Category Archives: Family

Faith in the Darkness: Disrupted Adoption

My friend Addie Zierman asked her readers to share their stories of faith in the darkness to mark the release of her new book, Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark. I highly recommend her book and have already shared about it, but I wanted to take up her challenge and write my own story.

This is not an easy story to share, as you’ll see. There’s more I could confess. There are other, different, arguably more important perspectives. But this is my perspective and the only one I can share. I ask your grace and mercy in sharing this, not for me alone, but for everyone who had a part in this season.

***

The darkest season in my life started with a nine hour stay at the emergency room. That night—well, early morning I guess—we came home without our daughter. We would see her again, but she never came back to our house.

This is the story of a disrupted adoption.

That’s safe, clinical language for an adoption that falls through. You welcome a child into your home, make her a part of your family and do everything you can to convince her that this is a permanent and lasting home.

And then you kick her out.

It’s the antithesis of everything adoption is supposed to be.

And it’s what my family went through in 2011.

I remember driving home from the hospital and passing a wrecked car abandoned in the street. There were no police. No flashing lights. No people standing around. Just a mangled car. Broken glass littered the street, catching our headlights and throwing pinpricks of glare into the early morning dark.

It looked like someone crashed into a parked car and then drove off.

That hit-and-run felt like too apt a metaphor for what had just happened to us. There was no one at the site of that accident—no one to blame, no one to accuse, no one to give answers or directions. Just a ruined car and a lot of questions. Continue reading Faith in the Darkness: Disrupted Adoption

Why I Don’t Help My Kids With Their Homework

I don’t like helping my kids with their homework. There, I said it.

My parents never had to harass me to do my homework. I just did it. I was annoyingly responsible. To the point that I spent Friday nights in college getting a jump on papers. My wife still makes fun of me for that.

But I feel no sense of responsibility over my kids’ homework. It’s their homework. They need to be responsible for it themselves.

And now there’s research that backs me up. Apparently kids don’t learn anything when parents help them, and sometimes they even do worse in school. Why? Well, do you remember the quadratic formula? Me neither. [For the smarty pants who wants to post it in the comments, let me save you the trouble.]

Continue reading Why I Don’t Help My Kids With Their Homework

Thankful to Be Home

What are you thankful for?It’s the day before Thanksgiving, the busiest travel day of the year, and for the first time since high school I’m not traveling anywhere. I guess 1996 would be the last year I didn’t go anywhere for Thanksgiving. In college I always drove the 700 miles home to Michigan. Once married, we alternated Christmas and Thanksgiving between our parents in Wisconsin and Kansas. The former was only a 300-mile trip, but the latter was another 700-mile full day in the car.

So I’m pretty used to traveling on Thanksgiving. On the years I made the 700-mile drive I’d get up at some ridiculous pre-dawn hour so I could be on the road early and make good time. The alarm would go off at something awful like 4:30 and I’d be on the road by 5. Except I could never sleep well before long drives and would always be up before my alarm. No matter how early it was.

I couldn’t sleep this morning either. No alarm was set, but I was awake by 5. Some habits die hard, I guess.

This year we decided to stay home for both holidays. Last year we somehow ended up traveling every other weekend in November and December and we just couldn’t handle it this year. Too many miles, too much whining from the back seat, too much stress. Plus, the idea of having our own holiday and forming our own traditions sounded pretty great. We’ve never done our own holidays, so we haven’t forged many of our own traditions.

Growing up we rarely went anywhere for the holidays. We had fairly set traditions, like going to cut down a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving and setting it up that night. Watching Ernest Saves Christmas on Christmas Eve. OK, so sometimes family traditions are weird. But that’s what’s fun about them.

Through the years I’ve always been thankful that I had a place to go for the holidays. No matter what happened that year, no matter what life transition happened (and there were a few, between getting married, watching my parents get divorced and seeing them get back together), I always had a place to call home. A lot of people aren’t so lucky.

I’m also thankful that for all those miles traveled I never had any major car trouble. It always seemed like a minor miracle that I’ve never been in a big accident, never had my car break down, never had a flat tire. I’ve had my share of close calls. I hit a bird in Chicago once. A jet ski fell off a trailer just in front of me. It wasn’t a holiday, but on one snowy drive I did lose control and fishtail into a ditch, but I was nearly able to drive out of it. Plus my parents were there to help push me out and we were back on the road like nothing happened. Later that day on the Interstate I watched the truck in front of me start swerving and spin 40 feet off the road into deep snow. Last year I drove several hundred miles to Thanksgiving with the check engine light on, worried something bad was going to happen. But all systems were go.

I’ve had some close calls over the years, some diverted plans and some travel sickness I’d rather not detail, but we’ve always made it. I’m incredibly thankful for that.

I have a lot to be thankful for at Thanksgiving. This year it’s going to be staying home and doing nothing with my family. Forging our own traditions, like the day before Thanksgiving donuts (it’s a thing) and setting up our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving (some traditions are meant to endure).

Lexi’s Last Day of Kindergarten

168th Day of School - Last DayIt seems like only yesterday Lexi was heading off to her first day of kindergarten. She was over-the-top excited and Milo burst into tears.

Today was her last day of kindergarten. She’s older, wiser and taller.

The last day celebration included a cookout with Pete the naturalist at the Dodge Nature Center, featuring mini hot dogs (Milo ate half the pack) and pizza. Then we headed back to school to hear about some of her favorite things from throughout the year and every student received an award for following one of the school’s five overall rules.

Lexi was recognized for “safety,” because she always brought the right gear. I think that means I should get an award for sending my kid to school prepared (which usually meant stopping her on the way out the door and insist she wear something more appropriate). She also got the award for making sure everyone else was being safe too, which I’m pretty sure means she’s just bossy. She practices all day long on Milo, so it’s good to see it’s paying off.

It’s been a fun year watching Lexi grow. I think the social aspect of kindergarten—learning how to interact with other kids, following the rules, being prepared—has probably been the most important, though it’s also been cool to see her learning the academics. She’s learning how to read, slowly and with more and more confidence. Having a kindergarten teacher for a mom, some people expect reading to be a serious and early milestone in our house. But it’s actually counter-productive to teach kids to read too early (Abby could give you all sorts of reasons why—I’ll leave that blog post to her). It’s important to let them go at their own pace. And it’s been fun to see that with Lexi, to see her start to read signs in stores and read stuff over our shoulder. She’s still gaining confidence with reading books, but she’s getting there.

I’m also trying not to be too proud that one of her favorite things in school was writing.

Finally, the end of the school year means the end of a little project of mine, the Days of School. It started with me taking pictures on the first day of school (I have an addiction to feed). Then as we waited for the bus on the second and third days of school Lexi kept asking me to take pictures. So we started taking a picture every day. I think we only missed one or two days when Lexi actually went to school, and of course we missed all the days she was absent (and since she had mono in the fall, there were a lot of those). But in the end we have 151 pictures of Lexi going to kindergarten.

As we went outside to take her picture today I told her  we were taking her last picture. She told me, “Nope, you’re taking pictures in first grade too!” So we’ll see how long this thing continues.

Check out the Days of School:

Tornado Destroys Family Farm

My uncle’s farm outside Raymond, Kansas, was hit by a tornado late Saturday night. Everybody’s OK, but the devastation is pretty complete. The farmhouse is still standing, but the roof was lifted up and the windows blown out, so that doesn’t mean much.

While my uncle currently lives there, this has been the family farm. My grandparents originally owned the house and my mom grew up there with her siblings. My aunt was married there (I was the ring bearer in the wedding, though I seem to remember thinking I was the ring bear). When my grandparents “retired” (?) and moved to town, my uncle and his family moved in. My cousins grew up there and I have so many memories of going out to the farm. We’d play flashlight tag, truth or dare, light firecrackers, build forts in the old scrap iron pile and fight like siblings inevitably do.

There are a lot of memories in that place. Here’s what it looks like now:

I don’t have a very good before picture, but here’s my grandparents standing in front of that same door celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. And here’s my aunt standing on those very steps at her wedding. A little generational history at that old farmhouse.

The devastation is much more complete away from the house. A giant machine shed and two-story wooden barn were completely destroyed. In this picture those buildings should line the left side of the road. In the distance you can see a combine and several vehicles that were lined up inside the shed, which is now completely gone.

I remember that driveway feeling crowded with buildings. Not so much anymore. Now it’s mostly debris. A concrete silo was completely knocked down and debris is strewn all over, sheet metal wrapped around trees and even a pipe piercing a tractor tire.

My uncle heard reports of a tornado near Raymond on the radio and made for the cellar. Five minutes later his ears popped, then there was a loud boom and then nothing but the sound of falling glass. That was it.

This picture is probably the most brutal, my grandparents, picking through the debris. I don’t know what they hope to accomplish there, and maybe the futility of it is what makes it hurt all the more.

But then there’s my favorite picture. Among all that chaos and devastation, my uncle and cousin are standing there smiling:

Its just another storm to weather. After all, it’s just stuff.

My Summer Has Evaporated

I didn’t know it, but my summer evaporated as soon as I went on that impromptu trip to Dallas for the Echo conference. The next week we had to travel out of town for a funeral. Then Abby had an all-week conference while making final preparations for our church’s VBS. This week is that VBS, which goes all morning (it’s 4 in the afternoon and I’m the only one awake). And next week Abby goes back to work.

Summer over.

Life has been slipping by lately and it’s all I can do to hold on. In a span of a few days I attended a funeral and a baptism (oddly enough in that order, which I’m choosing to see as hopeful).

Great Grandma and the neighbor’s dog both died within a week and a half of each other, which prompted all kinds of odd conversations: “Why did Domino die?” “Because he was old and sick.” “And why did Great Grandma die?” “Um, because she was old and sick.”

And for once the frustration and right answer actually matched up: “But how does Grandma get to heaven? She can’t just fly, she’s dead!” “I don’t know, Lexi.”

The other day I was half lamenting, half apologizing to my neighbor for not keeping up with the yard work. “You’re not raising grass, you’re raising kids,” she told me.

It’s a small comfort, but I’ll take it.

I Stand on the Shoulders of Giants

If you haven’t been able to tell, we’re going through some stuff right now. I can’t really talk about it here for a number of reasons. But I found myself commenting that I’ve been blogging for 10 years (12, actually) and I’m not sure if my blog will survive this. Aside from being too busy to blog, I’m finding myself unable to blog about other things. Everything else in life seems mundane right now. I don’t have the emotional energy to invest in anything else, so why fake it?

But if a decade (and then some) of blogging has taught me anything, it’s that you have to press on. It’s taught me that the writing helps. It’s taught me that a lot of crappy writing has to come out, and that’s OK. This isn’t for you, it’s for me.

In the midst of all of this the one thing I can say is that the only reason we’re still kicking is because we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. I don’t know how people go through crises like this alone. I couldn’t do it. Friends are stepping up and helping us, and not just in a vague, ‘we’ve got your back,’ way, but in a real, going around the world and back kind of way. And it’s not just a couple people or a handful of people. It’s a crowd.

That’s humbling. I don’t deserve any of it. And yet there they are.

And it’s a good thing, because it feels like it’s getting worse. We’re not out of the woods yet. We’re just getting started.

[And there’s another lesson from a decade of blogging: Being cryptically vague. I thought I left those days behind me. Guess not.]

Remembering My Grandpa

Last night Yeshumnesh asked if I cried when my grandpa died. Actually, she asked if I would cry if Milo kept eating and eating until his stomach exploded and then he died. I tend to ignore those bizarre ‘what if’ scenarios and then she asked more seriously if I cried whey my grandpa died.

I didn’t cry.

He died in 2002 and I tried to explain that it was his time. I was sad to see him go, but he was barely hanging on. He’d grown so frail and skinny at the end. Medical complications were getting ridiculous and while I don’t remember it all, I think amputation had been discussed. That’s not something an 80-year-old man needs to go through. His death wasn’t unexpected, it was a mercy.

Then I showed Yeshumnesh some pictures.

This is how I remember my grandpa. That and the fact that he called me ‘turd.’ If I had more time I would have explained to Yeshumnesh what I wrote for my grandpa’s funeral. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything else that so perfectly captures a person. That was Grandpa, making people laugh.

While talking about him I realized none of my kids ever met him and even Abby barely got to know him. By the time she was in the picture my grandpa was already frail in body and mind. They all would have loved laughing in his kitchen. And that’s actually one of my greatest treasures—standing around in my grandpa’s kitchen with my brother and cousins and Abby, telling stories and laughing so hard.

A line I wrote nine years ago sums it up: He grew too old before I grew up, and I miss him.

This picture captures him so perfectly, I can almost smell the Old Spice.

Classic Les

January Sucks: Admitting Failure & Struggle

The other day I tweeted about how much January sucks:

I think this month is trying to crush me. And then kick me while I’m down. Not nice, January. Not nice.

I was sick for two weeks and it feels like I’ve spent the whole month coughing.

But the bigger issue is the struggle. I haven’t blogged much lately, in part because life seems like such a struggle lately. It’s hard. I feel like I’m flirting with failure and that’s not a popular topic to talk about. It’s not a topic that pulls me to the computer to craft a blog post.

But I think it’s time to fess up and move on.

Life is hard right now. Work has been slow for a while. Bills are stacking up and it’s depleting whatever safety net we had. I’m not saying this for pity. It’s just the way things are. It’s too easy to think everyone else is doing just fine and we’re the ones who are struggling, but I’m sure that’s not the case.

So between work and bills and daddy daycare and a preteen who doesn’t want to be here, it’s hard. I’m struggling.

I keep reminding myself that these are the times that show us what we’re made of. And what am I made of? Do I have what it takes to make it work? Or is this juggling act going to come crashing down? Some days I don’t know.

But we keep on.

My saving grace lately has been a client with a nearly unlimited capacity for low-paying freelance articles. Last week they offered me a section editor position and are putting me on retainer. It’s more work for less money, but it’s steady. It’s not the solution to all my problems (is there such a thing?), but it’s a nice step forward.

I’m also thankful for friends we can lean on. My color-coded Google calendar could trigger a migraine it’s so full. Lots of entries involve friends stepping in to watch kids or loan cars or give us some measure of sanity. We couldn’t do this alone.

I’m also thankful for a smart and strong wife. These are hard times and we need a lot of strength to get through. I’m proud that Abby has both good ideas and insights, but also the strength to buckle down and get through this. Especially since financial stress has to be about the worst kind of stress (otherwise you can throw money at the stress and that at least helps a little bit).

One of the books I’ve been reading lately (Not For Sale) reminds me that no matter how tough life gets, I have it easy. The book tells stories of children ripped from their homes, forced to murder and butcher their friends as they’re turned into child soldiers in Uganda. Or women enslaved in brothels in Southeast Asia and each glimmer of freedom turns out to be more of the same rejection and pain. My struggle would be their cakewalk.

I’m also thankful for babies. A few just born and a few still on the way, lighting up their parents’ lives like electricity. Can’t help but smile at that.

A little perspective always helps. And so we struggle on.

Looking Back at 2010

It’s New Year’s Eve and nobody’s really working today, so it’s time for a little 2010 recap. Thankfully my wife did a full recap in photos, so I can skimp a little.

2010 has been insane.

Bigger Family
The biggest moment, of course, was welcoming a preteen into our family, along with all the Hannah Montana and Justin Bieber and sparkly pink that comes with a pre-teen. It’s been quite a ride with Yeshumnesh and we’ve got a ways to go. I’ve never felt so old—and at the same time so young. I did manage to welcome Yeshumnesh into our family with a new haircut. First time in three years I paid for one. The mohawk made our Christmas card.

Writing Wins
I also published three books:

Addition by Adoption, is my book of tweets about raising kids and bringing Milo home from Ethiopia. A portion of the proceeds go to clean water in Ethiopia, and in September we hit the $5,000 mark and raised enough to build a well in Ethiopia. The book is also just barely turning a profit, which is exciting.

Then there’s Open Our Eyes, the book that supports homeless advocate Mark Horvath. If you want to know more about what Mark does, read Ka’e k’e‘s story. It’s been a big year for Mark. We also helped him win $50,000. The book has all kinds of big names contributors, like New York Times best-selling author Chris Brogan. All profits from the book go to support Mark’s work with InvisiblePeople.tv. The profits aren’t much—I send Mark his first payment yesterday ($226.56), but he won’t be retiring any time soon. Knowing Mark he’ll be spending it on someone else.

I also published a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel. More for fun than anything and to give self publishing a try (works nicely, crappy cover and all). The post-apocalyptic fun continued all year as I kept diving into more post-apocalyptic literature (hmm… maybe I should have reversed that order).

For all the writing success, I also had a big failure. My fourth attempt at National Novel Writing Month fell flat. I gave up after two weeks when the story wasn’t coming together and I realized my life was too busy.

Giving Back
With building a well in Ethiopia and publishing a book to fight homelessness I’ve done a lot of giving back this year. But it started even earlier when we responded to an earthquake by coloring. Lexi’s pictures ended up raising $675 for Haiti. Other folks got in on the action about the time the idea fizzled out. I’d love to do more with it, but I think I have enough charity cases on my hand.