Thursday, June 30, 2011

Screen Fast

I have had a heck of a spring, people. I was overloaded and busy both personally and professionally, and looking back I find myself thinking that it might take me most of the summer to sort out all the different feelings I experienced and tossed away without examination because there just wasn't any time. June topped it all off with a final rush to finish papers and schoolwork followed by a week away from A+J teaching at a congregation development conference and then just as summer hit two more days away from them working with a parish up in the San Juan islands. Add in all the excitement around leaving St. Paul's and Andrew's graduation and I was left feeling pretty overwhelmed.

I have a very specific way of dealing with feeling overwhelmed. It's called "self-medication through high doses of television." Perhaps you've heard of it. My drug of choice, longtime readers here may remember, is medical drama. It works perfectly - plenty of opportunity for emotional release and no need to actually think through anything going on. When there is just too much happening for me to deal with in the two hours before bed nothing hits the spot quite like back-to-back episodes of Grey's Anatomy reruns on hulu followed by a hot shower. I laugh, I cry, I feel better, I go to sleep a little later than I probably should feeling pleasantly numb.

But, like many drugs which serve a helpful purpose in a crisis situation, crisis management through television can become a little bit addictive. My parents and sibling would tell you that I've always had a bit of a hard time putting the remote down, and they'd be right. So for the month of July I'm going cold turkey.

Andrew is going to join me and for four sure-to-be-glorious weeks we're fasting from screens after the babe goes to bed. No video games or compulsive facebook checking. No Netflix Instant watch or Hulu. No computers at all unless a paper is being written or exam being studied for. No phones unless we need to make or take a call. We are going to read books, play board games, make our neighbors host or visit us, and propel the kitchen into new heights of organization and cleanliness. We are going to go to bed when it gets dark, which here in Seattle at this time of year is about when we should be going to bed anyway. I think it will be both fun and interesting. I wonder how bad the withdrawls will be.

This means I have a lot of television to watch tonight.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

no room of one's own

"Well you'll have to move, of course" a close friend said to me the other day when I brought up our next adoption. She said it so confidently that I hated to disagree. This is easily the number one thing that people who know us bring up when the conversation turns to kids. I'm not surprised because when we were in the middle of our first adoption process people said the same thing, or something similar. The assumption was that we would move soon after baby came because, of course, you can't have a baby in a one bedroom. (much less two kids!!)

I recently googled "super small family living" looking for some inspiration, and ended up finding a post at Apartment Therapy featuring a 431 square foot apartment in Paris that creatively and beautifully houses a family of four and their dog. Scrolling down into the comments I noticed that there were commenters who felt that while the apartment was gorgeous it was unfair to the children of the family to live there. A rather spirited debate then ensues in the comments about how much space is ethically required in order for children to thrive at home. I thought it was interesting, especially considering how I have come to feel about home-space and whether or not adding a child to our family automatically means moving to somewhere bigger. Spoiler alert - it doesn't. In fact that is something that we are very clear about, one kid or two we are staying in our condo for at least the next five years. Let me explain.

First, it does not make financial sense to sell our home right now. I'm actually pretty happy about this, because it nixes the cultural pressures to find somewhere bigger to live. We bought our home literally moments before the real estate bubble burst. Luckily for us we are at the low end of the market, which always rebounds quicker and maintains value better than the higher end. But still, it would be foolish to attempt to sell now and would certainly result in a financial loss for us.

Secondly, and more importantly, I have come to feel that living in a small space fits the values Andrew and I are trying to build into our family life. In fact our space holds us accountable to those values in a way that a larger home might not. A short list of examples:
  • Having minimal unused "stuff." It's a lot easier to say no to cultural pressures to accumulate and consume when you literally have no place to put stuff. This has allowed us to really question the things we feel we need or want and choose a few things that work for us. We have our excesses, mostly in the area of electronics and now J's toys, but they can only go so far, and be so big. Our home-space helps us remember this.

  • It is good for family to share. While our home is technically a "one bedroom" in practice it's a no-bedroom. That is, we don't have any rooms that are only used for sleeping, or that belong only to one person. If another child joins us, he or she will share sleeping space with J, a space that is also a family living space albeit one focused more on kids and kid-play. Andrew and I also share a sleeping space, a space that is also a family living space, albeit one focused more on adults and the functionality that adults need. There are parts of both rooms that "belong" to J and that "belong" to us, but we all live everywhere.
  • Immediate family aren't the only people we live with: Even if we had the money and desire to up-size I don't think we would. Because we would be hard pressed to find a house big enough for us and our neighbors to live in! If Andrew and I want to go out to dinner at the spur of the moment we just drop our baby monitor upstairs, and if J&K, our neighbors, want to do the same on a different night they bring theirs down here. If someone needs help, is lonely, or has a kid who needs a change of scenery we're all just a couple feet away from each other. And our kids are growing up in this lovely community with other kiddos to play with and several sets of parents watching out for everyone.
  • Where we live matters: We chose to be here because we wanted this neighborhood, this close to the city, the ferry, parks, etc. Living small means that we can reduce our footprint in multiple ways - not only the footprint of our home but we can bus or walk instead of driving. This matters - I want J to know this, and new baby too.
Do I feel some trepidation about four people in 730 square feet? Sometimes I do. Especially when I remember that Andrew will be working night shift for the next couple of years. But it's doable. In fact, for us, it's ideal.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Second time around

So, blog world, there's been something cooking in the A+A family for over six months now. Something we just weren't ready to go public about just quite yet for a number of reasons.

We are adopting again. We've been in the process, going slow and taking our time for quite a while.

Almost a year ago I had lunch with Marla, our WACAP Adoption Coordinator, just to catch up and whatnot. As we were walking back to the office she mentioned off-hand that there were a couple of grants left, grants like the one we recieved for J's adoption. Without the grant she wouldn't be ours, this I can promise you. "You should think about applying," Marla said. "If they aren't assigned this year they will go away."

I laughed, but when I got home Andrew took one look at my face, used his spouse-vision to see into my brain where the wheels were turning and said "What are you planning now?"

It was impossible, it was too soon, we were in no position. So I tabled it. By September we were seriously considering stopping with one kiddo. J had started sleeping all night and it seemed silly to even contemplate giving all that up. But yet...

December rolled around and I checked in with Marla again. There was still a grant. There were a great many discussions around the A+A house, much back and forth was had. I'll blog all about it sometime, how we made this choice, but in the end we turned in our new adoption application at the final hour and were accepted back to WACAP at the very end of 2010.

But we didn't want to talk about it - Andrew was still in school, we were still in no position, and we were going to take absolutely as long as we could with our paperwork. Then, when everything was done some bombshells dropped. One of these is private, not bloggable at the moment. The other is public knowledge to any families in WACAP's AAI program - WACAP decided to shut the program down, only keeping families that were already accepted.

So, not only did we squeak by with the grant but we were also the last family accepted into this particular adoption program. It all felt like a lot, especially not-bloggable bombshell number one, so we've been keeping quiet.

But yesterday night when Andrew was in the shower and I was brushing my teeth, I felt like it was time to go public with our plans. He is graduated, employed, launched. I am starting to feel the space to truly wonder who is out there for us, to imagine my J as a big sister to a special small as-yet mysterious someone. It's been so different, this time. My mom says it is always different for the second one, both less exciting and more fun. She says this to me, her second one, so I wonder if when I tell my next son or daughter this story eventually I will also wear that same soft smile that she has when she gives me this advice.

"Baby, I think it's time." I said through the shower curtain.

"Okay," he replied. "For what, though?"

"To go public about M," I replied. Yes, I have a name in mind already, as silly as that is.

"Oh," my love sounded nonplussed. "I didn't realize we had a moratorium on that. Sure, go ahead."

So there it is - we're all in, once again. I wasn't doing all that great of a job with making this a blog about stuff other than adoption anyways. Because of not-bloggable bombshell number one we know that fall is the soonest a baby might come our way. As with any process like this it could be much later than that. But it's happening. I'm starting to believe that our little second one is out there.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

secrets and mystery

(I was going through old drafts and found this, something I wrote and didn't publish last year. It's still relevant, so I'm sharing it now.)

It was the first day of my first class of the quarter. First days of class are a lot alike. Eventually they all blur together and rarely do they hold content that is any way memorable down the road. So before this one fades into the blur of memory and is obscured by last week and next week and the overall arch of learning that is just starting to curve its way upwards there is one thing I want to write down, to remember.

"Take about five minutes" the professor said, "and introduce yourself to as many people as you can." I could see her casting about internally for a way to make this different than the other hundreds of get-to-know-you exercises her students had most certainly experienced. She gave up. "Why don't you just say your name, your denomination, and...whatever, one thing about yourself you feel comfortable sharing." My school strives to be sensitive and aware, and this class especially addresses issues of ethics, safety, and diversity. So, you see, she couldn't as us to share anything "exciting," "unusual," for risk of the request coming across as offensive. I was smiling on the inside.

So I chose to say this: "I'm Alissa, I am an Episcopalian, and I have a new baby daughter who is five months old."

It seems pretty straightforward, right? Simple.

But it was honestly hard for me to just say it and leave it at that. Afterwards I was processing the class with my good friend and fellow classmate and realized what it was that made me feel so uncomfortable as I introduced myself to my classmates. I felt dishonest to just state the fact - I have a five month old daughter - without further explanation. There was a part of me that felt like a liar because I knew without a doubt as I said it that each person who received my statement with various oohs and ahhhs and wise "are you getting any sleep, then?" questions was operating under false assumptions. Namely, that I gave birth five months ago and am mothering a child who likely looks a lot like me. These are normal, if incorrect, assumptions. But what an odd thing for a simple statement of something true to feel so much like keeping a secret.

I think most of us have some sort of hidden thing that people can't tell about us by looking. You know, that unexpected surprise about your past or preferences that you can choose when to reveal, that might cause new friends or acquaintances to think again about the impressions they had of you. When I was a freshman in college my mysterious thing, the thing that I felt really set me apart from my peers, was the time I had spent living in Russia as a foreign exchange student. In fact at the tender age of 18 it was the only thing that I really found interesting about myself, so I talked about it sort of constantly. It wasn't until one day when a prettier and more socially successful girl in my dorm introduced me by saying "this is Alissa and she's been to Russia which is all she ever talks about" that I realized how I was coming across. I felt deflated and shut down. That was supposed to be my ace in the hole! I started to wonder about the value of keeping the things that I thought were special about me a little bit quiet, safe from those who might not be so careful.

It's been over a decade since that moment but I still struggle with how much of myself and my story people need to know in order for me to be authentic in the world. The older I get, the less I feel the need to tell the story of who I am to new people and the more fun it is for me to let them discover it over time, as friendships form. But motherhood is a little different. I am still figuring out where that line is, with this.

I told a story today in a small group during an evening of reflection that is a required part of our program. I was answering a question pertaining to something that is spiritually renewing for me. I talked about Godly Play and how at the beginning, when I started teaching it and running the program at St. Paul's I really didn't want to do it. "My husband and I were trying to start a family," I said, "and it wasn't going all that smoothly." At first it was a little painful for me to choose to spend every Sunday morning with other people's kids. But that changed and it became quite literally the best and most spiritually renewing part of my week, and remains that way now that I am a parent.

When I mentioned that I now have a daughter, one of the women in my group visibly relaxed. "Oh good," she said. "I was worried that your story would have a sad ending, that it would turn out you couldn't have kids!"

Huh. I couldn't help thinking. I wonder if she's going to feel bad now, if I say that my daughter is adopted. Will she interpret that to mean I can't have kids? I really hadn't wanted to go into my how of becoming a parent. But now here I was again, feeling like a secret keeper.

Someday, I think, J will feel this way too. She will grow up and move out into the world and maybe it will be a relief for her to be places without us, where it isn't just obvious by looking that she is adopted and her adoptive parents are white. But then she will have to find her own boundaries, experimenting with when to just live with the false assumptions people will make about her family and origins and when to speak up so that she is able to be authentic and known.

My strategy, for the moment, is to be curious about my own responses to situations like these, when I am speaking about my life without Andrew and J there with me. When am I feeling uncomfortable because I am worried that someone else might feel bad? What do I like about it, this unexpected(for others) and invisible(to others)thing about who I am? Why? When do I tell and feel good about telling? When do I tell and end up wishing that I had just kept my mouth shut?

I know one thing - this isn't about trying to conform. I don't leave it at "I have a daughter" instead of clarifying that she is adopted, etc. etc. because I am in any way ashamed of how my family is formed or trying to appear as if we are traditional. I think that is part of my hesitation to keep the "secret." I love and believe in my family. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Daddy wins the weekend

This weekend was all about Andrew, and I loved it.

In December of 2008 my husband was about to register to take his journeyman's certificate as an electrician. We had just paid our first program fee to adopt, and completed our homestudy. I was applying for grad school, and we were planning for me to stop working as he took on the job of providing financially and I started school and we both prepared for parenthood.

Of course, it was 2008, and everything was about to fall to pieces financially for more people than just us.

The small company that Andrew worked for went under a few days after Christmas. Their niche market doing electrical work for high end new homes and remodels couldn't withstand the market crash and upheaval. It had been coming for a few months but we were doing our best to be hopeful. Andrew had tried working for other companies and come to the reluctant conclusion that it wasn't electrical work he loved - it was working for this company in particular that made it bearable.

So we made a new plan. I found out about worker retraining, a government program for skilled tradespeople whose jobs evaporated for reasons beyond their control. Andrew looked at all the options and chose Respiratory Therapy - something that neither of us had even heard of before. He took pre-requisites that spring and summer, excelling at subjects where he had failed before. I had never seen my husband so driven in an arena that didn't include music. He was accepted into the program and within one quarter had established himself at the head of his class, and was elected president of the RT club on campus. The next quarter he headed off to clinical training and I held my breath, hoping that he loved this work. Turns out he didn't just love it - he passionately loved it. At the end of the year he was selected for an extremely competitive internship at the region's only level one trauma hospital. For the past year he's been coming home with stories that make Grey's Anatomy's most sensationalist episodes look tame and fallen in love with the work of life saving the way he once loved touring, performing, and writing songs.

This past Saturday he graduated with his degree in Respiratory Therapy, the absolute top of his class.

I don't need to remind readers here that in the past two years while he has been learning a whole new trade and excelling at that learning he has also done the hard work of learning to be a dad. He's changed diapers, walked the floor with a screaming wee one, sang lullabies, managed feedings, learned how to give baths and detangle hair, played games, worked puzzles, given time-outs, and supported me as I have learned about all the same things.

In addition to this he is an excellent cook.

So this weekend was all about the man I love. The man who listens patiently and walks gently in this life he shares with his two opinionated, extroverted women. The man who stole my heart years ago with that unique combination of blazing, brilliant creativity and tender, quiet tranquility. The man who steals it again daily with baby dance parties and random acts of baking.

The man who, on top of all this, now makes his living helping people breathe.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

cloudy summer day

The Summer Day
Mary Oliver


Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


I pressed send on the email with my last paper of the quarter attached yesterday afternoon and paused for a moment to experience it. Nothing is due. It was pretty great. The feeling, not the paper.

We've got a busy weekend ahead of us - Andrew is taking his last round of final exams today and tomorrow and graduates a Respiratory Therapist on Saturday. I'm crazy proud of that man.

So I'm looking toward a summer that seems so much calmer from this end than anything we've experienced in the past couple of years. Andrew will be working, I am taking an independant study but no formal classes, no regular Sunday committments. Just my university job and some consulting work here and there. And long summer afternoons with my little one, who adds words to her vocabulary and moves to her dance repertoire daily.

We do have some summer plans. If you've been reading long you are probably aware that A+A loves projects. Up this summer is redecorating the baby's room/family room, fasting from television for the month of July, and several re-organization/stuff purge projects to include our storage space, closets, bookshelves and toy bins. J has music class and swimming lessons to look forward to, as well as visits from and to grandparents and cousins. We're going to go to the farmer's market on Fridays.

Here's to summer, my friends.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

out of the nest

J is asleep and Andrew is off on a well-deserved night out to the movies with friends and I am sitting here watching the day turn into a misty twilight through our windows on this, my last day at the first job I will ever have had with the word "pastor" in the title.

There are flowers in a vase on the kitchen table - a collection of bold purple peonies shot through with yellow lilies and an appropriate amount of greenery. The parents and staff bought them for me, along with a lovely gift. I love the flowers. They are full of elegance and energy.

There is a stack of cards next to me on the desk. Some of them don't have names, but instead bear the colorful scrawls of little people who don't write their names just yet. Others hold sweet notes that almost make sense ("you are cut," for example, which I am pretty sure is lacking an "e" and meant for my daughter). The two that make me cry, though? They're from the oldest boys in our sweet mob of children. In some ways I feel like I've seen them change the most. One note is sweet, declaring me the best teacher ever in a tone that the writer would never use out loud. The other is from my friend O, who has outgrown me entirely it sometimes seems, but wrote a note anyway with a school picture attached for good measure.

I came to this parish two weeks before my wedding day. The community here has not only challenged and cherished me, but has loved my skeptical husband, and baptized our first child.

It is an interesting thing to have a vocation in the church. It is something I am still working out, with eager joyfulness on some days and plenty of fear and trembling on others. It's something that could not have found me without this place to draw it out, to shape me into someone who could hold it, and to hold me when life knocked me flat. St. Paul's has been the catalyst for my vocation, and its children have given that vocation a soul.

So I'm out of the nest. There is a poem by Philip Booth that Mother Melissa read as part of her sermon at J's baptism, and that I read just yesterday at my god-daughter's baptism. It is a poem about warm love and cold water, and a good one for me to ponder as I take all the love my dear parish community has given me and begin to swim.


First Lesson




Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man's float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.