Thursday, April 17, 2014

Who'd You Come With? #TBTstories

Throwback Thursday Stories is a new link-up series being hosted on The Mom Creative. I've been itching to write—really write—since attending the Festival of Faith and Writing last week at Calvin College. And this story is the one itching to come out.

This week: Spring 1993. I was 11.

Middle school haunts many of us, I imagine. But there's a particular moment that haunts me more frequently than others, because the very emotion of that interaction washes over me every time I go to a conference for work, like last week's Calvin Festival. I've been traveling a lot since getting back into book acquisitions last fall, and these events where my goal is to mix and mingle and meet potential authors are an introvert's nightmare.

Beyond the feeling of "please get me away from all these people and back to the isolation of my hotel room!" is the feeling of social awkwardness that plagues me. And a single moment from a sixth grade skating party replays in my mind as I navigate those crowds of strangers.

"Who'd you come with?"

This question was posed to me by a cooler classmate as we hung around the perimeter of our local rollerskating rink, Champs Rollerdrome. The walls were lined with carpet to ease the pain of impact for less skilled skaters, and above the carpeted portion were oversized pennants featuring the names of many area middle schools. (Champs knew its role as a "safe" drop-off spot for preteens who longed to socialize away from parents' watchful eyes.) I don't remember if our school was featured on one of those neon pennants, but I know there was one with the name of the private school to which I would transfer a blessed sixteen months later—a smaller school, at which a quiet, dorky girl like me could still end up as class president and editor of the yearbook.

My 8th birthday party at Champs. Amazingly, my experiences there could get more awkward than that super-eighties crimped side ponytail.


It was a birthday party for two or three classmates, one of whom I'd been in Brownies with years before and saw fit to invite me even though my place on the social ladder of sixth grade society was a few rungs below her, and even further below her co-birthday-girls.

"Who'd you come with?" another girl asked me.

"Jenny invited me," I said.

"No, who'd you ride here with?"

"My parents brought me," I said, suddenly realizing that apparently it wasn't enough to be included on a guest list. If you really fit in, you would have met up with other friends beforehand and been dropped off together by one kid's parent.

Who makes these rules?

My sense of awkwardness and not-belonging reached a whole new level after that conversation. What a strange society that sees making out on a carpeted bench by a carpeted wall, surrounded by staring classmates (as one girl and boy did, later in the party) less a source of oddity than arriving alone to the party? (I can still picture that girl, with her permed, dirty-blond hair, opening her eyes to see the circle of gawkers while she sucked face with that boy.)

Silly as it is, that question, "Who'd you come with?" runs on repeat in my head whenever 32-year-old, professional me navigates the down time between plenaries and breakout sessions at any conference where pastors, Christian writers, angsty ex-fundamentalists—anyone who might make a good author for us—gather. People walk and chat in groups of two or three, and I wonder if I'm the only one who came to the conference alone. Probably not, but could be. Pastors have colleagues that benefit from the same continuing ed events they do. Maybe they caravan and carpool to the convention center or church hosting the conference. Last week's Festival of Faith and Writing draws many non-professional writers and avid readers, friends who make a getaway of coming to hear poetry readings and insights for getting that novel you've secretly been working on for twenty years out of the drawer and into the hands of an editor who doesn't care that you don't have a platform. (Platform doesn't matter as much in fiction, after all.)

Anne Lamott delivered one of the plenaries last week, and referred to a "toxic self-consciousness" from which many of us suffer, comparing our insides to everyone else's outsides. She called out the two uninvited voices in her head: one that says "You're so much better than everyone else," and the other that says "You are a total loser." (After all, self-consciousness is a double-edged sword. Insecurity and superiority are not mutually exclusive.) Her advice was to acknowledge those unwanted guests and move on with a simple, "Thank you for sharing." Those voices don't need to be considered the truth.

"You look so cute today in your new dress, Jessica. You're so much more put-together than that lady in her mom jeans and fanny pack."

"Thank you for sharing. The Gap outlet clearance rack has some good finds, and I'm sure that lady is comfortable and well-equipped."

"You look hopelessly awkward standing there, twiddling your thumbs, waiting to talk to that speaker. Everybody must be thinking what a dork you are."

"Thank you for sharing. I'm doing my job, and there's a long line. Everybody else is probably more worried about what people are thinking of them than about whether I have self-confidence and an active social life."


I fake confidence and even extroversion fairly well, people tell me. But inside, I'm not too much different than that awkward sixth-grade girl being informed of yet another thing to feel awkward about.

"Who'd you come with?"

Just the voices in my head. But don't worry. I'm learning how to shut them up.


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Project Life Monthly (Jan-Feb-Mar)

The last time I blogged about scrapbooking, I mentioned how I've missed doing traditional 12 x 12 pages with all the papers and embellishments, but using the divided page protectors made popular by Project Life and other scrapbooking designers is just such an easy and efficient way to get precious pictures into an album with some journaling and a little flair. So, I try to work in "traditional" crafty elements when I can, alongside and even in the Project Life divided pages. I'm taking the "hybrid scrapbooking" thing up a notch this year with more inserts and  embellishments, getting more creative when I can while keeping it super-simple when I need to.

Rather than using a photo slot for my month label card, like I have the past two years that I've been doing things month-by-month, this year I used 4 x 6 cards (from the Kraft core kit), stamped them for each month, and punched holes so they could go directly in the album as dividers. I think they have kind of a funky, vintage-library feel.


 As usual, my album for the year begins with Kate's birthday. I used some of the silver doilies from the party decor ("Winter Wonderland") to embellish the pages, especially since this is the first thing you see when opening the album.

I did a tall 6 x 12 page to feature the invitation, pictures, and some journaling at the beginning of the birthday spreads.
Since this party was more "scheduled" with activities and such than previous kids' parties I've thrown, I included a card with the timeline I had planned for everything (which actually was about how long everything took!)

Our other January activities included outings to the Nashville Children's Theatre and the circus, both with our friends the Pauls. Kate and Natalie had such a fun time at both events!
And, the day after Kate's party, Matt and I took off for a ministry conference in Phoenix, so I have a nice page of pics from our little midwinter time in the sunny desert! I saved the light rail pass and our hotel key card, since they were unique and fun, adding some neat tokens to the page. I wish I'd done the writing on the photo a little nicer, but I do think it's a fun way to get the journaling in with a photo. In fact, I took that pic of the palm trees with plenty of sky space specifically for that purpose! (PS: if you're going to Phoenix, the Clarendon Hotel was very cool, as you can see! The pool courtyard looked like a place Don Draper would have stayed on his Season 2 excursion to California!)
These 8 x 6 cards came with a smaller album I bought, and they are nice for a little mini insert. This one has Kate's writing and sticker-placement, along with a photo and story about a visit to the pulmonologist to investigate Kate's chronic cough (no real answer--it's "asthma-like" but not asthma).
And on the other side, a little page to talk about the girls' love of matching--one another and even me, when they can. I loved finding those leopard-print shoes for Kate since they matches ones I already had!

For February, I had so many Valentine cards and whatnot I wanted to work in, I started adding on to the month-divider card, making it an eclectic insert in its own right!

I always include pics of our decorations and the Valentines the girls make and give out, but I love saving some of the store-bought ones they get, too, as a sort of time capsule as to what kids were into in a given year. Obviously, Hello Kitty, Monsters University, and Tangled were big this year. (I guess Disney didn't make a licensing deal for Frozen valentines fast enough for this year!)
I got a small start on March's pages over the weekend, so here's a quick glance (hasty cell phone pic!) at my St. Patrick's Day pics, alongside some fingerprint clover art the girls did and again an embellished month-card to share some clover Claire colored in school and Kate's memorable quote of the night.
I haven't had much time for getting crafty lately, but it always feels good to throw even a little page together!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

So Lucky

I say it every year, but I love St. Patrick's Day. Mainly because minor holidays are super-fun, but also because my favorite color is green, and both the Millers and Kelleys have hefty Irish roots (and English, who were historically at odds with the Irish. I promise that if there were a British-themed minor holiday, I would celebrate it too, as we did with the London Olympics!)


Every year, we take a family pic in all our green. It's a fun tradition, and a good opportunity to take a picture that has not just a child or two, and not just a child or two with one parent, but via selfie or timer, to get us all in the shot. That's so much rarer than it should be, when one parent is always behind the camera!


 As on Valentine's last month, I decorated the dining room and fixed a nice dinner for the fam. I considered doing all green foods, like spinach fettuccine, zucchini, and salad, but my kids don't really care for green foods, and even if the green pasta tasted just like regular pasta, it would be no dice. So, I made corned beef, mashed potatoes, and kale (for Mommy and Daddy; the kids got leftover green beans and sweet potato fries for their veggies).

I'm going to keep it real here and confess that, while I love doing fun theme dinners and such, it increases my frustration when the kids aren't automatically on their best behavior and super-polite during said dinner. I was kind of on edge throughout the meal. 
 

Toward the end of dinner, I pulled the old Thanksgiving staple, with a twist: "Let's all say why we're lucky!"

Kate replied: "Why we're lucky."

Why yes, she does have a smart mouth. How'd you guess?

Kate did give a serious answer, though, saying she was lucky to have a sister and a foster sister and a mommy and a daddy.


Claire's answer was simply: "Pie." (May I remind you her babyhood nickname was Hungry Hungry Hippo?)



Hope you feel as lucky as we do—whether it's because of familial love or just a nice dessert. Both are good reasons to celebrate.


Friday, March 07, 2014

Why Fostering Is Like Dating

I wouldn't say I dated a ton before finding my Reverend Charming—one other serious boyfriend and maybe two other relationships that reached the "official" status. (Oh, how thankful I am not to have uttered the term "DTR"—"defining the relationship"— in over a decade!) But those relationships and other steady dates (for lack of a better definition!) brought more than just fun and romance to my life. 

They introduced me to and immersed me in hobbies and characteristics I might never have otherwise given a second thought. And it is that aspect of dating that has come to mind at various times over the course of our first year of fostering. 

I remember the moment my "classic rock education" began, when Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll" came on the radio while my high school sweetheart and I were in the car, and I guessed that it was Little Richard singing! What followed were many awesome mix tapes that I still enjoy today, and an appreciation for Billy Joel, Paul Simon, James Taylor, and other artists of the 1970s and '80s.

In college, I dated guys with passions for film scoring and musical theatre, and learned a lot from them about Alan Silvestri and John Williams, and a lot of shows less well-known than those in which I played minor roles in high school.

Beyond music, these relationships (and non-relationships) taught me about Tourette's Syndrome (it's not all about swearing), golf, baseball, the Baptist church, the Episcopal Church, cigar-smoking, and various cities around the South from which these young men hailed. Lest this seem like "Runaway Bride," where Julia Roberts doesn't even know what kind of eggs she likes, I hope maybe these fellows learned something about religion, Russia, or language (grammar, linguistics, etymology, etc.) from me. Or maybe not—my interests don't sound as interesting in comparison!

But in our year of fostering, exposure to and relationships with children and adults from different backgrounds and life experiences has taught me things I might not otherwise have immersed myself in. 

Things like:

how African American hair and skin require different care and styling. . . 

how race and poverty are so connected in America . . .

how family members who try to break patterns that fuel the cycle of poverty end up estranged . . .


how the juvenile and family court system works (and where that courthouse is even located in our city) . . .

where education ranks on Maslow's hierarchy of needs (after shelter and stability) . . .

what "white privilege" really looks like (actually, Matt learned that. I'll share that story sometime) . . .

the frustrations of parenting a teenager (oh, curfews and one-word answers!) . . .

the challenges (i.e. multitudes of doctor and therapy appointments) of parenting a special needs child . . .

navigating the prison and criminal court system . . .

how people can have substance abuse problems and criminal issues and still be devoted parents . . .


how thrilling it is to see progress like a 16-month-old child finally able to sit up! (without that boppy, too) . . .

how bizarre it is to get excited over a child nomming a toy or NOT gagging at phlegm in her throat, because dealing with semi-solid stuff in her mouth is a major project in therapy. . .

how vital social services like TennCare and TEIS (Tennessee Early Intervention System) are . . . and more.

BGC gets her hearing aids next week, so we'll start navigating those changes (oh, big girls, please keep the noise down—she can actually hear you now!) and add speech therapy to our weekly regimen of developmental, physical, and feeding therapy.

We're in the home stretch of reunification with BGC's parents, so we're navigating a tricky but very special relationship right now (a double-date, so to speak?) We're going to a training next week about "Working with Birth Parents," and we'll have some positive examples to share, gladly offering a counterbalance to some of the tougher situations our fellow foster parents may have to share.

We entered foster care because we have something to share—a room with a crib and a bed, extra car seats, a modicum of flexibility and openness—but there is so much we gain in the process as well. Namely, a wider view of the world, seeing things that are right under our noses, maybe in a different area of town or different wing of the hospital—so close yet so far away, only because luck and chance and birth have kept it far away.

These relationships aren't forever, but they expand our minds and hearts nonetheless.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Obsession Still Going Strong

In case there was any question about it, let me say that YES, the girls' obsession with Sound of Music is still going strong. Kate still loves Phantom, and they got into My Fair Lady for the couple weeks we had the Netflix disk, but so far, there is no replacing "Usic" (Music) or "Ria"  (Maria). (Claire has always started at the end of words—first, she would just say the last syllable; now, it's the last two syllables. And if a word only has two syllables, the first letter is optional, apparently.)


We have a lovely book with the text of "My Favorite Things" and beautiful illustrations. A college roommate actually gave it to me years ago, but it has been more well-loved (that's parenting code for "destroyed") in the past few weeks than in the decade preceding. The song has been added to our repertoire of goodnight songs, too, though it took me a while to catch on to Claire's hysterical demands for "Oses!" It wasn't until she said "Oses. . .  Ittens . . ." that I finally got it. ("Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens," get it?)

Our favorite page is "Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes," mainly because of two girls in that illustration that I commented (once—but as many parents know, once is all it takes) looked like Kate and Claire. So now, every time we get to that page, Claire points and says "ats me!" and "ats Kate!"

We went to a showing of the "Frozen" sing-a-long movie last weekend, and Claire shouted at the screen the first five times Anna appeared, "ats me! ats me!" because (of course) she is the happy-go-lucky younger sister, and Kate is the, shall we say, emotionally complex older sister. The girls had already seen "Frozen" twice—once with each set of grandparents—and I was glad to finally see it with them, even if it is a Disney princess movie. I loved that it was a sister-love story, and I'm glad for them to go nuts for a movie with that theme.

But I'm also glad that a classic musical is still first in their hearts.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Majoring on Minors (Holidays, that is)

You often hear advice on parenting or career or just life saying "don't major on the minors," that is, keep your priorities right and don't focus too much on little things that don't matter. As I indulged my desire to decorate and craft and plan for yet another minor holiday, I realized that I love to major on minors—when it comes to fun "Hallmark" holidays, special events like the Olympics, or just a random Sunday afternoon. Making a big deal of little holidays is a ripe opportunity for family fun and making memories, and those are majors in our house.
Kate got really into decorating for Valentine's Day (maybe because I let her stay up to do it), so we are all decked out, from the dining room table where we'll enjoy a "fancy" family dinner tonight, to the wreath and garland on the mantle, to the balloon "chandelier" hanging from the ceiling fan.


Kate thrilled my mama heart a couple weeks ago when she told Matt, "I don't need my coat—winter is over. It's Valentine's now!" The fact that she is telling the seasons from our holiday decor amused me to death. True—we took down all the blue and silver stuff from her Winter Wonderland birthday party and put up hearts and red ribbon—the seasons must have changed!
I like to write something motivating on the white board in the kitchen, so this month, it was a Dixie Chicks lyric that I consider a pretty good motto for life: "if there's ever an answer, it's more love." It applies in any situation—what's the most loving response?


As the big V-day has drawn closer, we've done some artwork, donned our pink and heart-laden clothes. . .
. . . and of course gotten our valentines ready for the class parties!

Since the girls got lots of new crayons for Christmas, I decided it was time to do a purge of the old ones and make use of them by making melted crayon hearts again this year. (We did this for Kate's class two years ago, but I think only two of the kids are the same, and they probably wouldn't remember anyway!)

Last night, we bagged them up with some little juju hearts and crayon-shaped tags that say "You color my world, Valentine!"
Kate wrote her name and the names of her friends while Claire scribbled on hers and I wrote the names.

We also made a little valentine for BGC's parents, who we saw this morning at her appointment to get fitted for hearing aids. (Her hearing loss is severe, so these should really help her get talking!)


This morning, I did Kate's hair with this fun heart flip-do I saw on Pinterest, and we had heart-shaped pancakes.


Looking forward to our fun family dinner tonight, followed by a bottle of vino and season 2 of "House of Cards" for Matt and I after bedtime!

I love the quote, "Enjoy the little things, for one day you'll look back and realize they were the big things." I hope our "major" celebrations for "minor" holidays fall into that category for the girls, and that when they look back on their childhoods, they remember all the fun and love we shared—not just in the big things like Christmas and birthday and vacations, but in the little things as well.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Russia with Love

About a year and a half ago, we kicked off the London 2012 summer games with a fun little party for the opening ceremonies. (See my posts about it here and here.) We ate bangers and mash, had a little English tea party, made Olympic torches out of tissue paper, and did some Olympic rings art. We were especially excited for the summer Olympics because Kate had started taking gymnastics and we loved watching the gymnastics competitions.


This time around, we're a little excited to watch figure skating and maybe some of the other events, but the major point of interest for me—and the only thing I really did to enhance our watching of the opening ceremonies—was reminiscing about my foreign study to Russia during college. I had loved Russian history ever since seeing movies about Catherine the Great and Nicholas II when I was eleven or so, and dreamed of going on Furman's study abroad trip to Central Europe and Russia. I spent January and February of 2001 traveling around Russia and several former Soviet bloc countries. It was fascinating and a dream come true. I remember all the beautiful churches and ornate palaces, art and culture, as well as the teeny-tiny snow flakes (because it was so cold and dry that the snow didn't clump as it fell) and the fact that we didn't see the sun for at least two-and-a-half weeks!

With the Olympics now in Sochi, I get excited whenever NBC shows stock footage and flyover film of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and I took the opportunity during last night's opening ceremony broadcast to share my Russian treasures with Kate. They're on display in the playroom, but I doubt she's ever really noticed, and certainly didn't connect the items on that particular shelf with a certain country on the globe.



So, I showed Kate my books and pictures, icons, and matryoshkas (nesting dolls). We took a couple of the dolls apart, which I hadn't done in years, and even I was shocked to recall how tiny these little handpainted pieces go!

For a sense of scale, take a look at the smallest five in one of them, compared to a normal housekey! And yet even on that tiny one, laying in the bowl of its next-biggest mate, has facial features and other detail.
I enjoyed the celebration of Russian culture during the opening ceremony, and the retellings of Russian history (selective and idealized as they were, of course). So many new tasks, hobbies, and passions fill my life as an adult now, it was so fun to be carried back to the ten or more years of my life when Russia was among my most fervent interests.

And now Kate will know that, while I don't know what we'd do without all that hidden toy storage in our playroom, the main reason Daddy and I had those built-in shelves added was to display our most precious pictures, books, and travel memorabilia!
Welcome to our playroom, says Kate. And let the games begin!
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