Monday, October 31, 2011


My favorite part in "The Grinch who Stole Christmas" is when the Grinch realizes Christmas isn't about stuff. Upon taking in the fact that his attempt to foil Christmas has failed, we hear "And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day."

That's how I felt the day I saw this:

Now, I don't think my heart was necessarily small. But it felt full enough, for sure. There was no aching lack, no longing for an indescribable something or unknown someone.

And then, there was Manolin.

I saw him, and I knew.

This boy? My son. 

The next day I met him. Four days later--October 31, 2008-- he was home.

Today, he's a boisterous, spunky, passionate three year-old. 

He loves his brothers and sisters. He calls me "Momma." He thinks there's nothing tastier than a bowl of black beans and rice--except for maybe a slice of homemade pizza covered in black olives. Trains are the coolest thing ever. He adores his Cubbies vest. He will happily tell you that he has "curly hair and Latino eyes."

My heart gratefully grew three sizes the day that Manolin came. It continues to expand with each flash of his dimples, every infectious giggle, every "Thank you for making my dinner, Momma!" 

I love this boy. I catch my breath every time I ponder the maze of circumstances God used to get him into our arms. "Grateful" is such a small word when faced with the true depth of what I feel when I kiss this boy's forehead at night. 

My heart grew three years ago this day. Our family grew by one. And Manolin, well .., he continues to grow.

Happy Gotcha' Day, little man!

Friday, October 28, 2011

... and there it is

Four weeks ago, she was cruising around the furniture, figuring out the cool walking toy, and pushing an overturned laundry basket ahead of her to keep her balance.

Three weeks ago, she let go ... and, of course, never looked back.

Seven is walking, toying with running, getting around. 

A toddler. A full-blown toddler. 


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Letting the days go by

The centerpiece of my kitchen isn't my stove, my sink, or my much-loved KitchenAid. It's a huge dry-erase calendar that clings proudly to the side of the fridge--the side, incidentally, which faces out into the open living space and can be viewed from just about anywhere in the house.

Mr. Blandings bought the board for me roughly 11 years ago. We had only graduated to two children a few months earlier, but already, things were, shall we say, slipping. My habit of flying by the seat of my pants was slowly unraveling my husband's patience--as was my tendency to pack up the babies and take long weekends to visit family members 6 hours away. If I remember correctly, it was while I was off on such a jaunt that I learned that I was the new owner of what Mr. Blandings ominously referred to as "a board for your schedule." Turns out, I had flaked on some other commitment in order to spend the weekend with my mom and cousin. Woops.

I learned to love the calendar after we got to know each other a little better. Turns out it was easier to pick up my trusty black dry-erase and simply write things down than to try and not only remember events or plans, but retrieve them in a timely fashion as well. I came to depend on the calendar, and it was so much a part of my routine by the time that we moved cross-country (and out of range of those tempting weekend getaways) just two years later that it never occurred to me to leave the board behind.

By then, of course, we had not just Jo and Atticus, but Logan, too. Well-child checks, gymnastics classes, library story times ... it was all too much to simply write down. Now it needed to be sorted, I decided. I invested in a simple set of colored dry erase markers and handed out assignments. Mr. Blandings was dark blue. I was red. Jo was purple. Atticus was light blue. Logan was green. Life was now not just more organized, it was prettier, too.

With the addition of more and more family members, our palette had to expand. Today, we still cling to our original color scheme, but with nuances. For example, Logan is a light green. That would be because Manolin is dark green. Oliver is orange. Bee is yellow--and yes, I write in all of her exams and other important dates so that we can be sure to call and check in. Seven is, naturally, pink. Brown is for things that impact everyone--holidays, meetings we all attend, etc. And if something is shared (say, Atticus and Logan's karate lessons) then I alternate colors on letters, just to make a point.

My calendar is large enough to cover an 8 week span, which means that the one I just wrote yesterday ends the week before Christmas. (Yes, Christmas. How wrong is that?) I realize anew every time that I erase the old schedule and write in the new dates that time, which is always marching, marching, marching forward, waits for no man--or woman, either. As I scroll through the calendar app on my phone and transcribe all of the relevant dates between the two, the awareness hits like a ton of bricks:

What? Time to schedule dentist appointments again? Already?
Oliver's birthday? So soon?
Has it really been two years since Grandpa passed?

Other times over the year, there's been the anticipation as I fill in the squares and see the potential in dates that mean nothing to me--yet. For months on end, while we waited for Oli, I remember standing at my post beside the fridge and wondering, "Is this the one? Is this the calendar where I get to assign a new color?" Awaiting Seven's birth was similar. As August popped onto the radar, I wrote in the dates, weighed each of them, wondered if any would be The Day that I'd remember forever as Seven's birthday.

My heart leaped when, last September, I took the tip of my index finger and smudged out the brown "SEVEN" that I'd written on my induction date and replaced it with "Seven born" in sweet, girly pink.

I love the feel of a not-too-full schedule. A few anchoring highlights, the routine of the ordinary to hang my hat on, only a sprinkling of the "must-dos" that inspire so much dread because of their ability to disrupt the entire rhythm of the day. Those are the 8-week blocks that make me sigh with satisfaction. Those are times when many good books will be read, meals will be lingered over, and my crockpot will wonder if I've taken up with another appliance. On the other hand, there are the rushed seasons with too many colors on too many blocks. Those times make me feel tired and irritable just looking over all that has to be done.

The thing to remember, always, is that we fill our days. Our days do not fill us. While some things really, truly must be done, I find that the necessity of such things is really far more rare than we tend to think. Youth group. AWANA. Bible studies. Homeschool co-ops. Swimming lessons. Book clubs. Play dates. Music lessons. Committees. Volunteer work. It was actually after writing out our fall calendar two years ago that I stepped back, summoned Mr. Blandings and said, "We can do all of this, but I don't want to." He agreed. We slashed our commitments to essentially just two things. And you know what? 

Life went on.

We were never super committed outside of our home, but the pull was/is always there. So many good things. So many worthy things. So many fun things.

But really, I've found that some of the best days--some of the days that you never forget--don't come after an aching wait that finally gives you an annual Gotcha Day to label in orange or green. Some of them don't even come with events or activities to note.

Some of the best days are completely empty and open-ended. Almost unnoticeable. Almost. Except for those mugs of hot cider, except for that last chapter of The Treasure Seekers, except for the way the leaves crackled under the wheels of the bikes as we sampled the early morning sunshine on a crisp autumn day. On those days, my old fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants habits shine ... no dry-erase notation needed.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Do Not Forget Things

Scrambling to run out the door. Five minutes late and in a NW downpour, of course.

Diaper bag restocked? Yes.

Snacks packed? Yes.

Entertainment bag ready to go? Yes.

Everybody pottied or in a fresh dipe? Yes.

Rain boots on, everyone? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

And then ...

"Logan, did you brush your teeth?"

Guilty shoulder shrug, slight grimace.

And I lost it. The stress, the rush, the late night licking envelopes to send support packets to churches--it all hit me in one, sick rush.

I lost it.

I sucked breath through my teeth, rolled my eyes, threw my hand on my hip, looked at the ceiling. Then I got that lanky, oversized boy square in my sights and let him have it.

"LO-gan! This is. not. o.k. Son! YOU HAVE GOT TO BRUSH YOUR TEETH! You are nine years old! Nine! Do I really have to remind you to brush your teeth every morning?"

His lower lip trembled. His big, beautiful blue eyes shifted shamefully to the floor, where he couldn't see his whole line of siblings staring at him in his moment of disgrace. His cheeks flushed white, then pink, then red.

And his shoulders? Those proud, tall shoulders of that burgeoning man-boy that spread so elegantly, reminding me daily of the handsome guy he's becoming? They were hunched. Cowed into submission by the angry words I was spitting in his face.

Just then, the face that I saw before me wasn't Logan at all. It was the image of a friend who has a nine year-old little man of her own. A boy who, sadly, will take a bride long after his Momma is gone and unable to help him pin the corsage to his tux. A boy who will not likely hand his firstborn into his own Momma's waiting arms one day and whisper, "Here you go, Gramma." A boy who will brush his teeth without his Momma's nagging for many, many years before he is grown.

The tears came before I knew what was happening. I grabbed my boy by his bent shoulders, hugged him close and begged his forgiveness. Pressed my lips to his forehead while it is still low enough for me to reach, wrapped my arms around him while he is still small enough to fit snugly inside my hugs. Loved on him. Felt him slowly, gingerly, uncoil and accept the kisses I couldn't stop myself from lavishing on him.

Because really, I don't give a whip about whether or not he brushes his teeth. Not in the big picture. What I care about is that I have this boy--this young man-- to love and cherish. I have Logan here, now. 

Those are the big things. The Do Not Forget Things.

The teeth? Well, they matter. But not more than my son. Not more than his heart, his pride, his sense of what it is to be loved and accepted. I'm just grateful that God, in His infinite love for both Logan and me, pulled me back just far enough to remind me of how blessed I am. Sure, I've got a boy whose idea of oral hygiene is, shall we say, lacking. But I've got a boy. I am blessed to be his mother. God willing, I will watch him lose every single baby tooth in his head and even be the one to hold his hand at the oral surgeon's office as they wrest the wisdom teeth from his jaw. I will most likely cry when he shows me the ring he's selected for his intended. I'll walk over the threshold of his first home and watch him crackle with excitement as he tells me about their plans for the place. I'll have lunch with him some day when I'm 70 and he's 43, and I'll tell him that he's too young to be worried about this or that. I will be a part of his life, and he mine.

That, well ... that's a Do Not Forget Thing. That's the stuff that matters.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Tomorrow, I turn 37.

Nearly four decades. And what do I have to show for it?

Quite a lot, it turns out.

More than I asked for, definitely.

More than I deserve, certainly.

And yet, God's best for me keeps coming.

As my 37th birthday approaches, all I can think is "Thank you." 

Thank you for a faith that brings comfort and joy. Thank you for a rock-solid marriage. Thank you for a husband who thinks he's the lucky one (little does he know it's ME). Thank you for seven beautiful children. Thank you for a safe, comfortable home. Thank you for pumpkin spice lattes with whip cream, for autumn sunshine, for smears on the windows from little fingers, for a reliable vehicle, for people willing to support us with their prayers and finances, for phone lines that allow me to hear my daughter's voice in Nepal.

Thank you. Thank you, Lord. It's been an incredible journey up til this point. Count me in for as many more adventures as you care to dish out.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Lairnin' Logan

Jo, Atticus ... they follow a pretty easy pattern. Read a book. Talk about a book. Maybe even write about a book. And voila! They have a file folder in their brain that they can access at any time to retrieve even the most minute details.

Teaching them is easy. In, fact, it's so easy that I'm fairly certain they could lairn (as my Poppy used to say) from one of those dry-as-toast video school jobs. Now, they'd be bored to bits--but they'd learn. Why? Because if they hear it, it's theirs. Plain and simple.

Logan hangs in there pretty well in this house dominated so often by words. Perhaps it's simply the fact that words--written, spoken, sung--are the backdrop of our family's life in a much deeper way than the average lot. I write: fiction, nonfiction, reviews, this blog, the occasional unit study, diatribes that never see the light of day. Mr. Blandings writes: press releases, articles, a now-massive Bible study for fathers that will hopefully make it to book form some day. Jo writes: short stories, one full novel, and more letters than you can shake a stick at. And Atticus writes: an epic novel divided, LoTR style into three "books," comic books, frighteningly observant articles, and the random poem.

Logan writes, too. Poetry, mostly. I'm proud to say that it doesn't rhyme, and that he uses words like "epicenter" correctly, even though he misspells it. He also has a story going. I haven't been invited to read it yet, but my hopes are high that I may get the nod sometimes soon.

Here's the thing: Logan doesn't think he's a writer. And that pains me.

Because he doesn't follow the words=learning all there is to know about a subject pattern set in place by Jo and Atticus, he thinks he's different. 

Case in point: Yesterday, driving home from a fun outing with friends. I hear a somewhat strained discussion behind me in The Walrus (our name for our big white van). I let it go for a minute, trying to get a bead on what was taking place. Whatever it is, Jo is not buying it.

"I do, too!" Logan shouts, slamming his hands into his lap and refusing to turn around and see eyeball to eyeball with his sister any longer.

I ask what's up.

Jo yells above the din of the preschoolers: "Logan says you think in pictures. But you don't think in pictures. You think in words. I told him that."

Uh, yeah. You think in words if you're you, Jo. Or if you're me. But if you're Logan?

If you're Logan, you think in pictures.

It's always been this way with my second son. From the time he was tiny, I could tell that he saw the world in a way that I couldn't quite touch. Logan could differentiate between red and scarlet, the scent of two types of roses, or the sound of bells of differing sizes. He loved certain clothes for their style, or for the way that the colors hit his eye. He adored spreading table-sized art books all over the living room floor and admiring them, memorizing the names of the artists. Foods that "looked nice" were more likely to be eaten than those that were simply tasty. 

As he grew, I transitioned from merely sensing Logan's differences to seeing them outright. He was an artist. A visual artist. 

Heaven help me.

I admit that I've probably failed Logan in the area of his art education thus far. Taking my cues from various sources that claim that teaching children the specifics of drawing at a young age stifles their innate talent, I have chosen to allow my own lack of skills in this area to win out. Logan has had the tiniest smidgen of what one would call actual art instruction--and most of that has come from a DVD. In my defense, I did try to hook up with a local homeschooling mom for art lessons, but it never came together past the first few visits. 

Instead, I've given him high-quality materials, as much access to them as possible in a household with six smaller hands anxious to grab, and all the cheerleading I can muster. For the most part, Logan seems satisfied with this.

Except, of course, when he has to bend his learning style to meet with ours. While he doesn't complain or whine, I know that he always has the sneaking suspicion that everyone else does better, is more creative, has it all right. No matter how much I tell him, he still seems to shy away from my praise of his written work and fall back into, "I don't really like writing."

Except, of course, that he does. He just writes with pictures.

Logan is only 9, and I'm still absorbing the emerging bits of his personality as he steps closer and closer to the edge of manhood. Nine is such a precious, awe-filled time for a boy. They are courageous, they are witty, and they are so silly that you want to pull your hair out. But oh, how deep their thoughts, and how full their hearts. 

I'll take a 9 year-old boy any day of the week.

And Logan? Yes, I'll take him any day of the week, too. The more I lairn, the more I fall in love all over again with this blossoming boy. Yes, his shirts are almost always smeared with oil pastels. His pockets are doubtless full of Lego pieces. He's most likely forgotten to brush his teeth. But he is boundlessly creative. He sees beauty in everything, from the way the moon hits the river at night to the sound coins make as they clink in my pocketbook. 

I'm learning more every day, and Logan is one of my teachers. 

Now, to see if I can score him a real art instructor ...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The miracle

Days go by without much to note in Oli's world.

Breakfast is still called "breakfast," or "lunch," but never dinner, because, well, no meal is called "dinner."

There is toilet time afterwards, where Oli (5 years old in 6 weeks) sits, unsure of what may or may not happen. We sit until the stack of picture books is exhausted, or until Mani bangs on the door demanding to use the facilities, which ever happens first.

Songs are sung at preschool Bible time, and Oli knows many words by heart. His toneless voice can't hide his joy as he flings his arms in the air and performs the hand signs. This is his favorite point in the day, I am sure. He can't tell me this vital bit of information, but a Momma just knows this kind of thing.

The teenage girl reading his favorite book to him is adored, but he has no idea what her name is. The two older boys who flounce around this place are both called "Logan." When corrected, a dull, "Oh," is all he offers.

The same skill is practiced over and over until it seems old hat. And then, magically, it disappears. Oli shows no frustration, only bewilderment. I bite the inside of my cheeks and pray hard, harder, hardest.

There are therapies, small motor skills, flashcards, speech exercises, physical activities. There are food allergies to navigate and boo-boos to kiss and short, Oli-sized explanations about everything he encounters, in case this is the moment when the world opens up and he grabs onto something and doesn't let go.

There are always sweet bedtime sighs and a contended, blissful relaxation as he snuggles deep into the jersey knit sheet that he has claimed as his sole property. There is a prayer that he repeats but does not understand.

And then the lights go out, and the day is over. Tomorrow will be exactly the same. Two steps forward, perhaps. Three steps back, most likely. But still, another day. Another chance for a miracle.

Some days, we get those miracles. Full sentences. Abstract thoughts. Questions that poke at deeper places. A shred of a song sung at random that hasn't been heard in months.

These are the moments that keep me going, keep me giving, keep me chasing the spark behind those brilliant blue eyes.

Today, we had a miracle. Today, Oli walked through the kitchen while I stood measuring out tablespoons of his special wheat-, dairy-, and egg-free cookies dough onto the waiting tray. He paused, craned his neck back to see what I was doing, then grabbed my left knee impulsively. I was slightly caught off guard. Oli rarely shows  any unsolicited emotion, let alone such enraptured joy. 

Then he whispered, "I wush you, Mommy," into the folds of my skirt, and walked away.

I wush you, Mommy.

Be still my heart.

Tomorrow I will spend precious time making a special batch of allergen-free goodies to tide Oli through the rest of the fall baking season. Hours will be poured into pottying, reading, laboriously coaxing him through countless tasks that might--maybe--serve him as he grows. I will remind him yet again of Seven's name, not to bite Mani, to stop banging his head on the glass door. And I will do it with a lighter step, a cheerful heart, and renewed optimism.

Because today, I saw the miracle. I wush you, Mommy. It goes a long, long way.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Take me to the river.

We live just over 2,500 miles from our nearest relatives. It's been this way since 2002. Before that, we were a six hour drive from family, so while it was something of an adjustment to realize that we couldn't get in for long weekends and the like, it wasn't a huge shock. It just ... well, it just was.

Many people can't imagine not living down the street from mom and dad, or at least within an hour or two or someone with the same last name.

For us, it's not awful. Perhaps it's because we have never in our married lives been closer than two hours to an extended family member. I really don't know. But whatever the reason, it always strikes me as odd when people are shocked or saddened by the geography of our family tree.

True, there are times when I realize that my children have missed out on having grandparents attend AWANA awards, or have never had the full-scale family birthday bash, complete with a whole line of cousins hiding behind the couch and sneaking M&Ms by the handful. They don't get random overnights with aunts and uncles, and they've never experienced the Sunday supper tradition of everyone crowding 'round a table after service and devouring three full chickens in less time than it took to put those things out of their misery.

They don't have those things. At least, not with people whose genes mimic their own.

And maybe this is where it all gets murky for me and finds its way around to me just not understanding the big deal:

My kids have these things. They have them with what we consider family.

There is Benny's family. When I look at her precious seven year-old, I remember his watermelon-streaked smile as he dug into his first slice that summer of 2004. I can't erase the image of her now-nine year-old as a stoic, tank of a toddler dashing past doughy little Logan all those years ago. I'll never forget the birth of her first daughter, the winter we learned to knit, or the fact that she was the one who passed on the pumpkin spice bar recipe that lights up our autumn palates.

There are countless others, too. The couple who ministered to my kids through AWANA for years and now regularly send me notes thanking me for sending on pics of some of their favorite kids. The lady who has bought Jo a birthday gift every year since she was six, just because she always wanted a little girl. The pastor who never passes by Seven without touching her cheek and reminding her that she was a blessing straight from God. The neighbor who taught me to make the most kickin' arroz con pollo you've ever tasted. 

Like three of the children that I call my own, no blood ties bind us to these people. Somehow, doesn't that make the weaving of our lives that much more poetic? Our love is based not solely on history or shared ancestry, but on respect, on trust, on afternoons spent herding toddlers through zoos, sharing recipes for cold salads, and discovering new passions.

Family isn't always blood, you know. But it is always, always love.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Before I became a mother, I knew that I wanted sons. The picture I held in my mind always revolved around me sitting on an overstuffed sofa with a little boy on each side of me, clamoring to get a closer look at the oversized copy of Goodnight Moon I held on my lap. Sometimes, it included two cute little mop tops sitting on the kitchen counter while the mixer whipped together our latest batch of chocolate chip cookies. And, of course, I had visions of bunk beds and dinosaur-shaped pillows and army guys strewn on the floor and me, standing in the doorway in the dark sighing long deep sighs as I listened to my little men breathe.

I got that. Times two, actually. And it's been all that I dreamed of ... and more.

But back before I knew that God had not two, but four boys planned for me, I had Jo. And then, of course, I gave birth to Atticus.

Atticus. From the moment this little man emerged, quiet and contemplative from my womb, he has been everything you could want in a son. Sweet. Charming. Funny. Painfully intelligent. Kind. Loyal. Just.

And so darn cute it makes me cry, even now.

Atticus was a long, slim little package that grew longer and slimmer as the months wore on. Today, he's almost comically tall for his age, but his weight hovers in the 40% percentile. He's quite graceful for an 11 year-old, and has never been one to drop his entire weight on the couch (unlike others in this house), or lose awareness of his lanky limbs. Atticus is, if anything, extremely self-conscious. And more than a little concerned with hygiene, if you must know. Daily showers are his thing.

His wit and wisdom are something of legend in our family. By the age of three, he was using words like, "ominous" and "inconsiderate" in routine conversation. At four, he became exasperated with a well-meaning fellow passenger who tried to give him a kiddie version of how an airplane stays aloft.

"You don't know about lift and thrust, do you?" Atticus asked, before proceeding to outline the underpinnings of jet engines to his astonished row-mate. To this day, I'm not sure how much the man appreciated being schooled by a 4 year-old.

Today, Atticus' main passions are robotics and filmmaking. Neither floats my personal boat, but I am learning (by default) more than I ever wanted to know about the wonders of silicon, the merits of making a humanoid appear real but not too real, the importance of lighting, and why PCs are the superior programming tool. I refuse to believe the last bit, but am willing to give him the rest. It's Atticus, after all. He's probably right.

I've been very open on this blog about the struggles Atticus has had with Sensory Processing, as well as anxiety. I've had my share of guilt and doubt and worry over they years as I've watched my brave son face his giants. But God has been faithful. At age 11, Atticus is learning some hard-won but powerful lifelong lessons from swimming in the waters I would never have chosen for him. Chief among them is this: God can be trusted. 

God can be trusted. It is no small thing to step back and hold your hands palm up and say these words. At nearly 37, I still grapple with this fact far too often. To know that Atticus is weighing it now, so long before adulthood, gives me hope that his path with Christ will be real, genuine, and life-altering.

In less than a month, Atticus will strike out on his very first mission trip with his dad. Our goal as parents has been to send our children on international mission trips as soon as they seem ready. We desire for their hearts to be molded not just by what they hear, but by what they see, what they taste, what they smell. Not everyone has the luxury of sending their pre-teens to Mexico, Bangladesh, or Hong Kong. Mr. Blandings and I realize that we are imminently blessed to have so many open doors through which our children can travel with us. And yes, it is a blessing. A child who returns from the outskirts of Tijuana with blisters on her hands and the taste of a destitute single mom's tortillas on her tongue has encountered a Jesus she will never forget. Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Blandings and I will raise children who don't fall into the stereotype of second generation Christianity (see this blog post for a beautiful definition). There's no guarantee, of course. But oh, how desperately we desire this.

Atticus is ready to take the plunge. He is headed to Nepal in November, by way of South Korea. On his to-do list for the stop-over is a visit to the DMZ, which tells you a little bit about this boy's curiosity and character, right? His task, once he arrives in Kathmandu, is to use his vast (and somewhat startlingly developed, might I add) video skills to create individual movies of all the children at the orphanage, and all the church planters at the Bible school. Once home, he'll take his raw footage and put together bits for the children's sponsors and for fundraising purposes. He's thrilled that he's found a way to use one of his God-given talents to build up the family ministry and, most importantly, to impact the Kingdom. As his parents, we're grateful to the Lord that He stepped in to open our son's heart and eyes to the power that even a young boy can have when it comes to spreading the Gospel.

My vision of havingcountries where Maoist strikes shut down the cities for days on end. But you know, it never included a boy who would rather program a robot than make cookies, either. God has given my family an amazing opportunity to serve--and eventually to live--in a country where He is largely unknown. He has given us hearts for those who have yet to hear His word. And He can be trusted. So I send Atticus off knowing that this trip will imprint upon his young soul truths about his Creator that can be revealed no other way. 

What an outrageously beautiful gift.