Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cooking Seven

You'll most likely notice a few less posts popping up here in the next little bit. Sadly, the p17 shot that has held off my normal early dilation has ceased to perform it's magic, and I found myself in Labor & Delivery triage yesterday morning. Seven is 28 weeks baked, which is a very good place to be--far, far better than the 19 weeks gestation we were at when Logan started trying to make his way into the world. At any rate, it's time for me to spend the majority of my days lying on my left side, drinking oodles and oodles of water, thanking God for the chance to do this all again, and generally doing nothing but baking a baby to the point where he or she will be as healthy as possible when it's showtime.

We're nowhere near a critical juncture at this point (praise God!) and 4 more weeks is all it will take to deliver a baby with excellent chances for full health and a minimal NICU stay. Still, your prayers for Seven are more than appreciated. If you feel led, prayers also for our older children--who have thus far shouldered more responsibilities without a grumble--and for Mr. Blandings--who is being both Momma and Daddy right now--are coveted. Thus far, the Lord has been in full control of this miraculous journey, and we have faith that He continues to walk ahead of us.

Friday, June 25, 2010


placed February 29, 2008, adopted June 25, 2010

Psalm 68:4-6

Sing to God, sing praise to his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds —
his name is the LORD—
and rejoice before him.

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.

God sets the lonely in families,
he leads forth the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

After 28 months of waiting, we stood in a cramped courtroom, a whole line of us. Oliver rode my hip, his little legs fumbling to find purchase either over or under my growing belly. Mr. Blandings stood at my right side with Manolin comfortably perched in the crook of his left elbow. Down the line, the other children stood, solemn in their Sunday best, a little nervous, not sure what was expected of them.

"Raise your right hand," said the clerk.

Five hands raised. This had been a family affair from the start; the older children had just as much a part to play in this moment as anyone.

The judge smiled. This was her lunch hour, after all. She had given up her break to sign four adoptions on this day--a lavish gift of the court system that slashed weeks from our wait time. She eyed Jo, Atticus, and Logan carefully, then beamed again.

"Is this your brother?" she asked.

"Yes, your honor," they all answered.

Someday, I will tear up at the weddings of my children. But on this day, the tears were for a different kind of union. "Is this your brother?" "Yes, your honor." Are there any sweeter words? He is my brother, not by blood or bone, but by everything that is important in this world.

God sets the lonely in families. He does not just give them parents, he does not simply offer them a roof over their heads. Instead, He hand picks a home in which to take root, a place where we are surrounded and known, where we are loved and cherished.

God sets the lonely in families. Today, Oli got his.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Worth the Wait

Tomorrow is going to come, just like the 114 other Fridays that have dawned since Oliver first came into our lives.

We will wake up, go downstairs, eat breakfast, do chores.

It could be any other Friday that has passed since February of 2008.

But this Friday--tomorrow--is Oli's Adoption Day.

Tonight is the very last time I will tuck in "someone else's son." Because as of tomorrow, he is ours. Fully, legally, wholeheartedly

I couldn't be happier.

A few weeks back, I began making preparations for this big day. I scanned adoption blogs and etsy shops and whatnot, looking for ideas to commemorate everything that is burbling in my heart as we prepare to finally claim Oli as our own. As I looked, one phrase stood out among the crowd:
"Worth the Wait." Yes, that sums up our entire experience. All of the visits, the social workers, the court hearings, the CASAs, the paperwork, the physicals, the evaluations, the training. The whole package ... it was all one big wait. But Oli? Worth it. Worth every minute.

So I contacted a talented friend and asked if she would take a custom order for an item or two that shouted our thoughts to the world. She agreed, and you can see the results above, or on her blog, the Blissful Stitcher. They turned out so well that I think she's offering them as a general sale item now. The blue is for Oli, the brown is for Mani. I know that, traditionally, adoption proceedings are fancy-get-up affairs but, well ... we're not a fancy get-up family. What we are is a forever family. And that, my friends, has been worth the wait.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Be the parent

This is a hard post to write. I'm pretty sure that it will ruffle some feathers, appear judgemental, or maybe even result in some nasty comments. But maybe, maybe it will encourage someone on the fence. Maybe it will be used by the Holy Spirit to convict someone who's been feeling a tug they can't name. Maybe it will shore up someone's sagging confidence in what she feels called to do. If any of those things happen, well ... I'll be grateful to God for nudging me to write what I feel uncomfortable putting out there.

Why, why, why do so many parents--and yes, I'm talking about homeschoolers here-- feel like the moment their child passes through some magical, invisible line, they cease to have the power to actually parent said child?

Really. What is that?

Why is it that it's o.k. to tell a 9 year-old that you don't allow certain words to be said in your house, but that's denying a 14 year-old his right to expression?

Why do you actually take the time to meet the friends that your 10 year-old likes to spend time with, but not even know who your 16 year-old is texting?

Why is having standards of modesty for a 6 year-old acceptable, but the 12 year-old can wear whatever she brings home from the mall?

Why do you take the time to teach the 3 year-old that temper tantrums are not o.k., but let your 13 year-old slam their bedroom door in your face?

Please don't think that I'm living in la-la land. I know that parenting a teen is a whole different ballgame from parenting a preschooler. I am not unaware of the fact that the parent/child relationship grows and (hopefully) matures. I am not expecting a high schooler to blindly obey or to bow to every whim of their parents.

No, that's not what I'm saying at all. What I am saying is that so, so many people I know seem to just throw their hands up in the air the minute their child hits an age that even remotely resembles independence.

Every event, activity, etc., becomes a drop-off affair. The mom who led the Brownie troop never even darkens the door of the youth group. Standards become incredibly lax. The dad who required his son to open the door for girls and ladies suddenly doesn't mind the same child talking to his mother through a closed bedroom door. Fitting in with peers becomes more important than following family rules. The family used to forgo rated-R movies, but all the other kids have seen it, so why not? The youth pastor suddenly takes over the spiritual education of the child. Those family Bible times are a thing of the past. And, worst of all, parenting becomes non-existent. "I wish she wouldn't do X, Y, or Z, but it's not like I can stop her..."

I have been so disheartened over these past few weeks listening to fellow homeschooling parents with children on the cusp of their teen years. The vast majority of them seem to have already assumed a defeatist, hands-off type of approach. I've heard, on more than one occasion a parent lamenting the peers their child has fallen in with, the poor instruction in the youth group, the behavior of their new teen. You know what every. single. parent. followed their complaints up with?

"All I can do is pray I guess."

Excuse me? All you can do is pray? Obviously, all parents need to be praying for their kids, no matter what their ages. And I don't just mean those generic, "help her to be a good person, Lord," kind of prayers. Specific, directed, goal-oriented prayers that help the Lord hone your vision for His vision--those are the most effective parenting prayers, imo.

But beyond that, do you have any control? Of course you do. Be the parent. If your family has rules, enforce them. If you feel led to have specific expectations, keep them. Respect your child's newfound independence and sense of self, yes. But still require him or her to be a loving, working, functional part of your family.

Please don't get me wrong. I do not ascribe to the theory that has all children bowing to their parents in all things up until the day of their wedding. I firmly believe the axiom "Rules without relationship equals rebellion." I don't expect the kind of mindless obedience that some Christians impose in their homes. Growth, freedom, and maturing are good things. They are part of God's design. I'm not talking about stifling any of that.

What I am talking about is staying involved. Asking questions. Not assuming that your teen (or pre-teen) is ready to handle anything and everything simply because he or she has graduated to youth group or has a double-digit age. Be the parent.

How? Volunteer for whatever activities your child is involved in. Not every week, but on a regular enough basis that you know the leaders, the routine, and the other kids attending. Keep a family devotional time going. Now is not the time to let that slide! If anything, this is the most important part of the discipling process--moving from general knowledge to real application! Maintain a sense of respect for your child, and also insisting that he or she respect you (and your rules). Insist that family stay more important than peers by nurturing sibling relationships. Read a book together that inspires you to walk forward into the teen years with a shared vision. (I recommend "Do Hard Things," but there are many others). And remember: Rules without relationship equal rebellion. Having your child's heart makes all the difference!

Doing these things is no assurance that you won't find yourself on your knees praying for a prodigal. God gave all of us free will, and that includes your kids. You can do all of the "right" things and still find yourself doing the heavy lifting of parenting a child who is simply lost, who abuses drugs, who makes you a grandma before you're 40.

But if you've been the parent, at least you can say you did your part. Your heart will still be broken, and your faith will be stretched ... but in the end, you will hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Remember, God will hold you accountable for the job you did stewarding the blessing he entrusted to you. Not your child's peers. Not the church's youth pastor. Not Hollywood. Not the author of the latest book fad. Not society at large. YOU are the one given the job of raising your child to adulthood--and it doesn't stop until that child really and truly is an adult. If you wouldn't want your 14 year-old getting married, then he or she isn't an adult. If you can't say the same thing for your 20 year-old, the same thing applies.

Be the parent. All the way.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I get questions ...

After getting duplicates of several questions via email, I thought I'd post the answers here in case anyone was pondering the same things. Also, if you have a question you think I might possibly have an answer to (keeping in mind that I never said I was an expert on anything), then post it here ... you never know ... I might just answer!

Are you planning on adopting more kids?

Ah, good question. One that I know my mother-in-law would like answered definitively, that's for sure! The present answer is that there's nothing in the works at this time. With a court date for Oliver and one being set for Manolin, we'll be turning our attention to getting Bee's visa. From there, who knows? We are at capacity for foster care with 6 kids in our home 13 or under. We could get a special dispensation for a sibling placement, but since no sibs are currently forthcoming, that's not something we're thinking about. We have opted to keep our foster license, however.

If you had to go back and start all over (meaning: with your first placement) would you still adopt from foster care?

You haven't seen pictures of my little boys yet, so I can forgive you for asking this one! :-) The answer is YES. Two and a half years is a small price to pay for the life and love of a child.

Are you rich?

Depends on who you're asking. The truth is that if my older kids were in school, we'd qualify for reduced price lunches. However--we have found God to always be amazingly faithful in providing for our needs. On Mr. Blandings' salary, we are able to feed and clothe our entire family, keep a roof over our heads that is "small" by US standards but enormous by the standards of the rest of the world, and support work that expands God's Kingdom. Oh, and we have fun, too. I think that qualifies us as rich, don't you?

Are you one of those up at 5 a.m. moms?

Hardly. The truth is, I love to sleep. I do it well. I do it often. And I do it for longer stretches than the average momma! I am generally in bed by 9:30 p.m., listening to the sweet sound of my husband doing our nightly Bible reading. I conk out pretty quickly though, so my morning Bible reading is actually a repeat of what Mr. Blandings read the night before! And when does that morning reading take place? No earlier than 6:30 a.m., guaranteed.

Is your husband really on board with having all of those kids? My husband won't budge on having more than 2/3/4.

My husband wasn't always thrilled at the prospect of a large family; truth be told, it wasn't my idea of a good time, either. Like most things in the Christian walk, God slowly worked on both of our hearts to get us to the point where the idea of "one more" wasn't anywhere near as scary as it was on the day we said "I do." Nowadays, I can fully say that Mr. Blandings would have two dozen children if God asked him too. It'd probably be me with the slack jaw and the disbelief at the prospect!

Do you really use everything that you review?

Yes, I do. I couldn't in good conscience recommend a product that I hadn't personally tried. This is one of the reasons why I find giving verbal recommendations so hard--people will ask about things I haven't used, and I have to issue so many qualifiers about "what I've heard"!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Signs of summer

Jo enjoying an amazing PNW sunset

The garden is fully planted and growing, and all of my kids have feet stained with grass and dirt from days spent running barefoot in the back.

I guess it's summer. I never quite know when it hits, since the thermometer rarely dips above 80 until well into July here in our little corner of the world. Instead of gauging by temperature, I have to look for other signs that the seasons has shifted.

What are your signs of summer?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My backyard

You know the one thing that really, really worried me when we moved from Georgia to Washington? Every. single. person. I encountered was Caucasian. And I don't mean "Italian-American" or some other ethnic background that you could kind of peg as being part of the melting pot experience. No--everyone was homogeneous, white, and essentially lacking in any cultural identity outside of the good old Red, White, and Blue. This was startling, having moved from an area where we were decidedly in the minority, where the bulk of children in Jo's preschool class were African-American or the Spanish-speaking children of migrant workers.

I realize that not all of WA is the same. There are large concentrations of Japanese-Americans in Seattle, and a reasonable representation of Mexican-Americans moving out toward my neck of the woods. The rest of the state, I can't speak for. All I know is what I see in my library, grocery store, and church. And what I see is mostly white, sprinkled with a less-than-generous handful of the darker browns of African-Americans.

Seeing this and wondering how it would affect our children in the long run, Mr. Blandings and I set about purposefully creating as many multicultural friendships as possible for our kids. Some have been a success, and some have been marked failures. There were times when we wondered if we were crazy. "No one else worries about this," we thought, "Why are we making such a big deal out of it?"

But today, I saw some of the fruit as I watched my three very pale Irish and German descended biological children play in our back yard. Participating joyfully in the elaborate village-building pretend game was a Nepali girl, two Latino children, and a girl recently adopted from Ethiopia.

It almost brought tears to my eyes. This is what the Sunday School song meant when it talked about "all God's children." Beautiful shades ranging from alabaster to brown. Children whose first languages range from English to Amharic, from Spanish to Nepali. Playing. Enjoying one another. Getting along. Seeing no differences--only friends to share an adventure with.

I am not a huge fan of the "it takes a village" mentality. I don't believe that the government--or my neighbors--are responsible for raising my children. But I do believe that we ARE a village. God created a gorgeous array of cultures and peoples and languages. Raising our children to be comfortable with the many different flavors of life that He created does nothing but add another layer to His glory, I believe. Taking the time to weave ourselves fully into His colorful fabric has to bring Him even more joy than I feel watching my 8 year-old call out soccer plays in Spanish while learning how Ethiopian children kick balls barefoot.

Life is beautiful.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

There's nothing like a two year-old

... to make you remember just how much passion life can truly hold.

Manolin is fully, completely, and totally two--from the giggling fits over "The Foot Book," all the way to the shrieks of indignation he lets out when his Buzz Lightyear underwear aren't in the clean pile.

Yes, he keeps up on our toes alright.

The big kids are learning how to navigate around a typically developing toddler (Oli never hit this stage, so it's new to them). I am remembering the drawn-out preparation that goes into every transition when you've got a little volcano threatening to erupt at every move. ("In ten minutes, we'll put our shoes on and leave the house." "In five minutes, we'll put our shoes on and leave the house." "In one minute ...") And Mr. Blandings is rediscovering his pure toddler-love--the kind that makes him ask me to keep Mani up just twenty more minutes, until he can walk through the door and toss him high in the air. (Are you kidding me?!?!)

Yes, life with a two year-old is a constant roller coaster of laughter and joy, wails and agony. But you know, it's a pretty good place to be.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Petty, and I don't mean Richard or Tom

I've mentioned before that when we went into fostering with the idea of open adoption being the final act, I was amazingly naive about the relationships I'd end up having with the birthparents of my adopted children. I really thought that it would difficult, on some level, to not feel somewhat guilty for denying them the privilege of tucking their biological child into bed at night.

Maybe this happens for some people. For us, it has been a dream ruthlessly crushed time and again.

Faced with the kind of neglect that has nothing to do with the word "benign," and then again with the kind of destructive, almost feral behaviors we've witnessed ... well, I've never regretted knowing that my baby boys are safely swaddled in clean pjs and under my roof when darkness falls.

We have zero contact--by court order--with Manolin's birthmom. And Oli's Bio Mom split before the ink was even dry on her relinquishment papers. We did manage to get a signed Open Adoption Agreement from her, but she defaulted out of its requirements before they even went into effect. So much for long-term contact on that front.

But then, however, we have Oliver's Bio Dad.

A little background: Bio Dad left (as in moved out of the apartment) when Oli was 3 months old. He was present at Oli's birth, and even helped drop him off at the ER a couple of times when his life was measured in days and weeks. But after the three month point, he became something of a nonentity. It was his niece who took relative placement of Oli when he was placed on CPS custody at 7 months old. But still ... not a lot of contact. He has been sporadic with visitation the entire two years that Oliver was in the visitation loop. Sometimes he would show. Sometimes he wouldn't. Sometimes he would return calls. Sometimes he wouldn't.

The one thing that Bio Dad has been good at all along is admitting that he's not a fit parent. And for this, we are grateful. He not only happily signed the termination papers, but entered into the Open Adoption Agreement we wrote with no fuss. We were optimistic that this might be some form of biological tie that Oli might have with the world.

And yet ...

Bio Dad drives me nuts. Not just, "Boy, that guy is a little off" nuts. No. This has gone deeper. See, Bio Dad got my cell number (don't ask) and spends a good third of his life, it seems, texting me. I have asked him to stop repeatedly, to no avail. I block his number most of the year, but when his twice-annual visits come around (and one is due in June) I remove the block and the texts start back like magic.

In one day alone, I received four different texts asking me if I would pay for Oli's entrance to the zoo for our next visit. (Per our legal agreement, the answer is NO.) Then I get texts telling me that he's getting married in five years; can Oli be the "flower boy"? (I said we'd talk about that as the wedding draws near, but that I was doubtful about that happening.) Then there was a text randomly asking me if he could have Oli's new last name. (Uh, no.)

All of this is annoying, but I've got a tough skin and I can handle it. Well, mostly. Some days, I admit, it grates like an itch I can't scratch. But I figure it's all the price I pay for a life of being Oli's Momma, and you know ... he's worth it.

But there's one thing that drives me absolutely, completely ape. I'm going to be a very small, petty human being here and admit it publicly:

I hate it when Bio Dad calls Oliver "my son" or "my boy."

There. See how awful I am? I am driven to nail-biting frustration when I get those texts that refer to Oli as if he is completely and utterly known by this man who abandoned him at a fraction of a year old. "As if I'm a babysitter!" I want to scream. "As if you did the heavy lifting of parenting this kid!"

A sample of the most recent texts that have made me run for my favorite Bible verses before I start shouting rude words:

"how is my big boy is he growing so big tell him dad loves him"

"can't wait to see my son, i am bringing him a toy he will love."

"What is my son doing right now i am missing him tell him i'll see him soon!"

Grrrrrrrr. My blood is boiling just retyping those little gems.

I recognize--academically, of course--that to Bio Dad, Oliver is very much his son. And biologically yes, he is fully entitled to claim that he has sired a child into this world. I guess I should be more accommodating on this. It really ought to fall, spiritually, into that "If he asks you to carry his pack a mile, carry it two," kind of mentality that Jesus encouraged in his followers when He was on earth. But oh, man ... that's so hard. I look at Bio Dad, and I don't see a man that I want in my son's life at all, let alone claiming him as his offspring. I look at him instead and see a beaten, careless guy who has skidded through life on the shirt tails of government aid and his own bad choices. I see a guy who has no problem walking out on an infant, then popping up twice a year to play Daddy Dearest. I see a guy who doesn't deserve to even look into the eyes of this darling little boy whose genes sprang from his own.

But if we get into the "deserving" game, we're already folding our cards, aren't we? Because I know the answer, plain and simple. I get what I don't deserve thanks to new life in Christ. Who am I to decide what Bio Dad deserves?

Do I keep Oli safe? Absolutely. Do I draw firm lines in my boy's best interest? Without a doubt. Do I police their relationship until such time as Oliver can navigate those rocky waters on his own? You betcha.

But I will not--cannot--assert my semantic "rights" into this relationship. To do so would simply counter everything that I have made sure Bio Dad sees of us. We are Christians, I have said. We want to be defined by how well we love in Jesus' name. How can I possibly have those words come out of my mouth, then snap and shoot a text message retort at the man asking him to get his grubby paws off "MY boy"?

I can't. I just can't.

So I need to just pull on my big girl pants and get over this. Yes, I have decided that it's acceptable to block Bio Dad's texts 10 months out of the year. He has other ways of contacting me (email and a PO box) that are less invasive. Yes, I think it's o.k. to duck questions that reveal personal info or might endanger our family. And yes, I think giving the man any money would be inappropriate.

But calling Oli "my son" isn't on that same level. It's a fly circling my ear, a whisper of my own insecurities, a thing that stings my pride.

And for that, the only answer I know is dying to self. Smacking down the greedy little beast that whispers, "Where does he get off?" and instead finding a way to love in words. Maybe my heart will eventually align with those words. Maybe some day, I will look back and see my pettiness for all that I already know it is.

But even if I don't, I need to find a way to smile and move on. Because God chose this man to be the biological start of my beloved Oli. And Oli deserves a mom who puts herself aside and only acts on what keeps him first and foremost in mind.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Mr. Blandings and I are totally stumped on baby boy names this time around. In the past, a particular name has come to one of us, and we've just known. By the time we say it out loud to the other partner, it's a foregone conclusion. Then the spouse simply nods and says, "Yep. That's it."

Naming? Box checked. Let's move on to clothing the little person ...

But this time around--nothing. Starting to get a little desperate, I requested a bunch of baby name books from our local library and threw them in random spots throughout the house. The living room. The bathroom. The bed side table. "Pick one up occasionally and let me know if you see anything that sounds decent to you," I shrugged. Mr. Blandings agreed. We don't usually operate like this but hey ... we've used most of our favorite names. Give us a little slack, o.k.?

Anyhow, one of the volumes is specifically a "Classic Biblical Names" book. It's been a hoot to look through, primarily because I'm pretty sure that Mephibosheth will never, ever make a comeback in the range of the top, oh ... 5000? Maybe I'm wrong. But something tells me that I'm safe on that one.

Just seeing the names, though, has been fascinating. While I realize that most everyone puts a lot of thought into tacking a label on their child for life, when you realize the depth to which peoples of ancient times strived to truly give their child the right name, well ... it's kind of humbling. I'm pretty sure no one back then was looking for alternate spellings or checking the Social Security lists to make sure that the name they picked was common enough to be recognized without being overdone. No, it pretty much seemed to work like this: You were born after your momma begged God to open her womb. So you're Salathiel, "Whom I asked of God." Period.

Then there are those Biblical names that have unfortunately been sullied somewhat by less-than-savory characters. It would take a pretty bold person to name their son Judas, don't you think? And how about Ananais? Even though there was an Ananais of note in the New Testament who was summoned by God to open the newly-converted Paul's eyes, there's also the big bad priest guy. Guess which one most people think of first?

At any rate, naming is a serious business. When done with prayer and thought, it speaks over our children, encourages them to live up to a blessing bestowed upon them, and gives them a sense of place in the world. When done poorly, it's a jacket that never fits or, worse, a burden to bear.

We'll keep looking for a name for Seven. Our prayer right now is that if we walk into the hospital with no name--or the wrong name--that God will provide the right one. I'm not even opposed to waiting a few days to see what fits. That has never happened before, but hey, I've never been 35 and pregnant, either.

Monday, June 7, 2010

How long have I been waiting to post this?

On February 29, 2008, the clock started ticking. A beautiful 14 month-old boy was placed in our home with the intent of adoption. No one knew exactly how long the process would take. We were told that the upper limit was 18 months.

The 18 month mark was in August of 2009.

The clock ticked on.

On June 25, 2010, the clock will finally stop at the 28 month mark.

Oliver will become a Blandings at 1 p.m. PST.

God is good, all the time. Even when the time feels like, well ... a long time.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Isn't it amazing that the entire balance of the universe can shift ... and we can be caught unawares? I ponder this every year as my littlest boys' birthdays loom. They were born, took their first breaths. They were weighed, measured, given their first feedings. Yet nothing in my heart grew. Nothing tugged at my soul.

I had no idea.

Tomorrow, Manolin will turn two. Yes. Tiny, sweet, precocious little Mani. The same baby boy who single-handedly won over every member of our family in mere moments with his infectious grin, his irresistible giggle, and his silly antics. Our amazing, miraculous Manolin will blow out two candles, celebrate two years on the earth, and walk forward towards his preschool years.

I missed so little with Manolin that truly, I have rarely paused during this journey to consider that he was not born of my own body. There was never a tinge of foreignness to him; I did not learn this child so much as I knew him. From the very first time I took him in my arms, he fit against me perfectly. His weight was familiar. His scent was almost known. He burrowed into my neck with a sense of calm relief that made me see that he, too, felt our connection. Within days of his joining our family, it was as if he had been there since the beginning.

There are small reminders of his life prior to joining us. I strain, sometimes, to remember where I bought his beloved "ni-ni" blanket only to recall that his first foster mother gave it to him. I dab at the small white scar in the right-hand corner of his mouth at wince at the knowledge that it was either a ventilator tube or a feeding tube--either left in place just a little too long or taped to skin too fragile to withstand such irritation--that has left its permanent mark there. I see a small box in my closet every morning labeled, "Mani--X-rays" and know that this is the place where the memories of his pain are stored, for now.

But by and large, Manolin is Blandings through and through. Not biologically, of course. But his nurture ... well, in his nearly 112 weeks of life, less than 20 have been spent elsewhere. Since he was placed with us, he has had no contact from his biological family whatsoever. It's easy to understand why he looks exactly like Jo when he smiles, and has the same sense of humor as Atticus. It's hard not to understand why we forget sometimes why he was bottlefed and not nursed, why we can't put our finger on his weight at birth, why we stop and try to picture him as a six week-old and can't quite bring a picture into focus.

We don't for an instant deny the unique and purposeful path that God designed for bringing Manolin into the world. We are forever grateful that, no matter what his birthmom's poor choices were after his birth, she still made the sacrifice of carrying him to term and giving him the gift of life. We celebrate his beautiful Latino culture, which our genes could never have given him. We delight in his black curls and big brown eyes, we are thrilled that he inherited dimples and elf-like ears. Manolin will never have the same DNA as Mr. Blandings and I, but there is never a moment of grieving that. He is exactly who God made him to be. We are honored to be his parents.

And yet ... June 3rd feels like a strangely unremarkable day to celebrate him. Yes, yes ... we will have balloons and streamers and a cake. We will sing and give him presents. June 3rd is the day we thank God for making Mani. We will rejoice in his health, his growth, his beauty, his joy.

But June 3rd is not really the day I feel the full weight of the blessing that is Manolin. After all, June 3, 2008, was like any other day for me. I had no idea that, less than 30 miles away, my son was emerging into the world. As I have said, my heart did not grow large enough to include Mani that day. For me, that day will always be October 31, 2008--the day a social worker came to my door with a little boy in a car seat carrier and handed him over to me there, on my front steps. The day I unfastened the straps with shaking fingers and looked into his trusting brown eyes and said, "Welcome home, little man."

That's the day my heart grew. Not his birthday ... but his familyday. And thanks to the amazing blessing of adoption ... I get to celebrate both.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Homeschooling Daddy

I learned early on that consulting my husband even on things that he has no interest in whatsoever in terms of decision making makes him feel loved, involved, and valued. And when a guy is gone the biggest chunk of the day, truly--every little thing you can do to make him feel like he matters is worth the added effort. Because, as we all know, a man who feels valued is a man whose heart stays close to home and whose actions center around his family.

There have been times when I have had to grit my teeth through some moments when frankly, I didn't give a hoot what his opinion was. For example, seven years ago we moved into our current home. It was our first brand-new place. A total blank slate. White walls, no personality, and endless options. I immediately laid out my plans for decorating: lots of red, some folksy touches, a warm and cozy feel. Mr. Blandings demurred. He's not especially fond of my favorite color, and besides ... one gal's "cozy" is another man's claustrophobic. Fine, I said. Let's just start with the windows. We installed faux wood blinds that we could agree on and a vertical blind on the sliding glass door that fit his budget more than my taste. Then it was on to the pretty part. I came home with a lovely pair of Waverly valances in shades of green, yellow, blue, and red. I hung them up just before Mr. Blandings arrived home from work. When he walked in the front door, the response was less than stellar.

"Are those ...
pears?" he asked, squinting.

"Yes," I answered. "It's a kind of fruit and flower theme."

"Oh. Wow. That's ... yeah ... ho boy."

I took this to mean that Mr. Blandings was not looking forward to coming home every night to the bucolic view of fresh flowers and assorted food stuff decking his windows.

Take two.

Seeing the response Mr. Blandings had had to the first set of valances, I went for a pattern. Happily, I found a gorgeous set of jabots that was anything but stuffy. They were red and yellow stripes, and from the moment I put them up, I was tickled with the way that they warmed the rooms.
Mr. Blanding was not so thrilled.

"It's like something you'd see on a boat. Or a themed restaurant maybe.
Our specials tonight are shrimp scampi ..."

I resisted the urge to slug him, and I took the valances back.

Finally, by take three, I was ready to ask specifics.
What colors do you want? What colors do you not want? What kind of valance do you like? Would you prefer full curtains? What, exactly, are you hoping to accomplish here?
By sitting down and verbally hashing out what each of us had in mind, I was able to find a winner. On take three, I found a winner. Red Country Life toile--my choice. Not too frilly--his choice. Contrasting fabrics--my choice. No fruit or big flowers--his choice.

If you look past the Christmas tree in this pic, you can see a corner of what we ended up with:

By looking past what I wanted, and looking toward what we wanted, a compromise was reached. And in the end, I'll tell you--I've been that much happier throughout the years, knowing that I didn't push my way to what I envisioned as perfect, but instead invested the time to feather a nest that my husband feels blessed to call his home.

Homeschooling our children has worked much the same way. While I know that the vast majority of homeschooling mothers bear the entire burden of selecting and purchasing curriculum, that hasn't been my experience. From the word go--way back when Mr. Blandings had severe doubts about his whole experiment in education ever working out--he was 50% of the choosing team. Sure, I was the one who ordered the catalog and went in search of link to email him for his perusal, but Mr. Blandings stepped up and took his job seriously. After a few years in his new role as Homeschooling Daddy, he even began scouting out ideas on his own. This had been my goal along: keep supplying him with information, and help him to invest in the choices we were making.

Lest you think that my husband has nothing else to do in his spare time, I assure you ... you couldn't be farther off base. Mr. Blandings typically leaves the house at 7:15 a.m. and is rarely home before 6:45 p.m. Outside of his day job, he has plenty of other callings that eat up precious hours. Every weekend, he squeezes in as much kiddo time as he can muster. No one could blame him for passing the buck on choosing homeschool materials to his wife. After all, he's busy. Busy with worthy stuff.

But, he will quickly tell you, there is nothing more pressing in the life of father than being present and vocal when it comes to selecting the things that will speak into your child's life. This is a no-brainer when it comes to orchestrating family devotions, connecting with kids on their spiritual growth, and encouraging their character development as they learn to walk with Christ. Slightly down that ladder, though, you will find yet another serious obligation: the raising up of the child's mind, and the preparation that will lead him or her to eventually be able to fulfill the purpose set out before that child.

Mr. Blandings places a high value on being in the know when it comes to what our kids are learning. And truthfully, I couldn't be happier.

Does this mean that sometimes, he vetoes a particular choice I'm leaning towards? Yeah, it happens. One year, I was especially heartbroken when he gently but firmly told me that I was done writing my own science unit studies. After two years, he said, it was clear that the slice of time this endeavor took up was eating into much more important things in my life. To satisfy my own desire to feel creative and capable while meeting my kids' needs, I was taking time away from other things that needed my attention. And he, as my husband, could see it ... even when I couldn't.

I balked. I pouted. I fumed inside that he had no idea what he was talking about.

And, of course, two months into the new school year, I was thrilled at the new freedom I had found with the few hours a week that was no longer directed towards keeping a science program afloat.

Many, many moms have told me that having their husband "looking over their shoulder" would drive them nuts when it came to choosing curriculum. That it would "take the fun out of it." That homeschooling is "their thing" and they'd prefer their husbands to remain ignorant of what goes on in that area.

I think that while this is probably a very self-gratifying way of going about homeschooling, it misses the point. Your kids are never just your kids. They belong first to God, then to you and your husband. Would you feel that your husband was "looking over your shoulder" if he asked you what day your baby was due? Of course not. This is a group effort. A team approach. An US moment. And while we moms may be the ones teaching the math lesson, we are definitely not the only ones that will be held accountable for the outcome in the end.

Having Mr. Blandings involved does not spoil the fun of the homeschool hunt. It gives me a partner in crime. Rather than spending a chunk of time alone at the computer last night comparing science programs, I got to talk over what I was seeing with my husband. He pulled up a chair, shared a cup of coacoa with me, and debated the pros and cons of the two we had narrowed the options down to. In the end, both still unsure, we prayed. Together. Because of his intimate knowledge of our childrens' learning styles, as well as what we were seeing with these two programs, it was no generic prayer. It was a directed, specific request of God. I had nothing more to add to his eloquent plea for guidance.

This morning, I woke up feeling like one program was more of what we were looking for. At breakfast, I asked Mr. Blandings if he was feeling a leading in one direction or the other. He said yes, and named the program that I had in mind. It was confirmation of what I had been hearing. Now, I could have had the same peace by simply praying alone. But how much sweeter to have a second, invested voice piping alongside my own?

This fall, when I dig into the new school year with gusto and find myself swimming in the new waters of teaching chemistry while nursing a newborn, I will have the ultimate gift that comes from having a husband who shares in my passion for homeschooling: an encourager. Rather than offering a vague, "You can do it!" cheer from the sidelines, I will have a man who can assess our choices and help me think through what works and what doesn't. I will have a guy who will most likely volunteer to take on even more of the day-to-day teaching than he already does (he has taken over several subjects with individual kids, and holds his own version of a homeschool classroom with them on alternating days at 6 a.m.). I will have a partner.

My wish for every homeschooler is that they, too, can taste the joy of that blessing. For every mom who doesn't want her husband involved to see the benefits of letting go. For every disinterested dad to wake up and see what a huge part of parenting he's missing out on. For every family to feel what a powerful, profound gift we have in the homeschooling lifestyle. Homeschooling, after all, isn't just filling your kids up with a prescribed ration of knowledge. It's something much deeper; it's the kindling of a flame that will burn for life in the hearts and minds of the next generation. It's worth investing in. It's worth sacrificing for. It's worth making a priority. For everyone.