Blessed be those who with their choice
Have families’ hopes defeated
Blessed be most the Chosen Ones
Through whose presence we find faith
Through whose absence we find strength
Through whose existence we find grace.
I’ve always wanted the kids to be fluent in another language.
Nick, thanks to his grandmother’s fluency, has shown a certain flair for Spanish. Olivia, thanks to my fluency – and perhaps her fashion sense – has shown an interest in French.
Then there’s Gabe, who is fluent in Whinese. In fact, he knows several dialects.
Our middle child has made it abundantly clear that he is not a morning person. While his sister is screaming for oatmeal at 5:30am, Gabe is sleepwalking his way – 2 hours later – thru getting dressed, hitting the toilet, and sliding his way down the stairs for breakfast. Once there, he is all limp bones and floppy muscles, sometimes too weak to even drag himself onto the chair. Instead he’ll lay down on the floor, 2 fingers in his mouth, his other hand clutching a snuggie as he communes with the dog (also, on the floor).
“Gabe, can you come to the table to eat? You’re going to be hungry later.”
It’s 8am and he’s had a full 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep, but somehow, the task of lifting his featherweight body off the floor is simply too much.
“I caaaaaaan’t,” he whimpers, as he “tries” and fails to lift his head from the hardwood floor.
“Here, let me help you,” I chirp, channeling any 50’s era mom I can summon as I unceremoniously plop his sack-of-potatoes body next to his brother.
“Gabe, can you pass the brown sugar?” Nick points to the bag located 2 centimeters in front of Gabe’s plate.
Gabe raises a limp hand to his chest.
“I caaaaaaaan’t,” he mews, and Nick harrumphs impatiently, eschewing the table manners we’re trying to instill and reaches across his brother – barely brushing Gabe’s arm – to get the sugar himself.
“It’s right THERE, Gabe” – to which Gabe responds with his second favorite dialect:
Gabe miraculously finds his voice, and his muscle tone. He wrests 2 fingers from his mouth and stabs the air indignantly.
“Nick PUSHED ME!”
Nick raises his voice to match his brother’s. While it’s not quite a shouting match, we’re clearly on the express train to Yellsville.
“NO, I did NOT.”
“Stop YELLING AT ME!”
“I DID NOT YELL!”
And here we are.
Olivia thinks to whole thing is a hoot and starts chiming in with a mix-list of loud – and random – words. “MORE….YEAH….OWIE….OATMEAL…” which launches Gabe into his 3rd dialect:
“I don’t feel good.”
Gabe’s ability to switch from Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell to Greta Garbo’s Camille is astounding. And my dear, sweet boy will now lay that precious head on his plate, just barely avoiding the food on it in 3…2…OK, his nose is actually touching his eggs.
“I have a tummy ache.”
“Uh huh.” I try very hard to keep the eye-rolling out of my voice.
Nick, however, does not.
“He’s just faking it so he doesn’t have to eat!”
“I’m going to throw up.” Kid, if you can make yourself do that by sheer will alone, I’ve got a Vine with your face on it. But until then, I’ll just acknowledge – but not encourage – your “illness.”
“Why don’t we pack up your breakfast and save it for later.”
“But I need to eat!”
I’m about to point out the error of his thinking, when Lori raises her eyebrows asking if I’m really going to argue logic with a 3-year-old.
“Ok, Gabe. You do what you need to do.”
And that, ladies and gentleman, is how I throw the whining elephant…until he starts up again when we get to the car. (“I caaaaaaan’t buckle my seat belt! Nick is looooking at me! I hurt my fingeeerrrrrr!”)
I feel for Gabe.
I really do.
In fact, I feel for all of our kids. They have to compete with each other, our dog, our business, our aging parents, this 100-year-old house…
It’s no surprise they each have “the thing” they save just for home, just for us.
For Nick, it’s arguing.
In class, he’s the resident diplomat, protector of geeky kids…and ladybugs.
For Olivia, it’s hitting.
In daycare, she’s the free hugs gal, greeting everyone – including other parents at drop-off – with a squeeze.
And for Gabe, it’s whining.
In preschool, he’s the teacher’s right-hand man, setting the table, cleaning up spills, consoling other kids…with nary a complaint.
But it’s different at home. And there are times when I question our desire to add more to the mix, when our dispersed attention seems to bring out the worst – not the best – in our children. As a former adoption counselor put it, perhaps we were being “too greedy” in our quest for expansion.
But then I see our 3 musketeers…
Nick, laying out coats and backpacks for his siblings.
Gabe placing pairs of shoes for each of us by the door.
Olivia, carrying cups from the table to the sink.
And I think Yes! Yes! A 100 times Yes!
Let our presence fill every inch of this forever fixing-up home.
Let our lives overflow with our children’s highs and lows.
Let our hearts be humbled by the privilege of raising these complex individuals.
Because our table will always have room for one more.
On the way to camp this morning, Nick read “Dig, Dogs, Dig” to Gabe.
Actually, he didn’t so much read as he did tear thru the text at breakneck speed, treating a 32-page pictures book like a ridiculously long run-on sentence.
I was appalled.
In our house, the written word – small w – is sacrosanct. We flip out if someone tosses, steps on, or otherwise disrespects a book. And when it comes to the stories within, we are word-shippers, regarding authors as the high prophets of prose.
I understand that Nick is in that precious middle ground between decoding words and delighting in reading. But still…where on earth had he learned to read like that?!
Then I remembered last night. How, at 8:30pm, after a full day of juggling house work, yard work, and work work, I was ready for these kids to be in bed because there were still several hours of house work, yard work and work work left to do. How, at 8:45pm, I was done playing cat herder to these Energizer Bunny boys (Olivia has wisely punched out at 7:30). How, at 9:05pm, these kids had better not pick one of those loooooong stories before bed –
It is on.
Thomas the Tank Engine ripped up the rails, clocking in at 2 minutes, 37 seconds. The Magic School Bus: Age of the Dinosaurs blazed thru the Mesozoic Era in under 5. As for lullabies? I did the theme to The Greatest American Hero by way of the FedEx Guy in under 30 seconds. At 9:15 those kids were in bed, lights off, with not a single peep till morning.
Check that task off the list.
Now, as I sped thru my second yellow light – yes, challenge accepted – I caught a look at myself in the mirror – and nearly ran us off the road. I looked like the black Cruella DeVil, right down to the crazy eyes and hair.
Why was I in such a rush to drop the kids off at camp where I wouldn’t see them for the next 7 hours…these kids who had taken their sweet time to find us, as months stretched to years of waiting for the phone to ring, letting us know that yes, a birth family had chosen us.
Wasn’t it just yesterday that we had held each of their tiny bodies in our arms
For the first genuine smile
The first tentative step
The first unprompted “I love you”
“Nana,” Nick called from the backseat, exasperated. “Gabe wants me to read the story again! Do we even have time?”
We have as much time as we allow ourselves, kiddo.
“Of course we do,” I replied, as I turned off of our direct route and onto a series of side streets that would add to our commute time. “There’s always time for family.”
As my driving pace slowed, so too did Nick’s reading. Even when we pulled into camp, I let the car idle while he finished the last few pages.
“Thank you for reading, Nick.”
“You’re welcome, Gabe.”
After Nick unbuckled his little brother, Gabe tackled him with a hug. I thought for sure that Nick would complain, eager as he was to get to camp. But instead, he squeezed his brother back, which of course, led to horseplay and non-stop giggling.
They were still laughing when they hopped out of the car, hand-in-hand, as they raced up the stairs.
Bonded by love.
There were a million things racing through my head – calls to return, laundry to finish…but right now they could wait.
There was only this moment, this memory, stretching to infinity.
Back in May, I participated in Listen To Your Mother – a multi-city story celebration of motherhood.
The experience was nothing short of amazing. All of the stories we told that day were funny, moving, and most important, real.
In case you missed it, here I am reading “Nick’s Story”.
Enjoy and share.
I am so grateful for the path that has led us this far, and exited for the journey ahead.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of the families out there!
There are so many ways to make a family. Whether you’re a mom, a grandma, a step-mom or Mr. Mom, this is a day to celebrate all of the things you for the children who have chosen to be a part of your life.
I wrote a piece for The Huffington Post to celebrate our family. Read the entire article here.
My kids – even my daughter – barely know what a dress is, let alone what I look like in one. So when I descended the stairs last Sunday hours before my Listen to Your Mother performance, the reactions were decidedly mixed:
Nick: Inspired. “Oooh, that’s a dress for twirling! Twirl, Nana! Twirl!”
Gabe: Indignant. “Why do you have that dress on?!”
Olivia: Intense: “Yeah! Yeah….Nana…Yeah!”
Lori was in the final stages of clearing breakfast when Olivia, with her enthusiastic clapping at my outfit, knocked over a ceramic cup which shattered in that way that happens when you absolutely, positively have to be out the door – like 5 minutes ago. Calculating the pros and cons of leaving Lori to do clean up (definitely con…like, stony-silence-sleep-on-the-couch con) versus driving like a maniac to avoid being late for rehearsal (still a con…but Melissa and Tracey seemed reasonable enough), I opted for the she-devil I knew and squatted on the floor – in my pretty Spring dress – to pick up the shards that eluded the broom.
“Where are you going, Nana,” Nick asked as I brushed the last bits into the garbage.
“I’m going to tell stories about our family.”
“Can I come?”
I had thought about taking the kids – making this family story a family affair – for about 5 seconds. Then I remembered every disastrous outing we’d ever taken. Why, just the day before we had fished Nick out of Lake Michigan when he chased after a Frisbee and then just disappeared below the waves behind the Planetarium. All we could see was his Diego rescue pack floating towards the sand.
“When you are older, kiddo.” And less accident-prone.
“Will you tell us a story when you come home?”
“Of course, I will, sweetheart. I will always have stories to share with you.”
The story I shared on Sunday was one I have told before – how we started our family and the many ups and downs that define the adoption process. But what amazes and humbles me each time is what happens after the story, when what begins as one-to-many becomes one-to-one:
“I really enjoyed your story. I was adopted…”
“My brother and sister-in-law and going through the process. I had no idea…”
“I placed a baby for adoption 30 years ago. I never heard the other side…”
Every time we say, “let me tell you what happened to me” we invite others to do the same, whether it is on a stage before an audience of strangers or in a coffee shop with a close friend. We create a common place – a sacred space – to connect and share the experiences that make us all so very human.
There is always love.
Listen to Your Mother was a labor of love, and most fitting for Mother’s Day. Thank you to Ann Imig, Melisa Wells, Tracey Becker, and the talented women I shared the stage with on Sunday. And of course, to my family, without whom I would have no stories to tell…well, not interesting ones anyway.
We created something magical last weekend, and I most grateful to have been a part of it.
Photo credit: Sabrina Luster Persico
* An interview with Ann Imig, the founder of Listen to Your Mother, along with interviews with the Chicago cast – including myself – will be on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. Friday 5/10 (Yes, that’s today) at 5:30 CDT/6:30 EDT.
*All of the stories will be available on YouTube this summer.