Party Day

We drove to the library the evening before, in the gentle rain that she called “tinkle rain” instead of “sprinkle”—until her brothers corrected her in spite of my silent efforts to stop them. She beamed at me in the rearview mirror, her yellow polka dot hood peaked over dark blond hair. Even a quick trip to drop off overdue books is exciting; but I had still more thrilling news to deliver.

IMG_8661 “Tomorrow is a very special day,” I said.

She sucked in her breath, dark eyes round.

“Tomorrow,” I said, “is Finalization Day. That means Petunia* will be a Kinnard now. You know how we had to sign lots and lots of papers to adopt Petunia?”

“Yes,” she said, solemnly.

“Well, tomorrow we sign the last paper. And a very important person, called a judge, says ‘Now she’s your daughter forever!’ And then Petunia will be a Kinnard forever. Isn’t that so special?”

IMG_8423 Her hands clasped her cheeks. “Tomorrow? Just one day? That’s so short!”

“Yes,” I said, as the drenched green lawns slid by and the windshield wipers squeaked.

“And then Petunia will be a Kinnard! And then she’ll be a Kinnard forever, just like we are!”

IMG_8737 “Yep,” I said. “Finalization Day!”

She regarded me with shining eyes. “That’s what you call it,” she said, with a shy smile. “I call it Party Day, because it feels like a party.”

So Party Day it will always be. June 11, 2014—Party Day forever.

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If you would like to contribute to our adoption fundraising

If you would like to read the previous posts on Petunia’s adoption

*Note “Petunia” is a nickname we use on the blog, not her real name.

Early summer reading {twitterature}

 

I am far and away a fiction reader, but this month the books I finished included a few genres I don’t explore as often: detective noir, biography, and spiritual memoir. It made for interesting shifts when I put down one book and picked up another.IMG_8921

What I’ve read lately:

jpegRed Harvest by Dashiell Hammett: Gritty, brooding, and densely layered. I’m not sure I understood all the shadowy plot twists, but I came away with a great appreciation for Hammett’s wry humor and vividly original description. A sample:

…Noonan chewed a cold cigar and told the driver:
    “Give her a bit more, Pat.”
    Pat twisted us around a frightened woman’s coupe, put us through a slot between street car and laundry wagon—a narrow slot that we couldn’t have slipped through if our car hadn’t been so smoothly enameled—and said:
    “All right, but the brakes ain’t no good.”
    “That’s nice,” the gray-mustached sleuth on my left said. He didn’t sound sincere.
    …It was a nice half-hour’s ride, with everybody getting a chance to sit in everybody else’s lap. The last ten minutes of it was over an uneven road that had hills enough to keep us from forgetting what Pat had said about the brakes. (p. 80)

jpeg-1Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: James took a bit of a risk, buying me nonfiction for Christmas, but I found this gripping and beautifully written. I was flabbergasted at the rickety death-traps in which many American airmen risked their lives in World War II, and stunned by the inhumane treatment endured by Allied POWs captured in the Pacific. This is a story of surviving many things, and somehow scrounging up the strength to go on in the darkest possible places.

 

jpeg-2The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows: I devoured this in a weekend, and I don’t remember the last time that happened. There’s a good reason this has been recommended to me for years. It’s touching, illuminating (I knew nothing about the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands), and delightful. I finished it and promptly handed it to my mom, who loved it so much she read it twice.

jpeg-3Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey: This warmly written little book, which generated a lot of buzz in the blog world, was not quite what I expected. I am not spoiling for a fight on the potentially controversial issues it addresses, so I won’t take a stand on those. But quite apart from agreeing or disagreeing with her, I was surprised that the book was not more of a systematic argument in support of her position. It seemed to cheer on those who already agree with her or are ready to be convinced, rather than answering the objections of skeptics. This is not necessarily a failing; I had probably just misunderstood the purpose of the book. On the plus side, I greatly appreciated her desire to move past theological infighting to do some actual good in the world, and I thought her criticisms of women’s church ministry programs (what if you don’t like crafts or pink floral décor?) were spot-on.

Read anything great this month?

I’m linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy for Twitterature (short reviews of recently read books).

 

Brothers and sisters, smiles and tears

My children know what none their age should have to: that babies do not always move, and breathe, and cry, and come home from the hospital. It took them a while to grasp this. I remember, painfully, the day my daughter asked me why I was sad. I told her it was because I missed Simon. She tilted her head at me, small face alight with hope, and said, “But we can go to the hospital and see him, and then you’ll be happy again, right, Mom?” Once she announced cheerily that we would “go and get Simon in a few minutes.” And each time, many times over, I had to meet three pairs of shining, trustful, wistful eyes with the terrible finality of what we lost. Heaven is real, I believe, but it is a long time coming. My children know this.

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I see that knowledge reflected in the way they treasure their new baby sister. They cherish her. I knew they would love any new baby we brought into our family—but there has been a special sweetness in watching them soak up every second of her babyhood. They want to talk to her; to pat her silken curls; to show her their toys. They sing her their own favorite lullabies and read her books, displaying the pictures for her perusal. Her big sister is anxious for Petunia to fix on a favorite color. They clamor to help me put her down for naps and wake her up afterwards. (Waking up, with three eager noisy friends peering into your bed, is easier than falling asleep). My children know that these delights are not guaranteed. They waited for this; it was stolen from them before; they don’t take it for granted now.

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Baby Petunia does not replace Simon. That was no part of our intent in pursuing adoption—it would be horribly unfair to both children. They are each beloved in their own right, but the tragic loss of Simon deepens our gratitude for the treasure that is our sweet little Petunia. Counting her toes, catching her smile, stroking the curl of her ear: these things are even more precious because we know what it is like to miss them. And one of the things that touches my heart the most is watching my oldest three being big brothers and sister to this baby they longed to love.

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My six-year-old, loose tooth sticking out of his smile, bends over the bouncy seat and croons to Petunia. “I’m watching over my baby,” he says, proudly.  My eight-year-old tells the baby all about baseball and asks if she likes the Cardinals (she’d better). He also reads books to her, displaying the pictures for her perusal and ending with a teaser for the chapter he’ll read tomorrow. My four-year-old keeps baby entertainment and endearments at the ready. I asked her to talk to Petunia for a few minutes and she darted to the bouncy seat, exclaiming, “Ohhhh, baby, I LOVE you, my little love! You’re so full of IDEAS!”

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I watch all this with a joy that reminds me of the progress of a small spring stream, cool and life-giving, curling and bubbling among the rocks. It eases and softens my heart, touching me with hope. But loss also runs in that stream, and always will. I rejoice in Petunia and I miss Simon–not as a comparison, but as two facts that live together forever. I delight in my older children’s delight in their sister, and I grieve that they didn’t get to love on Simon, too. I wish we could have both babies, at once, but we can’t. Life is a tangle of sorrows and joys. Gladness is laced with the knowledge that many things are broken. I am very aware now that many of us walk wounded and scarred, with hurts this world will not see wholly healed.

I think of this as I post pictures of Petunia. I thought of it when I announced the incredible gift of her arrival. I know that some people may read about these joys from the thick of their own pain, and I know how alienating that can sometimes feel. In the wake of Simon’s death, I unsubscribed from a lot of blogs. I slipped away from social media. The view that those windows offered felt one-sided: all happiness and accomplishment while my own life had shrieked to a halt. The blogs I kept reading were those that captured a more complex and nuanced picture of the world. They rejoiced with an awareness that others might be hurting, and they mourned while acknowledging that was not the last word. And sometimes they just talked about books, or offered gluten-free muffin recipes, without making those things markers of a perfectly curated life.

IMG_8292I want to live, and write, with a tone that leaves room for darkness and light, laughter and tears, doubt and hope. I don’t want to be a person whose happiness makes the hurting feel excluded. Because I know what it feels like to receive the worst news in the world, and you don’t ever go back to being the same person who walked into that room. Even when I’m announcing good news, I remember. I know that there may be people reading who are still waiting for anything good to come from their own rubble. And there may be people reading whose wreckage is so recent that it isn’t yet time to even think about the future–to do anything but hurt. Sunny pictures of my children might be like wormwood. That’s okay; I get it. If I could say just one thing to every aching soul, it would be this: there is room for you. There is room for your experience, your pain, your response. You are not excluded; you don’t have to slink away and keep your hurt to yourself. The world is not reserved only for the children of good fortune. Your sorrow is part of what is common to man (and woman). There is room for you here, among friends and in books and music and art and the green, breathing world.

If you are hurting today, I wish for you a community where there is room for you. And if you are a person looking on, sadly and helplessly, at the sufferings of friends, I would say this: make room. Be a safe place. Let your loved ones know that their experience, whatever it is, is seen and not silenced. Bear it with them. Welcome them in, pain and all, ugly brokenness and all. Be that community for them.

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These are just words on a page, but I hope they carry the flavor of that kind of community–the kind with room for the intertwined emotions of the human heart. I am learning to make that room in my own life day by day. I help small eager hands cradle a beloved baby sister, and I look into solemn eyes that only saw their baby brother once. We live with our tangle of sorrow and joy, smiles and tears, and try to make room for it all.

Photo credit: First image by the amazingly talented Katie Fenska. All other images mine.

The library girl and becoming a reader again {twitterature}

I could have walked the path to the library with my eyes closed: four blocks of sun-faded sidewalk, crumbling in places to gravel that rolled beneath my white Reebocks. Under all shades of skies, muffled and hurrying against the biting winter wind or sweating as summer shimmered over the asphalt road, I took short cuts across the familiar corners and kept a wary watch for my secret terror—dogs. The heavy door opened on a shallow entrance with the police station on the right, where the man leaning against the counter was no doubt reporting all sorts of nefarious goings-on to the gray-permed lady at the front desk. In my small town, one neighbor once called 911 because there was a (harmless) snake on her carport; another threatened to call the police because a rainstorm brought water from our downspouts into her (lower-lying) yard. Big doings.

Climbing the echoing linoleum-clad stairs, my hand trailing the shiny banister, I could already smell the books above. Every time I walked into that room I felt small, dwarfed by the world of knowledge and possibility that waited there. Light flooded in from the towering windows, warming the shorter wooden shelves of children’s books toward the front and filtering down through the imposing stacks in the back. The librarian said hello, unsurprised, and went back to her office. She knew I’d be a while. If I took too long, she would come out to the counter and eye me watchfully. Sometimes she expressed her disapproval if I perused the children’s picture books, even though I was also checking out Jane Eyre and everything Louisa May Alcott ever wrote.

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At the vast oak card catalog, penciled list in hand, I pulled out one of the long drawers to rifle through the creamy type-written cards.  The cryptic library code, letters and numbers and punctuation marks, beckoned me down the aisles. I gathered a pile of what I was looking for, and sometimes I settled down on the floor (screened from the librarian) to pore over a peeling old volume I had stumbled upon. Sometimes I skim-read an installment of Sweet Valley High, just to see what I was missing (not much).

When the afternoon sun was retreating from the windows, I carried an unsteady armful to the checkout counter. Sometimes I thought the librarian sighed as she sized it up. In a steady rhythmic pattern, she flipped open covers, stamped due dates, and stacked the books. I checked out particularly beloved books repeatedly; they were usually dog-eared and coming loose at the binding, and the librarian sometimes curdled my blood by remarking off-handedly that these were getting old and should be retired. I clutched them to my chest and hurried home, calculating how long the renewal limit could keep them in the safety of my possession and away from her unsentimental inspection.

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I was always a reader. And then, somehow, after one degree in English and one in English education, after three years of teaching middle and high school English, after three sweet and time-absorbing babies—I found myself not such a reader anymore. I still read, but it became an occasional treat, rather than a part of the rhythm of my life. I labored slowly through a couple of books a year, or read in spurts when I found a temporary window of time in my days—a baby focused enough, for a while, to keep nursing while I turned pages; or two children napping at the same time while pregnancy provided a reason to spend those hours with my feet up and a book in my hands. I never stopped reading altogether, but the daily habit faded. I gravitated to television when there was time to relax, and my attention span for reading shrank (this is probably unsurprising in a weary mom). One day someone asked me what my hobbies were, and I wondered if I could still honestly claim to be a reader. I felt like I had lost a piece of myself along the way.

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I read more again these days; it looks different than it did when I was a girl. I don’t have long afternoons to while away at the library, or quiet evenings to curl up on the sofa after dinner and steadily turn the pages of a book. But I’ve stopped trying to get back to that. Instead, I keep a big stack of books in rotation. I spend five minutes with a novel open in one hand and my morning coffee in the other; I read a page about the Civil War while I’m burping the baby. I take the kindle on the treadmill with me, and switch books every ten minutes to keep my interest. And I’ve found that these patched-together pockets of time are forming a new reading life. I wouldn’t call myself a speedy devourer of books, but I do call myself a reader again.

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Here are the books I’ve finished lately:

How She Does It: An everywoman’s guide to breaking old rules, getting creative, and making time for work in your actual, everyday life by Anne Bogel: The central premise is that working professionally and being at home with your kids are no longer mutually exclusive. This short e-book is filled with practical advice and individual examples of women re-imagining their career dreams and their at-home presence to make more room for both. I appreciated that Anne lays out different ways this might look in different phases of life. My main impression: you have to really, really want it because it will be tiring–potentially very worth it, but tiring.

Persuasion by Jane Austen* (re-read): Time has grown my affection for this simple, touching story of enduring love and deepening respect. I can’t pick a favorite film version (I love both this one and this one) and though the plot has a couple of discernible weaknesses, Wentworth and Anne remain powerfully real to me, vulnerable and cautious and true.

My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse: My first Wodehouse read was amusing, charming and sometimes hilarious. He certainly had a gift for the turn of a phrase. But most of all, Jeeves and Wooster made me miss the more well-rounded Bunter and Lord Peter, whom I infinitely prefer.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen* (re-read): I’ve essentially memorized the BBC version I love (to be distinguished from the film version I abhor), but re-reading the text is even more like spending time with an old friend. This time I noticed that where Mr. Collins once bored and exasperated me, he now makes me laugh—which I’m sure is what Austen was doing when she wrote him.

Gemini by Dorothy Dunnett: I loved Dunnett’s writing from the first page of the Lymond Chronicles to this, the last volume of the Niccolo series that follows. I savored it slowly for over a year: the big payoff connecting the two series, and the wistful goodbye to beloved characters after 14 books. If you like dense, elegant writing, intricate plots, and lush historical detail, and have never read these, you will wonder (like I did) where they have been all your life.

Emma by Jane Austen* (re-read): Always my favorite Austen heroine, because she has the most obvious flaws. And it strikes me now as fundamentally a story about love that endures foibles and bears with flaws. Emma is tender with her timid, unintentionally selfish father; the Westons adore their reckless, thoughtless son; the whole community listens kindly to Miss Bates’ vapid prattle. Those who begin by criticizing others generally end by valuing them: the misunderstandings between Emma and Jane give way to admiration; Emma’s objections to Robert Martin are overcome by respect; her mockery of Miss Bates is replaced with repentance and compassion; Mr. Knightley’s critical observation leads to love. Emma and Frank, the two most disposed to find fault, both find themselves ultimately loved by a person they do not feel they deserve. The only people who stand outside the warm circle are the Eltons, whose chief concern is not relationship but their own precedence, and who thus seem destined for angry misery. I love both the film and BBC versions, but especially like the latter for its portrayal of the boundedness of Emma’s world and the rational bases for Mr. Woodhouse’s fears.

The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith: I’m partial to his Isabel Dalhousie mysteries, but every now and then I stop in to read another volume of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. The calm pacing and powerful sense of place make me breathe deeply and slow down. Mma Ramotswe has the wisdom of carefully considered experience, and the evocative descriptions of Botswana open a window on a place I have never been, but now feel almost as if I have.

I’m off to read a few more pages. Read anything good lately that I should add to my pile?

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I’m linking up with one of my favorite bloggers, Modern Mrs Darcy, for Twitterature (short reviews of recently read books).

Mother’s Day, expectations, and what we honor

I don’t know what I’m getting for Mother’s Day. Probably crayon-drawn cards and nosegays of dandelions from the backyard. Maybe a gift; maybe a bouquet from the florist. We might have dinner at Whole Foods, the only place our food-allergic children can eat out with any degree of safety. I don’t know, and that’s okay. There were years I had much higher expectations, but I ran into real life. And I find that real life has a way of making our expectations smaller, and our gratitude greater.

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Poking around on social media this past week, I happened upon a couple of conversations about how Mother’s Day should be celebrated. Mothers expressed their frustration with husbands who didn’t make special plans for them; mothers complained that they were ignored while their mothers-in-law were celebrated; mothers claimed the right to choose all the family activities that day; mothers joked that husbands who didn’t get it right should get comfortable sleeping on the couch. And I was troubled.

I want to first say one thing very clearly: mothers should be celebrated. I don’t excuse insensitivity and hurtful behavior, and I never want to invalidate anyone’s pain. If you are a mother, and you are ignored on Mother’s Day, that is wrong and I am so sorry. I hope you can find a way to have a constructive conversation with the people who have hurt you, to express your feelings and request their kindness.

But these conversations have made me think hard about what we mothers expect on Mother’s Day. I say “we” because I’ve done it, too. I have seen the day as an opportunity to be treated to something I’ve been wanting (nothing wrong with that) or get a much-needed break (nothing wrong with that either). But as I reflect on it, I think Mother’s Day isn’t really about us as individuals who like gel nails or necklaces or naps. It’s about motherhood, and motherhood isn’t a matter of treats and breaks, jewelry and flowers.

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Motherhood is sleepless nights spent pacing the floor with a colicky baby, fretting over a feverish toddler, or waiting up for a teenager out too late. It’s a crumb-strewn car, mountains of dirty dishes and laundry, and a toilet always left un-flushed. It’s changing wet or poopy or vomit-strewn sheets at three in the morning; it’s taking time to dissect topics that bore you to tears (I’m looking at you, Star Wars). It’s doling out medicines and wiping noses when you are sick, too, and wishing for your own mommy to take care of you. And I hear that as the kids get older, it becomes all about driving, and driving, and more driving.

Motherhood is about love, and love means sacrifice. It means laying down our expectations and our rights. It means laying down our lives for the people we love, without regard to what we get in return. When we become parents, we say goodbye to our right to expect a clean car, a relaxing vacation, a peaceful meal, or an unaccompanied trip to the bathroom.

We also say goodbye to our right to expect affirmation and thanks for the hardest work of our lives. Our children may someday rise up and call us blessed, but they will never be able to thank us for everything we did—they won’t even remember half of it. Motherhood is a litany of humble, selfless labors that no one sees. Thanking our mothers for all that tangible love, and being thanked by our children in turn—those are beautiful gifts, on Mother’s Day or any day. But the work isn’t done for the sake of the thanks. If we went into motherhood for the accolades, we picked the wrong profession.

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I know this is why Mother’s Day exists: to help us remember to say thank you to the mothers in our lives. But as a mom, I feel the temptation to make the day all about the celebration, all about me, and forget what we’re really honoring.

If Mother’s Day is about love, it’s also about loss and longing, which are wrapped up with love. Honoring the love of mothers means also honoring the pain that comes with Mother’s Day. Because in all the circles of our lives, women are hurting today. They are mourning losses and unfulfilled longings. Some have lost children; some have lost their mother. Some grieve for the babies they could never bear; some grieve for the mother they never knew, or the relationship with her that was never what they dreamed. Some weep for children gone astray, or for children who face myriad challenges. Somewhere a woman and her children are suddenly alone, and she finds herself embarking on a single motherhood that she never planned for her life. Somewhere a woman who made the brave and loving decision to place her baby for adoption aches for the child she carried, but feels judged and demonized for her careful choice. Somewhere a woman is staring at yet another single line on a pregnancy test; somewhere a woman is waiting for another bland and clinical phone call from her doctor, telling her that this IVF, too, was unsuccessful. Somewhere a woman is innocently preparing for an ultrasound that will shock her with the worst news of her life. Somewhere a woman is waiting, wondering if her turn for marriage and motherhood will ever come; and another woman is wondering why other people think she should desire those things when she doesn’t. For every woman celebrating on Mother’s Day, there must be at least one who wishes it would just go away.

Last year Mother’s Day fell the month after we buried our son. The day was torture—not because I didn’t love and cherish our living children, but because I realized I would never again celebrate with my whole family. This year I have a new reason to rejoice—our sweet Baby Petunia—but every year we celebrate, we will still feel the hole where Simon should be. My mom doesn’t get to celebrate with both her children because my brother passed away almost three years ago. For us, and for so many other women, Mother’s Day holds both joy and sorrow.

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I imagine that some of the women laying out specific expectations for Mother’s Day may come to it from a background that includes some of those sorrows. Perhaps they’ve waited a long time to stand up in church with all the other mothers. I can appreciate that. But for me, I want my awareness of all the sadness—mine and others’—swirling on Mother’s Day to make me tender and thankful, not demanding. Whether or not the day meets my expectations for a celebration, I want to remember the real reasons I have to celebrate: the four small people who call me “Mama”, who have needed me for almost everything in their lives, whose warm heads I get to tuck under my chin. I get to be their Mama, and it’s not about what I receive in return. I want them to value fairness and justice, to show gratitude, to applaud equally the labors of men and women in all walks of life. But most importantly, I want them to be people who love, sacrificially and unselfishly, in big ways and small. And for better or worse, I know that mine is the example of love that looms largest in their little worlds. I want it to be for better.

To those who endure grief on Mother’s Day: I am deeply sorry. I hope you are touched with love today, somehow, through the pain. I hope you feel that your sorrows are seen, and that your love and your losses are honored.

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And for all who are moms this Mother’s Day: let’s be gentle with the ones we love and thankful for time we enjoy with them today, whether or not they get the celebration quite right. Let’s be gentle with our sisters who are hurting; let’s hug them, write them notes, and tell them we remember. Let’s be gentle with our children–not because of the thanks they may offer, but just because they are our children, and because we have this day, today, and are guaranteed no other; and because for the rest of their lives, when they think of what a mother is, they will think of us. Let’s be gentle with ourselves, not expecting to be perfect any more than we expect the day to be perfect. It’s a day like any other day: let’s make it a day to love, though we are broken and inadequate and not always lovely; to love, even, out of those very broken and inadequate and unlovely places. Because Mother’s Day honors being wholehearted and unreserved with each other, offering our very selves—and I doubt we could dream up any expectation better than that.

 

 

 

Introducing

On March 2, a baby girl was born. Half a country away, we stayed up very late–scrambling around the house, throwing things into suitcases, making phone calls, and trying to still our shaking hands and keep our hearts from hoping too much. IMG_7815 About fifteen wrenchingly anxious hours later, we walked into a hospital room, exhausted and terrified, and saw her for the first time. A tiny, sleeping bundle; a swirl of dark hair. The world stood still. IMG_7817 A few minutes later, I gathered her in my arms. Warmth and weight, and tiny steady breaths. I had forgotten what it was like when a baby breathed. I tried to keep breathing, too. IMG_7846 Two days later, one of the bravest and funniest and loveliest women I have ever known signed a set of papers and handed that baby to me again. There were tears and promises, and she was ours: our daughter. IMG_7855 Our nickname for her is Petunia, and that’s what I plan to call her on the blog: Baby Petunia. It’s not her real name, but I feel more comfortable keeping my baby’s name a bit more private on the internet for now. IMG_7870 She is treasured and adored. Her brothers and sister clamor to talk to her, hug her, kiss her silky cheeks, and wonder at her tiny toes. Mama and Daddy have been drinking in the baby snuggles and toothless smiles and even a few giggles for two months now. Drinking them in, that is, as much as possible when you are reeling with sleep-deprivation and no one has any clean clothes to wear. But that’s part of the deal, isn’t it? We want babies to stay sweet and small forever–but we need them to grow up a bit so we can sleep again. We want to remember every detail, but it’s hard to remember much, including your children’s names or which direction is up, on four hours of sleep a night. So pictures are priceless. Because when the fog clears (someday) I want to remember this: IMG_7904                                                       Baby Petunia at almost three weeks old.

I am overjoyed to introduce our daughter. Welcome to the world, sweet girl.

Adoption Fundraiser! (And how much adoption costs, and why)

IMG_2737Three little people who constantly ask me when we are going to adopt a baby!

When I announced our plans to adopt, I mentioned that I would revisit the subject of funds. Adoption costs a great deal of money—when we began gathering information, I was stunned to learn that domestic minority newborn adoption generally costs around $30,000—and that’s on the low end for adoptions. I thought we might have to give up right there, because we don’t have that kind of money sitting in the bank. But I learned that very few adoptive families go into the process with all the cash on hand; almost no one can afford to adopt without help. That help comes in the form of adoption loans, special grants, and fundraisers in which family and friends and community get to be a part of bringing a child home to his forever family. And that is one of the beautiful things about adoption, I think: not everyone is called to adopt a child personally, but anyone can be a part of this lovely story. And there’s no such thing as a small part; every gift is needed, and every gift helps.

If you’re wondering why in the world adoption is that expensive, I wondered that too. Adoption is an intricate process (as it should be, to protect children and birth families and adoptive families). The costs include a home study, background checks and clearances, and family profiles which are essentially a portfolio about your family (this is what the birth mother examines as she is choosing a family). Once we are matched with a birthmother, we will begin to pay the fees due to her adoption agency—which cover varying amounts of medical care and testing, housing and food, counseling and social work, hospital delivery costs, and legal fees. Finally, there are legal fees for the finalization of the adoption after we bring our baby home. It’s a lot of money, but it goes to make sure that everyone involved is safe, cared for, and supported.

Where are we in this process? We have spent about $6000 of our own savings so far on the home study; background checks and clearances; designing, printing and shipping profiles; and our adoption consultant’s services. We have raised about $6500 thus far on our fundraising page. To those who have already given there, thank you so much! We’re so grateful. We currently still have about $21,500 to go to meet our fundraising goal.

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And that brings me to this coming weekend (February 1st): a dear friend is putting on a fundraiser for us! She is hosting a winter ball for the second year in a row and has decided to donate all proceeds each year to the adoption of a local family—and we are that family this year. She is incorporating several creative fundraising options at the ball, including a silent auction featuring some fantastic items that other friends have donated. And it will be a fun evening with music, some dancing, hors d’oeuvres, a photo booth, and time with friends. If you live close enough to come, we would love to see you!

If you aren’t local, or can’t come but would still like to help, we’d love that too. You can donate directly to our adoption at AdoptTogether.org/theKinnards. Every gift helps! We’d be honored and grateful if you would partner with us to help bring a baby home to join our family.

Here is the link to the WinterBall event page, where you can learn more and RSVP.

sad endings and reasons for reading: the best books I read in 2013

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Once, I read to dream: to imagine adventures I wanted to have and lives I wished I could have led, to envision the kind of person I wanted to become, to fill my mind with the kinds of words I wanted to claim as mine. Now, I read to know I am not alone.

I used to hate sad endings. I actively undermined them in my mind, inventing alternate happy endings and rehearsing them until I felt better. The inexorable logic of the tragedy I had just read would still haunt me, but I satisfied myself that my ending was better—was, in fact, the ending that should have been written. Estella should marry Pip. Leslie must not drown crossing the creek to Terabithia. Juliet must wake up in time. Those were the right endings.

And so they are—but the problem is that the universe is all wrong, and those endings reflect the real state of things in a world where people disappoint us, and children die, and time runs out. They don’t reflect the only truths of life. But they hold the mirror up to the ugly features that we don’t want to see when our own hearts are happy, and that we must contemplate when they are broken.

For a while, after the bottom fell out of my world, I could not read at all. There was too much space in reading; too much silence in which the horror of what had happened to me could start screaming in my ears. I drowned it out with TV shows, episode after episode, until one day I felt enough strength to pick up my dog-eared college copy of Hamlet. “Oh God,” he gasped, “How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world.” And I felt a shock of gratitude: someone understands.

I kept reading, slowly. They weren’t all sad books; but they struck tones that resonated with the complexity of life, as I think all the best books do. I didn’t read all the books I planned to read last year, but the ones I read are dear to me. They were companions I could sit with in the darkest hours of my life. Of the full list, here are my eight favorites, in no particular order:

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Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
This time-travel novel moved me profoundly. Willis’ depiction of the Black Death is unsparing. But from that gruesome accuracy she draws touching insights about courage in the face of suffering, compassion that looks past statistics to find real people, and the ache of unanswered prayers for relief and rescue. I have been reminded in the last year of how much pain our grandparents and great-grandparents and distant ancestors endured. Comfortable societies and modern medicine can make us lose sight of the fact that we are mortal, and the world is a hard place. But past generations could not so easily forget.

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The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope by C.W. Grafton
There’s nothing particularly deep or thought-provoking about this one. It’s just a witty mystery told in hilariously hard-boiled style by an ordinary lawyer who stumbles into amateur sleuthing. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser
I have tried a number of books on sorrow and suffering in the last few years; this is one of the few that I didn’t want to throw at the wall. It was recommended and given to me by a dear friend who has suffered her own deep losses, and reading it felt like an ongoing gift. Sittser describes what grief is really like; if you know, or want to know, I highly recommend reading this.

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The Exact Place by Margie Haack
This memoir is touching, beautifully evocative, often funny, sometimes heart-rending, and deeply wise. The interlaced stories are rooted in Haack’s childhood landscape and family, lovingly but also objectively rendered. I loved the writing; sadly, the book suffers from very poor copy-editing which enraged this former English teacher because the writing deserved much better. I persevered in spite of it; if you don’t have a habit of reading books with red pen in hand, you probably won’t be bothered by it! I hope this book is more carefully edited and reissued, because it deserves a wide readership.

ham2Hamlet by William Shakespeare
I had read Hamlet at least three or four times before, and it might as well have been in the air and water in my childhood home; my English-professor dad taught it every year and probably quoted from it even more than from Pride and Prejudice. Though I don’t have it memorized, its cadences are almost as familiar to me as breath. But last year, for the first time, I felt that I was reading Hamlet from the inside: instead of looking on askance at his raging, I looked in his eyes and ached with his words, and I knew exactly what he meant.

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Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner
This is another re-read, and another book that meant much more to me the second time around, about 10 years after I first read it. I finished re-reading it shortly before my world collapsed, but it stayed with me in that darkness, a thin echo—leaving a trail of hope that there was some conception of Christianity that could still make sense even in a shattered life.

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Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte
I somehow avoided Wuthering Heights until last year; I didn’t expect to like it. I am much more a Jane Austen kind of girl; I like my heroines collected and thoughtful, not rain-soaked and desperate. To my surprise, I loved this novel. I found it eerie and haunting and sad, but also satisfying and hopeful. I’m sorry I put it off so long.

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For children: The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook by Joyce Lankester Brisley
This is cheating a bit, because we aren’t quite finished with it. But I’m afraid I won’t remember its loveliness by the time I get around to a best-of-2014 list. This was my favorite discovery in children’s books last year. I had never heard of the Milly-Molly-Mandy books, but they are sweet and simple and very pleasantly English, and my three little listeners adore them. Not much happens in the stories, and I thought my audience might be bored, but they listen raptly. The stories seem to be pitched just exactly right. There are no grand feats or adventures—just the quiet ones of everyday life in a small village in another era: running a footrace with friends, making sandwiches, going fishing, re-thatching a roof. And fortunately for me, the chapters are just the right length to read aloud while little people are eating their lunches!

an expected direction, sooner

I’ll begin with the story.

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One of my favorite things about my husband is that he loves to read, and he lets books change him. He reads in random spare minutes when I would never think to crack a book (while grilling pork tenderloins, for example, or as he waits for our daughter to finish splashing around in the bath). He reads faster than anyone else I know, and his currently-reading pile puts this English major and former teacher to shame. Five years ago he read a book that left a permanent mark on our vision for our lives. He ranked it as the best book he read that year—which, considering the shelf space filled by a year’s worth of his reading, is saying something. We have been talking about it ever since.

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The book was Russell Moore’s Adopted for Life (published by my husband’s employer), and it radically shifted our view of adoption from an action I thought was vaguely “cool” to a life change we wanted to make. The book lays out a detailed theology of adoption, but what I remember most is Moore’s insistence that adoption is not a second-rate way to build a family, that the children thus brought into the family are no less “yours” than your biological offspring, and that it is not a last option reserved for those who face infertility or have finished bearing biological children. It is just a different way to expand your family; it can be beautiful and profoundly meaningful; and it is deeply needed.

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I always wanted to have a large family—my dream was six kids. This was probably partly fueled by my experience growing up as the only child at home. I loved my parents and I had a great childhood. But I longed for someone to talk to drowsily between bunkbeds at night, for someone to commiserate with about unreasonable rules, for someone who knew all about me without having to be told. I watched my friends who grew up with siblings, observing the mysterious understanding and the common culture and memories that formed the shared canvas of their lives. I resolved, as much as it lay in my power, to provide that kind of communal foundation for my children.

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I had sometimes thought that adoption might be a part of that process. After we read Moore’s book, I knew that we wanted to grow our family both through birth and through adoption. But there seemed to be good reasons to wait on adoption—the financial costs are staggering, for one thing, and I wondered how much time remained for me to have biological children. Little did I guess how fast that clock was ticking. After two miscarriages and a long wait to rebuild my health, my pregnancy with Simon seemed to go beautifully. I felt that this might well be my last pregnancy, though—my body was tired, I was more uncomfortable than ever before, and my children had already endured a combined 9 months of a tired and sick Mama—with as yet no baby sibling to make it all worthwhile. And then there really was no baby to bring home—just a tiny silent brother they met once before they had to lay roses on his coffin.

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For our children’s sakes as well as ours, we want to have new life in our home again—to have a baby on whom to lavish the love we have been storing up for the past two years. And there are babies who need that love. So we find ourselves ready to adopt: not because it will be affordable or easy (it will be neither) but out of love. Whether there will be another biological child in our family someday, I don’t know. There are many medical questions still to be answered, and even if those answers were positive, there is still the towering fact that for me, any future pregnancy would be not a hope-filled wait, but a black hole of terror. The time may come when we’re willing to risk that terror, or it may not—either way, that time is not now. But while we aren’t ready for a pregnancy, we are very, very ready to love a new child. And there are children who need families, and we are waiting to be chosen to adopt one.

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I have had two main anxieties about sharing this news. The first is that people might hear it and conclude, “Great! She’s going to be all better. They will get a baby and that baby will replace Simon and everything will be wonderful again.” But adoption is not an attempt to replace Simon, nor is it a magical panacea for our grief. No child is replaceable; the child we adopt will be another one of our children, loved exactly like the others are, like Simon was and is. Adopting a child is no more an attempt to replace a dead child than having another baby would be an attempt to replace a living one. And the grief for a lost child goes on for the rest of your life, while you raise other children and go out to dinner with your spouse and pursue your career and scrub bathroom floors and shovel snow and read the paper. We hope that adopting a baby will bring a fresh source of joy to our family after much pain, but we don’t expect it to end all sorrow in our lives—which would be an insupportable expectation to place on any child, however she arrived in a family!

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My second anxiety is that people will hear this news and think, “Oh no—this is way too soon. They need to get their lives back together before they do that.” I hope the story I’ve told makes it clear that this is not a new direction for us; it’s a direction we planned to take for years now, but are simply taking sooner than we had expected. And again, one does not finish with the grief for a lost child, as a person might walk through a room and close the door behind him as he enters the next. The loss of Simon will be with us forever; if we wait to be “over it,” we will never do anything. At the same time, we have gone to great lengths to ensure that we are indeed ready to take this step now. The adoption process builds in seemingly endless safeguards; although I have read many articles about the alarming abuses that sometimes take place under the heading of “adoption,” our experience makes it hard for me to imagine how those horrors happened. We have been fingerprinted and background checked. We’ve had multiple, extensive interviews with our social worker, a counselor, our adoption consultant, and a pastoral consultant. We have presented letters of recommendation and submitted reams of paperwork and attended classes and read books and watched videos. The finished home study has been in our hands for two months while we have mailed off packages of further paperwork to adoption agencies. The process has been grueling but ultimately, I’m glad it’s that way—because that protects babies, and families, and that is essential in adoption, where (as in many areas of life) much can go wrong.

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Speaking of the dangers: there is no such thing as a risk-free adoption, just as there is no such thing as a risk-free pregnancy or, really, a risk-free life. But there are levels of vulnerability. We are choosing to wait for a less risky situation, to lessen the likelihood of us becoming attached to a baby that is then kept or reclaimed by the birth family. It’s hard to hold out for this, when I get emails about other situations, but we believe it’s wisest for us to minimize the risk of further loss as much as possible, for the sake of our whole family.

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So this is where we find ourselves: in a nebulous waiting period that could last days or months. We are working with an adoption consultant who has access to information about available situations with multiple agencies. We have always been open to either gender and any ethnicity, and incidentally, both those choices could help decrease our wait time. When we hear about a situation that interests us, we ask for our family’s profile to be presented to the birthmother—and then wait a few days to learn whether we have been chosen or not. I mother the children I have with me, and check my email obsessively. I try not to hope too much. We talk often with our three older children about adopting a baby, and every time we watch their eyes light up. I am terrified to pray for a good and quick outcome, because so much pain has come in answer to my prayers these last years. I hold my breath, and wait.

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If you are a person who prays, though—please pray for this! And if you are interested in helping in other ways, here is a link to our fundraising page. Because, wow, adoption is expensive. Nobody could afford it on their own! I will write more about that side of things soon. And if I have to write about it in a big hurry because we’ve been matched with a baby, I will be nothing but thrilled.

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meanwhile

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Life is lived in the meanwhile: that is the only way I can think to describe it. We are brokenhearted, all of us. Just last night our B, five and a half years old, burst into tears at dinner. When we asked him why, he whispered, “I just really love babies and I really, really miss Simon.” No one, least of all a five-year-old, should have to carry that—but we all do, and in the midst of it dinner has to be eaten and the dishwasher loaded and dirty clothes carried downstairs. We laugh at our daughter’s antics and wonder how to parent the challenges of each of our three living children. We read books aloud to them at bedtime, our arms around their small shoulders. We spent the summer cheering on our T-ball players and swimming at the pool and introducing the kids to Star Wars (that was all Daddy’s doing, let me tell you—and they are now obsessed). And through it all there was one missing, and a grave to visit. That makes everything fundamentally wrong and broken, but this is our life now—full of good things and forever felt through a wound, whether or not anyone else sees that.

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It’s hard to know how to begin writing about ordinary days again, because our ordinary will never be the same. Everything is entangled now, the laughter with the tears, and I imagine that’s how I’ll write about it. I still have more to say about grief, and I probably always will; it’s part of me now. And I still want to take pictures of my children’s smiling faces, even as their downcast lashes and little noses and neat chins strangle my heart with the resemblance to their baby brother who is not here. And I want to remember them in their presence as I remember him in his absence.

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All this to say: I am not better and I never will be. This is not something from which one recovers, any more than a war veteran recovers use of her amputated leg. But I run in the cold dark mornings, hands half-numb holding my phone; I organize fall clothes for the kids; I read library books aloud at lunchtime, run my first-grader to and from school, teach the kindergartener and preschooler at home, clean bathrooms when they get too grimy to bear, work slowly through the stack of books on my desk, and plan for Halloween costumes that are quickly becoming an urgent priority.

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Fresh out of things to watch on Amazon, I recently started The Good Wife. This is not an endorsement, as I don’t know your personal taste and we’re only partway through season one anyway. But in one of the first episodes, a line of dialogue took my breath away. A woman in tragic and public circumstances asks the main character, Alicia (who has personally experienced similar agonies), whether it will get any easier. Without pause, Alicia says, “No. But you get better at it.”

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I hit pause on my iPad and stared open-mouthed at the screen, stunned by the human truth contained in a television show. That is precisely what I am finding: it doesn’t get easier, but I get better at it. I get better at arranging my day, at allowing myself time to weep when I need to, at drawing boundaries to protect myself where I can, at giving myself grace, at enjoying the moments with the children I get to hold. I don’t get better, but I get better at this—this life that I did not choose, but which is the only one I get to live.

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And I get to live this life with small people who didn’t choose this either. We can’t change the fact that they suffer from the loss, too, but we try to weave some happy memories in among the hard ones. Summer fades to fall, and I look back at pictures, and plan for the days to come. My seven-year-old engineer draws cities with skyscrapers and trains. My five-year-old sweetheart tries to read everything in sight, with some confusion because we haven’t reached long vowels yet. My three-year-old fashionista dresses herself in outlandish outfits. The days go on and we go on. That doesn’t mean we move on—just that we live the days together as they come.

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