Hurricanes of Love

Well, first off, of course there would be a big ole storm blowing in the week we arrive in Houston.

          A hurricane’s a-comin!

          (Golden Girls)

But it was “only” a tropical storm, and at the last minute turned east of us, so that all we got was a lot of wind and rain… but the children were right when they said it was nothing compared to what we endure all the time in Oklahoma!

The biggest concern for us, actually, was flooding, but it didn’t quite reach where we are.  The best plan for us was to just stay put!  We missed our beach day, obviously, so I felt bad about not taking the kids when we were so close on NASA day.  But really, my children just can’t successfully handle that much in a day, and it was better to end the day well.  That meant, though, no swimming at all yesterday, even here in the pool because of the storm, so we had a very long day of spontaneous activities mom could come up with off the top of her head in a hotel room, as if all the inertia I was fighting was just to keep them off the television.  They did watch Sesame Street in the morning, and a movie in the evening, so that seemed a fair balance.

We have so far stayed in our budget and eaten the food storage meals we brought with us, except we did use $8 from book money to buy street tacos yesterday as a treat, and they have supplemented snacks with treats from the conference or the hotel staff who are in love with them – which is a relief, and way better than getting kicked out for the chaos!  We are trying!  They are being so good!

The loudest and most chaotic we have been thus far was last night in the lobby when Mary got to meet her brother for the first time!

We found her brother a few months ago, but only found out yesterday that he lives near Houston, so I took a chance and invited (begged) him to come see her.

Know what he did?  He stepped up.  Big time.  He went and sold plasma for the gas money, and drove in to meet us.

I cried and cried.  Mary cried and cried.  We all cried and cried!

They are full siblings, meaning the same mom and dad, and the only two full siblings there are.  But we found out she also has a half sister in Oklahoma City, as well as a half brother who had a swimming accident that caused a stroke and he drowned when he was sixteen about ten years ago. 

Matthew.  His name  as Matthew.  And we got the sister’s name and contact information, and we got to call the aunt who adopted Big Brother when he was 2.   We also got tons of names and birth dates and genealogical information!   We told him she tested positive for the sickle cell trait, though she doesn’t have the disease because she is half white.  But it was information their half-sister needed, and explains some of what her sister’s baby has been experiencing.  So I gave them referral information that had been given to me, and that’s so great!

It was such a tender visit!

The other children were so patient, as we talked about how usually Mary is either waiting around every month while they visit their families or playing along but trying not to be intrusive.

Consistently, though, the biological families are so tolerant of all the children, so welcoming once they get to know them, as if they become grandparents and aunts and uncles to all of them.  This visit was no different, even as Mary became “Aunt Mary” for the first time… despite Kyrie’s attempts to “babysit” and “hold” the one year old who was bigger than her!

It was so wonderful, and Mary went to sleep with evening prayers about finding good family and family that looks like her.  It was precious, and there are no words.

In the meantime, Nathan has flown to Philadelphia for a production of his musical, Broadcast!!!

While we have all missed him very much on this trip, we are so excited for him and so proud of him!  

We wish we were there with him!  I would love to take the children to Philadelphia.  They even have a good hospital for Kyrie there!  But it was crazy timing, his production being the same we as our biggest presentations of the year.

I was glad, though, that he got a little respite for self-care after having the children so much on his own while I completed my residency last year.

And, for the same reason, this down time and play time has been very good for me and the children.

Plus, Philadelphia has a temple, so he got to go there and enjoy it without being rushed to trade caregiving times!

He is staying in the Branch President’s home there, and the production paid for his flight, so we are grateful for the provision given – and I sent a book to his host family because we really are so grateful, and that’s all I had to give them as a thank you.  City transportation is working for him since he has mad skills from living in New York City, and he got paid from copy work and the recent shows just before he left so he has food money.

What adventures we are having, with sufficient for our needs!

We are enjoying our working vacations, as it will be crunch time on our work for the group homes when we get back.  We also have five more books in editing, plus five more designed with the children that need to move forward ward.  And this Saturday is exciting because the American Library Association will announce the Book of the Year for 2016, and we are finalists in three categories, which is pretty rare!  So that’s exciting, and it means we get a little foil sticker on our book forever even if we don’t actually win.  

Our family love stickers!

Houston Sabbath

We were so glad, all of us, to finally arrive in Houston safely.

We were, all of us, less thrilled to unload the van in the Houston heat.

But we all took a backpack in, and the second graders took turns helping me with the rest while the others stayed and watched us from the window.  I was grateful for their help, and grateful to have almost nine year olds who can be safely left with little ones for five minutes while I run down to get more out of the car.  Their increasing independence is a great relief to me!

Working that hard made us very ready for the pool, and the kids were more than delighted to discover the indoor pool was connected to the outdoor pool by a little swim tunnel.  They thought this was hilarious, and are working hard to pass the swim test to get to try it out.  I can’t believe they are so grown up!  My five year olds will come out of life jackets this summer, and my eight year olds are real big kids with more pre-teen in them than baby.

Kyrie is growing up, too!  We managed at the last minute to get someone from children’s hospital to come give some special water play safety lessons for Kyrie.  She loves the bathtub and swimming, but even drops of water can be dangerous for her.  Cincinnati had trained us for what we have done so far, but she’s full on toddler going on big kid herself, so I had some questions and she wanted permission for more play.

Plus, you know. Ocean.

I am terrified.

But she needs the experiences, and a real life, no matter the limitations.

So what can we do to provide that? And how do we do it safely?  I wanted to know!  At the very least, we needed to know as she becomes more and more independent even just for baths and showers.  I was so grateful!  The other children had a blast with her, all six children enjoying water play together for the first time.

We got showers finished, and had soup we brought from home and heated in the coffee pot!  Everyone was cold from being out in the sun and then coming inside, so it was perfect and kept things easy until we get settled in more today.

We all got loads of sleep, and all of us woke feeling much better, and I am so grateful!

This morning was all about not getting anxious for finding out ward to visit, and pacing the children with Sabbath Day activities while getting them dressed but keeping them clean.  Because of the importance of the Sabbath, we don’t eat the breakfast buffet or go out on Sundays, but we were prepared with a special breakfast of cereal that Papa sent, and then lunch of cold meat leftover sandwiches with mayo and relish and applesauce.  

I was so anxious to find our local ward, but it was super easy and we found the gas station and grocery store and pharmacy on the way!  Now I know where we can run our errands tomorrow!  There was one empty pew big enough for us, and the kids were all intrigued because it has organ pipes visible all across the front wall.  They loved it!

I was so proud of them for being so quiet during Sacrament meeting, and grateful to the family next to us for entertaining Kyrie.  I was so cared for and rested and it was a beautiful Sacrament meeting experience!  The talks included the Prodigal Son story I used to talk about with my own father, and then all the children went up with this ward’s Primary to sing!  It was so funny!  Everyone was wondering who they were and where they came from!  But they did great!  We easily found their classes after, and even Kyrie loved nursery because they gave her a baby doll to play with right away!  Whew! 

That was a win, Houston!  Thank you!  The kids heard Vietnamese, Chinese, German, Mongolian, Spanish, and English!  

Mary said, “there are brown people everywhere! I am so happy here!”  

And while the children were in classes, I got two hours of rest!  It was the best church day ever!

And Sunday School was about the Word of Wisdom (our law not to drink alcohol, coffee, or tea), and we talked about what else it commands: to eat vegetables, to exercise, and to refrain from finding fault in others.  

Because parenting.

After church, I had a surprise for the children that was perfect for keeping them out of a tiny hotel room on the Sabbath: checking out the temple in Houston!

Our budget is so tight and careful that I wasn’t sure we even had enough for the toll roads.  But I worked hard on the maps this morning, and got a route figured out around the tolls before the children woke this morning.  I was worried the gates would be shut so we couldn’t even get on the grounds since it was Sunday, but knew we needed to go.  There are always so many reasons to not go, but I know going to the temple changes everything – means everything – even to my little family with children too little to go inside, except for the four times they got to go inside for sealings as our adoptions happened.

I knew we had to go, and prepared as best we could, and prayed for help.

It was amazing!  We had such a special experience!  Not only were the gates open, but the security guard lady was driving a golf cart around and stopped after awhile to talk with the children and then took them on a tour of the gardens in the golf cart!

They loved it!

And I loved her for being an angel to us, for being an answer to my prayers to give the children a special experience today!  They loved it!

Except for this one, who stayed with me and missed most of it until then end:

But she woke in time to sign her “K” she does for autographs now, because giving the kind woman a book was the only way I knew how to thank her.  What a blessing she was in such a simple way!

Not only that, but by the time we got back to our hotel room, it was suppertime!  We could do pajamas and relax and settle in for the evening.  I am so grateful for the rest of the Sabbath, and how it becomes a temple in time instead of space.

We needed that spirit juice, even if it wasn’t a day to be inside the temple for hours alone in the quiet.  We did go, and we were there, and we are doing our very best at covenant keeping – even in the mess of a process we still are.

And that’s enough.

And that act of faith, to just touch the walls, and the flowers, and the water, that’s enough.

It fills us up and carries us through and gives us spirit power to do the impossible.

Because with Him, all things are possible.

Even if what you needed power for was preventing a whole herd of baby fits before they happen, or love bombing little ones instead of criticizing them, or simply remembering at the end of a hot day that you chose each other as family for a reason, and that it matters more than anything.

And, and, and, the temple is a place to say hello to you Daddy on Father’s Day.

And to tell your children about him.

And to tell them their favorite stories, like the time he blew up a fireworks stand.

It reminds them of where my crazy side comes from, in case they get too bogged down by the seriousness of my mother’s very dry wit.

And it’s the place to call Nathan, and tell him Happy Father’s Day, and to model for them how much he is loved and respected in our family, and how much he has sacrificed beyond imagination for us, and how much he serves us everyday.

And to tell them family matters, and is more important than anything.

Because family matters.

And to prove it by sucking in the sting that comes when it’s time to call biological families and say Happy Father’s Day to them, too.

Because family matters.  That much.

Dallas Night

Well, I was mostly right: everyone was exhausted enough to fall asleep… except Alex.

Alex. Did. Not. Sleep. At. All.

First of all, we were squeezed in like sardines, with all seven of us in a two person tent.  

It was hilarious, but cozy enough for a night of snuggles.

Except that Alex spent the first hour trying to lay on me – not like snuggling, but like his head on his pillow across from me, his torso on my feet, and his feet on my hips.  It was bizarre.  Anytime I moved to get away from him, he followed me. I finally had to risk waking the others by telling him to stop.

He spent the next hour banging out rhythms on the side of the tent, waking up Kirk and Barrett, and he kicked me in the face twice.   

Anber got mad at Mary about then, because Mary was sleeping hard and kept throwing her arms into Anber’s face, and Anber responded by scooting over onto my pillow and wrapping her legs around my arms in some kind of contorted position.

Alex then spent the next hour up and pacing around the tent – yes, walking around the two person tent with seven people trying to sleep.

He woke Kyrie at least three times, and it was a nightmare trying to get her back to sleep.

I’m not sure anyone slept much except Mary, who had her ears off and was on the diagonal opposite from Alex.

I am exhausted, and frustrated with him specifically, but so far have kept my cool and just had a chat with him about how today might be hard because he is tired and didn’t sleep, and we will get through it together.

He is trying hard, and was the first one out of the shower.  He and Kirk helped me take down the tent, and we got the car packed back up before breakfast time.  We had yogurt and blueberry biscuits, and that was lovely and gave everyone a fresh start.

Now we are taking time to play before being stuck in the car all day trying to get to Houston.

Kyrie can’t be in the car seat for too long at a time, so we travel slowly.  I specifically gave us an extra day to travel so we won’t have to hurry, and won’t have to be anxious about time.  This makes it easier for me to focus on them and their pace instead of pushing them more than they are comfortable – especially since I am on my own because Nathan is headed to Philly for a production.  We are all doing our best, and will get good rest at the hotel this week!

But playtime first!

Vacation Tent City

This day started with making scrambled egg tortillas for our camping breakfast tomorrow!

When you travel with six little ones for ten days, you pack all the food you can to go with you!

It took us the normal time to get to OKC, but an extra hour to get to the other side of it.  We beat five o’clock traffic, though!

We had two more rest stops, including one where the kids were recognized by fans – a sweet mom and her toddler – and finally three more hours later, we made it to our campsite outside of Dallas.

The second graders were so excited to help put up our tent!

And they did it!

We all felt better after cooling off in the pool!  It was perfect!  We got our camp site for only $3 because kids were free because it’s Father’s Day weekend, and the pool was empty and magical.  It really refreshes us!

Kids changed into pajamas while I got our fire going, and they had such a blast heating up MRE’s for dinner!

Day one was exhausting, but a success!  We had so much fun!  And I think I wore them out enough that they will actually sleep tonight instead of just playing like earlier.  

I love these babies!

Quiet Nights

When you work in a hospital, you learn that it’s part of cultural superstition that you are not allowed to ever be glad it’s “quiet”.  They think this will jinx it, and things will get busy again.  Instead, they say things are “under control” or use other code words, so as not to invite trouble.

So I will say, I was really grateful that it was “under control” this weekend after some very insanely busy weeks around here.  No pun intended.  My work at the office feels caught up, and my proposals for the group home stuff is as finished as it can be for now, and I am as ready as I can be for speaking in Houston.  That feels pretty good, I’d say.

Good enough that I was able to take a little walk this evening, and watch the sun set from the top of the parking garage.

Today is the four year anniversary of when our first child would have been born, the first little one Nathan and I lost, our little honeymoon-ish baby.

What would I do with a four year old right now?

That’s what I was thinking about when I remembered I have two of them.

Except they are turning five!  I can’t believe it!  They are all growing so fast!

I wonder sometimes if it’s too fast, or if I am just too slow.  There is so much to teach them!  I don’t mean math or spelling or how to type or play piano.  I mean how much they are loved, and how amazing they are, and what gifts I see in them that I know will offer something to the world in their own unique way.   That’s what I want them to understand, and to believe, even to know, more than anything.

I barely got to them in time.

That’s what I think about sometimes, when I consider how long it too me to find Nathan, and how I finally jumped in feet first and got baptized only a month before my second graders were born.   It’s like I could feel them calling me, like I could feel their absence as their spirits left me to be born into this same world, as if I missed them those years we were apart the same as I missed Nathan until I found him again in mortality.

I wrote about that last night, in the Making Marriage book we are writing.

Like any parent, I cringe at the things they saw me say and do before they were born.  Or some days now.

And like any parent, I am in awe that they would still come to me anyway.

They are such gifts of love, and I so want them to know they are loved.

Mamasita, they call me.  Did you know that?  It started when our foster daughter from Honduras still lived with us, but it stuck even after she was gone.  I heard Kyrie say it for the first time yesterday.

Like any parent, I wonder if I will get myself together in time to communicate any of that love to any of them.  I don’t want it lost in translation.  I don’t want it smothered in correction or buried under expectations.  I want there to be air in there, even while they grow more independent every day.

And they are.

Mary has started picking out clothes for the girls everyday, and can clean the kitchen by herself.

Alex can finally play alone for a little while and still be okay (better, even).

Kirk picks up books Kyrie pulls off the shelves without being asked, and tries to beat Mary to cleaning the kitchen.

Barrett still screams, but he screams feeling words!

Anber gave me a ponytail for the first time ever, just randomly figuring it out one day after conquering shoe tying.

Kyrie wore panties today, and put them on all by herself.  She put them on over her pull-up and had both legs in one hole and her body in a different leg hole, but I was excited she was interested and left her that way.

Nathan made it all the way through bedtime without being overwhelmed.  He was used up, but not drained empty.  That’s something.

I had a sweet talk with my two troublemaker boys when I wanted to just scream at them for being so foolish and mean.  But I didn’t scream or shout or even raise my voice.  Natural consequences happened, and that was hard enough, and I let it go.  Motherhood isn’t about retribution.  I was able to join them in the space they were in and just be present in their not very enjoyable circumstances without making it worse just to get back at them.

Because the behaviors we have now are “normal” kid behaviors, not safety concerns or feral child problems.

And that’s progress.

It’s like we are all getting better at being ourselves, and the better we get at that, then the better we are for each other.

Because when we say we want to be perfected, we aren’t talking about “without mistakes”.  

We are talking about wholeness, so much as to be completed.
It’s not a doing.

It’s a being.

And there is space for grace, I think, in letting people be who they are.

Even when there is little girl drama.

Or boys climbing the roof.

Or toddlers who slap your glasses off your face when they are trying to play monster.

You are good, so good, I tell them, because you are you, and because of who your Father is, and because of what the Savior has already done.

I don’t mean they are always angels, and I am surely not.  But even when we are super fans of natural consequences and uber consistency of enforcing limit setting, that’s different from being punitive just to compel them into something they aren’t with an illusion of power I don’t actually have.

They have agency, the right to choose, and I won’t always like what they choose.

But I love them.

And I will hold their hands.

Because someone pierced theirs for me.

I can’t rescue them from consequences anymore than I can do for them when they are trying to learn some new developmental task.  Both ways rob them.   It’s steals their agency away, and that’s not okay.

But letting them learn, and loving them up, that’s my favorite.

I don’t know why that’s easy to feel for them, but so hard to remember for myself.

Other moments are just nurturing freebies: icepacks, snuggles in the reading chair, and random homemade French fries for breakfast just because they asked.

Mamasita! We could call our yellow house “McDonald’s” as if that were our name!

No, kiddo.  No.  That’s not happening.

No one can say we are perfect parents.

But maybe, we are good enough parents, most days.


I got to sleep in, spent the morning with my babies, and then managed to finish my PowerPoint stuff while the played outside this afternoon, and then enjoyed a Nathan date this evening!

I needed this day off, and feel so much better!

Look at these cuties snuggled up for family movie night:

Roller Coaster Mama

I haven’t slept in two days, almost, except for a short nap last night.

Yesterday was a hospital visit for Kyrie, who is – of course – sick, just four days after our housewarming (chicken) party.

Sigh. This girl.

We busted her out, though, and had new oxygen tanks and a new concentrator when we got home.  I don’t know how to get another travel concentrator since hers is worn out, but we are relieved to have a new concentrator and tanks at home, at least!

But she completely failed her feeding assessment.  I mean, that’s unfair to say because her tongue is moving side to side more, so that’s progress.  We take all the progress we can get!  But she still can’t lift her tongue up at all (because it was sewn to her bottom lip her first year of life until they released it at palate repair).  She can chew some things, like crackers, but most things she tastes and spits back out because she can’t get them swallowed.  She aspirated pretty badly on her drink at the very end, and I just wanted to cry.  

The good news is, if you can call it that, is that she has a little pneumonia from aspirating, and isn’t really sick from the chicken party.  Maybe.  Except that’s not good news at all.

Regardless, this along with only being 22 pounds at 26 months has finally resulted in what we have fought off for two years: the referral for a gtube has been made.  At this point, it will just be more comfortable than doing the ng tube everyday, and maybe help her grow a little – though she is nice and long, growing inches and shoe sizes every time she is on oxygen for more than three days solid.

After that, I worked swing shift in the ER last night, and we were slammed.

I came home to a pile of paperwork at midnight, and stayed up until about 2am working on that.  Nathan was so sweet to make me some tomato soup so I could finally eat a little since I had to keep working.

This morning, I had to get up at 545am to drive back to Tulsa for annual licensure supervision ethics training, which lasted until noon.

Then I had uber exciting meetings about group home progress, which is both terrifying and thrilling, and finished just in time to come back to work in the ER until now.

Besides all that, I may or may not have been in a room (unwittingly) with a gun at some point in the last forty-eight hours, and I am still a little shaky from the experience.

Mostly I am exhausted, and missed the children today, and am in shock that the group home idea is actually unfolding finally, and I am very extra excited for a day off tomorrow.

A day off, just in time to turn a 600 page white paper into a into a 35 page proposal into a PowerPoint presentation, all of which reminded me I still need to create another PowerPoint for speaking in Houston next week!  And they added another speaking time for us!  We are so grateful, truly.  I know what I am going to say, but am hoping for more discussion than PowerPoint because I want to be helpful, not just nerdy.

These are my days, ups and downs, and running in circles.  

I will work hard to do my part at working hard, but I will also enjoy every moment of rest I can get, like at home with my babies tomorrow – especially since it is my weekend to work Saturday and Sunday.

So I am worn out, but finished with work as much as I can be, and ready to go home to Nathan.   I am not going to work more tonight, even though there is more to do.  My Sabbath has begun.

Life is so hard sometimes, and I am grateful he is my companion, and grateful for his good care of me.  I will miss him when he goes to Philadelphia for one of his musicals and we go to Houston to speak at the conference.

But tonight?  

Tonight I get to go home, and stay, for a whole twenty-four hours.  

Dream big, girl.  Dream big.

The Chicken Party

Even if you marry the exact perfect husband, there will be some things that are important to you that maybe you never even knew about before meeting him.

For me, that was Miracle Mike.  I had never heard of Miracle Mike before meeting Nathan.  It turns out that Miracle Mike is a real thing, and that he really existed.  He was a chicken, or more specifically, a rooster, and his farmer went out one Sunday to chop his head off with a hatchet for Sunday dinner.

Except the farmer missed the brain stem, and Miracle Mike became known as The Headless Chicken, touring for 18 months on the vaudeville circuit before choking to death in his hotel room one night like all famous rockstars.

I wish I were kidding.  I’m not.  Google it.

Some wives have fancy homes and decorate for fancy holidays.

But me?  At the start of every summer, I decorate with chickens.

Headless chickens.

Nathan takes this very seriously.  He is very introverted, but he plans this party every year with different games and activities, and he even makes prizes for participants.  This was his 15th year to throw this party.

The party has several traditions, like starting out with a reading of the sonnet – yes, an actual sonnet – that Nathan wrote in Miracle Mike’s honor.  He reads it while the guests hum America the Beautiful.

 Another tradition is that guests bring chicken themed foods:


And this year, Nathan made Chicken-N-Waffles flavored ice cream.   No, really.  That was his contribution:


Then there are the games, like this Doughnut game, where he tied the treats to string and hung them from poles so that children had to use only their mouths to peck at the doughnuts to get bites.  Why?  Because Miracle Mike was fed with an eye dropper for those 18 long months.

There are other games, like Rubber Chicken Bowling:


And the team competition of drawing Miracle Mike while sharing wings:


And Peck Like Mike, the paper bag game:


Other years have other games, like the time people had to make chicken costumes out of nothing, or the times we played “Angry Peeps” using a homemade catapult system to fling those marshmellow peeps across my living room.

And there is always the chicken dance:

 All mockery aside, it is hilarious and crazy and silly and an opportunity to bond with friends and relax with our children and just play together as a community.  Life can be so hard, and we are all surviving so much, and there are times we feel pretty isolated from others while drowning in parenting and trying to keep Kyrie out of the hospital.

But the chicken party?  That’s a touch of normal we get once a year, laughing with friends while our children play together.    

Well, it’s “normal” with Nathan in charge of event planning.

Those are the natural consequences you get when marrying a husband in musical theater.

And that’s why I picked him, this guy who could endure alongside me on this very intense journey of mortality.

Even if he brought his (headless) chickens with him.