. Plus 4 days away from my kids, whom I adore.

That boy. He can’t keep a secret. Not when it comes to gifts for me. After the disaster year, my first birthday as a married woman…where he gave me a laundry basket full of his dirty clothes, all concealed under a black trash bag, he learned his lesson. Since then my birthdays have surpassed any expectation, which is typically low after having received basically a chore. “Here are my dirty underwear for you to wash. You’re welcome. Happy birthday.”

Am I crying or laughing over the laundry basket? And the other picture is proof that I received more than just laundry. Rubber gloves. As in, "Go do the dishes." Keith refers to this as my best birthday ever.

One year I received all my presents in March because that’s when he bought them. I got home from work one day to see him gushing with excitement and pride. He waited all of 5 minutes before asking if he could give me my birthday gifts. Three months early. I take what I can get.

This year, I didn't want much. I mean, since I had that surprise party 24 days early, a clean house, this trip, and a few unwrapped gifts from the kids the day they went shopping. No, I didn't want much.

I was going to ask for no arguing, but everyone beat me to it. I'd had a few things on my mental list, which included fixing the toilet paper holder in my bathroom. I've always thought a birthday is someone's day (or month) of the year to be selfish. "Stick to the list!" I used to tell Keith.

My MIL made one of my favorite cakes. And, naturally, I wept. That's like a love on a plate.

Of my girlfriends, there are 2 whose personality is identical to mine, so we have our moments. They're mostly good. It's funny that they gave me the same gift...a hodgepodge of necessities, including this gem:

As it turns out, letting people do what they want for you...even on your birthday...has its perks.


May Is for Family Day

May marked 4 years that our family of 5 has been together.

I use the word “together” instead of “complete” because I think God has a way with definitive words like “complete.” He’ll be like, “Oh, yeah? I’ll show you complete.” Then I’ll have children showing up at my doorstep, and someone’s vasectomy will come undone.

So, together it is. For four years.

May is for Family Day, although this year the actual day passed without any notice, except for my spending a few leisurely moments (or maybe hours) being nostalgic and looking through old pictures, videos and posts.

I have friends who look on adopted families and say they feel like the kids have always been here. Not true for me. I totally remember what it was like to have just one compliant, docile child. It was really quiet. And clean.

Those were the easy days.

But these are the fun days.

Here’s to 4 super fun years.


Last but Not Least

The smells. The stinch. The noise. The sheer volume of it. That’s how I will forever remember Ivan’s 7th birthday. We finished the festivities with a sleepover. There were only 4 boys playing xBox, but when I opened the door it smelled like a dirty laundry basket. When I wanted them to take their noise outside, Keith wanted them inside as to not disturb our neighbors. It was a lose-lose situation. Meaning, I lost all the way around.

Since it’s the last one of birthday season, we dragged it out more than the others. He had to wait the longest, so it seemed fair, which is so often not the same.

And he got an extra cake.

He’s the only one I address as “Son” when I get really frustrated. The other 2 laugh and ask me why. I’m not sure. Maybe it’s to keep me from calling him something less endearing or profane. Because it’s he who pushes me to the limit. Daily. He’s also the one I typically warn. It’s usually something like, “I’m getting really angry, and I’m about to scream. I suggest you take the disobedience out of my sight.” Before I strangle you, I think to myself.

That seems like too many words to use when dealing with a child, but he pushes me beyond angry. Beyond enraged. I get into the Scary Calm Zone. You know what I’m talking about. Your voice, involuntarily, lowers to a whisper. The serenity that surpasses me is unnatural. Divine. It’s God’s intervention in order to save a life. His or mine. Depends on the day.

I speak slowly and softly as I recount the recent events that led to the present and what his future entails if he doesn’t do exactly as I say.

But before he can even comprehend the weight of the situation that he’s put himself in, he’s flitting about, gathering up and taking out the trash, without being asked…and putting a new bag in the container. Or visiting his daddy’s office to offer a water refill. Or doing cartwheels or spins in the middle of a room.

He is a happy kid. And, unless he’s being provoked by another child, he is content. A sweet snuggler. He is a servant. A lover of all living (and, honestly, even non-living) creatures. He is innately aware of the needs of those around him. Intuitive. He is a jokester. He is also really good at disassembling (i.e. breaking) things.

I try my hardest not to let his actions define him. But it’s hard on some days.

“God, help me to see him as your child, not mine,” I pray.

It helps. Usually.

Happy birthday, Ivan. Sweet One.


Round 2: The Eldest

We finished celebrating the birthday of the eldest child last week. Although he turned 9, he’s been with our family less than 4 years. Physically less than 4 years, but God knew since time began that he would be part of this family. And eventually His family.

If the bakery could freehand a unicorn, a horse head shouldn’t be a problem. It wasn’t. The only problem was that I forgot a lighter for the candles, so they were blown out on a half-eaten cake the following day.

His siblings adore him as their big brother. In the week leading up to his birthday, they continually made pleas for him to get extra this or that “because it’s his birthday.” I have created little monsters. But sweet ones since these requests were selfless.

They excitedly gathered gifts for him long before party day and hid them in my closet. Dust magnets from their own stuffed animal collection and a 5-dollar bill from each of them. “So that he has $10 to buy Legos,” they said. The sweetest.

Plus there’s this, which they made the day I took just the 2 of them with me to volunteer with the refugees in Houston. I had brilliantly gifted Garrison an entire day of limitless xBox while we were gone. I am pretty great.

It wasn’t until the day of the party that Keith tried to strip me of my duties as Birthday Extraordinaire. He wanted to cancel my party and arrange a different venue and theme the following day. He wanted me to just hand over “all boy birthdays from here out.” Preposterous! I said with doubt in my voice, “So, you want the party planning, cake ordering, present shopping, the very important present wrapping, and guest inviting?” I don’t think so.

Garrison and his BFF love art and are both relatively talented, so it was only fitting that we have the low-key party at an art studio. Although we had an equal gender ratio, the painting soon turned into a Boy Dance Party with the boys, not girls, belting out the Kidz Bop tunes in the background. Then a kid busted out the worm in the hallway for the grand finale.

As the oldest child in my family, I know him well. I remember being told, “You’re not the parent, Jessica Lynn,” and thinking my parents were ridiculous for assuming I would back down. And I’m like a broken record to him, “Let me be the mom,” as I go on to explain in too many words that being the mom is a difficult job, hoping he’ll feel sorry for me and cease fire.

It’s a battle I don’t like fighting. But it’s a battle through which God continually reminds me of His never-ending love for me… that he loves me the same whether I am a headstrong child fighting for my own way or submissive and compliant. And, always whether or not I deserve it.

I pray I am able to model that same kind of love for Garrison daily, no matter how much hair I want to rip out in the process.