A Geese-Eye View

My daughters began digging the hole on the first weekend of October. 

The large window over our kitchen sink is my window on the world – or the world of our backyard, at least. It was from this vantage point that I spotted three of my daughters hard at work with shovels on a Friday afternoon, clustered around a growing pile of dirt right in the middle of the yard.

“What are you doing?” I called out the back door.

“We’re digging a hole!” they shouted back.

“Couldn’t you have picked a less central place to dig it?” I asked.

“Daddy said it was okay!”

And that was that.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

summer of the wasps

Summer is now firmly behind us. It’s the time of year when I like to snuggle up in my fall uniform (jeans and a flannel shirt) with a cup of tea (I’m weaning myself from coffee after finally admitting that it affects my digestion — because why wouldn’t you give up coffee when you’re parenting a tween, a newly crawling baby, and three children in between? But that’s a subject for another column….) As the golden light of a crisp afternoon filters through the Vermont foliage, I’m contemplating the summer that just passed.

Our family’s summer was marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, political turmoil, gratitude for our newly installed heat pumps, afternoons spent in our inflatable pool, and the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender (referred to in our house as “the show that saved summer.”) But the thing that most defined our Summer 2020 was: wasps.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

A tale of two roosters

Fall has arrived suddenly and dramatically in Vermont, with plunging temperatures and nighttime frosts. This shouldn’t have surprised, me, as this has hardly been a year of subtlety; nothing seems to have happened “just a little” in 2020. 

But whether we tumble into it headlong or ease into it gradually, fall is always a season of change. This change is evident in the weather and the leaves, but also in our lifestyles. Children are heading back to school, which this year is a bigger change than usual for most families as they adjust to remote learning or virtual/in-person hybrid arrangements. In my family, fall marks the start of field hockey season – the one athletic activity that has ever gripped my bookish, artsy brood – so four afternoons a week I am shuttling (masked) girls to practices with the town’s youth program or at the middle school. And fall means that our local apple orchard is open again, which adds a weekly errand to pick up fresh apples, cider, and cider doughnuts. 

There’s another change at my house this fall: We’ve got a new rooster. 

Cluck — er, CLICK — here to continue reading the latest “Faith in Vermont” in this week’s Addison Independent.

Like Little Children

I have a confession to make: With five children in our family, I can no longer remember important individual milestones. Were you to ask me at what ages each of my children walked, talked, cut their first tooth, I couldn’t say. I could give you a range, which would be, “Somewhere between the ages of birth and two.” 

I love my children deeply for the individuals that they are; ask me today about their personalities and tastes, and I’ll tell you in detail. But past details have all receded into the fog of thirteen years of sleep deprivation. I cannot recall my fourth child’s first word, what everyone wore for Halloween two years ago, and I have difficulty remembering everyone’s current shoe size. 

I mention this to give you a sense of how significant it is that, over the past month, three of my daughters said things that I felt compelled to record in my journal so that I wouldn’t forget. 

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

Mushrooms, Zinnias, and Changing Minds

The baby is beginning to have strong opinions. 

At the moment, his preferences manifest themselves most in the matter of food. For the first four months of his life, for a variety of health reasons, he subsisted upon a pre-digested infant formula called Nutramigen. If the words “pre-digested” make you shudder, let me assure you that this concoction smells like something you’d find in the dark recesses of a dairy barn.

But the baby didn’t complain. He gulped down the formula happily at every meal. His sisters held their noses and carried him at arm’s length, but he didn’t care that he smelled like he’d just crawled out from under a log. 

Then we started “solid foods,” which are really liquefied versions of actual foods like sweet potatoes, pears, and green beans. As far as the baby was concerned, these were all excellent additions to the Nutramigen. Beyond eating applesauce and carrots with a bit more gusto than asparagus, he didn’t show much preference between foods; it was all good.

Until he discovered watermelon. 

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

Invisible Friends

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There are seven people who live in our house, and then there are the ones you can’t see.

I learned long ago never to use the words “imaginary friends” to describe these beings of light and air. No; they are very REAL, so the proper term is “invisible friends.”

Invisible friends first showed up sometime during the first three years of my eldest daughter’s life, although I’m not sure whether they appeared during the 20 months when she was an only child, or the following year when she was a de facto only child, with only one infant sister for company. What I do remember quite clearly is one particular lunchtime in our bungalow in Berkeley, California, when this daughter announced that her friends were coming for lunch. Could I please set places at the table for them?

Of course I could! Thrilled that my toddler was demonstrating such an active imagination, I asked, “Who are you expecting.”

“Oh,” she lisped, “Pak, Pook, Lion, Lo-Lo, Lemon, and Orange.”

This was when it hit me that an active imagination might be a mixed blessing (and it’s been hitting me almost daily ever since), but I played along. I set six extra places for lunch, and obediently opened the door and greeted six invisible guests when my daughter called out that they had arrived.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Maintaining

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We went to Maine this summer. It felt like a minor miracle that we were able to pull off this trip: the only normal, scheduled event that hasn’t been cancelled in our lives since the COVID-19 pandemic wiped our calendar clean and confined us to our home. I will be reminding my children about our Maine trip anytime they complain of boredom for the rest of the summer.

Gong Child: “I’m SO BORED!”

Me: “Remember how we went to Maine this summer?” (Unspoken, but implied: “You ungrateful wretch!”)

Oddly enough, one of the best parts about going to Maine was coming home.

“Ah!” we sighed in wonder as we drove across the Green Mountains and saw Vermont’s familiar fields stretching out before us.

“It’s so good to be home!” we exclaimed as we entered our house, unpacked our bags, and settled back into our own beds.

Our house, which had begun to feel like a prison in the weeks before the trip to Maine, reclaimed its cherished place in our collective hearts after a week’s absence. It was nice to feel that we wanted to be at home, not just that we had to be at home.

The warm glow of homecoming lasted approximately 24 hours. Then I went outside and looked at my garden.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Letter from Maine: Fog and Face Masks

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Much to my surprise, I am writing this column from the front porch of our rental house in Ogunquit, Maine. It is the tenth summer that I have spent a week at this beach with my husband, our growing brood of children, and my parents. This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down and cancelled everything else in our lives, I assumed that we wouldn’t be able to make our annual pilgrimage to the shore. But then, at the eleventh hour, COVID-19 cases in Maine and Vermont dropped low enough that both states declared reciprocal travel was allowed, with no quarantine necessary. So, here we are.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Adoption Story, Part 3: The Thing With Feathers

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This is the third — and final — installment of a 3-part series on our family’s experience adopting our son.

I sat in our minivan, parked next to the playing fields where I’d just dropped off my daughters for an afternoon field hockey practice. I was clutching my cell phone to my ear; on the other end, our adoption counselor was saying that a birth mother had chosen our family as a potential home for her baby.

It had been 22 months since Erick and I had first walked through the doors of the adoption agency; nearly two years since we set off down the path of becoming a “waiting family.” Waiting for exactly this moment, the moment a birth mother would choose us — a moment that had seemed like an increasingly remote possibility as time wore on.

Our adoption counselor asked whether we’d like to move forward, whether we’d accept the birth mother’s wish to place her child with us – if that remained her wish.

“But,” our counselor continued, “don’t get your hopes up. She’s still not entirely sure that she wants to go the adoption route.”

We were required to make this enormous decision with shockingly little information. The baby was due in early November – about six weeks away. Our adoption counselor thought it was a boy. We were given a brief sketch of the mother’s situation, which is not my story to tell.

That was it. I promised to discuss things with Erick and give our answer the next morning.

Driving home, I felt oddly calm. There was a package waiting for me at our front door.

A month earlier, we’d visited family in California. My sister-in-law has beautiful prints of Bible verses hung all around her house, and my daughters and I particularly loved the work of the artist Ruth Chou Simons. So, for my birthday, which had happened about a week before this phone call, I’d suggested that Erick and the girls order me a Ruth Chou Simons print. I’d picked out the particular verse and design that I wanted.

Now my print had arrived. But the first thing I noticed upon opening it was: it was the wrong print.

After an immediate wave of confusion and disappointment, I shrugged. “Oh well,” I thought, “so I didn’t get the verse I wanted; I probably got the verse I needed!”

Then I read the verse.

It was Genesis 18:14. To set the stage: God has just told Abraham and Sarah that they’re going to have a baby in their old age (extreme old age), and Sarah laughs to herself because…that’s impossible. Right?

But God says to Sarah, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

That was my verse: Is anything too hard for the Lord?

It was one of many miracles that swirled around us during this journey. I don’t use the word “miracle” lightly, as a sort of saccharine greeting card sentiment. Erick and I have 19 years of higher education between us, but when we decided to adopt, things happened to us that I can’t explain logically; things that were edged in magic and raised goosebumps on my arms. And these things happened repeatedly. The more I travel through life, the more I believe that we open ourselves up to miracles when we start out blindly down a path that makes no sense apart from our faith that it’s the path we’re supposed to take.

We took this path. We agreed to be open to taking this baby. And I needed that print hanging on my wall every single second of every single day of the six weeks that followed – six weeks that number among the most spiritually challenging of my entire life.

We saw no point in hiding anything from our daughters: Even if this ended in disappointment, it would be a valuable experience for them. So we kept them fully informed, while cautioning them often that this adoption still might not happen.

They were overjoyed. They immediately set to work pulling together stuffed animals and books for the baby. They held a “Big Sister Training Camp” for their youngest sister, complete with a graduation ceremony. They drew pictures of the baby, whom they referred to as “Turtle:” a round-faced infant with red hair and blue eyes. They were deaf to our warnings.

“Why are you so worried?” they’d ask. “This IS our baby!”

But that wasn’t at all clear to us. Weeks went by in which we heard nothing, only to be told that the birth mother was still “struggling” and “having a hard time.” (Hardly surprising, given the weight of the decision she was making.) Then, more silence. We walked a fine line between trying to prepare for a new baby – but not too much, so that it wouldn’t be as painful if things didn’t work out.

“If it happens, it will probably happen all at once,” our adoption counselor told us. That’s what it felt like on the night, two weeks before the baby’s due date, when we got a call that the birth mother had decided to induce labor the next morning.

The baby would be born at a hospital two hours away from us. We scrambled to find childcare and make accommodations for our various animals. We packed our bags.

The next morning, I started getting texts from our adoption counselor: The birth mother and her options counselor were at the hospital. They were still there and waiting. Still waiting. And then…silence.

Several hours later, the final text came: The birth mother had decided not to induce after all. She’d gone home. We were back to waiting.

In retrospect, this doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but in the moment it almost broke me. Our disappointed family went for a walk that afternoon. As we strolled through a gorgeous autumn afternoon, I felt crushed by my total lack of control.  I was so tired of waiting…but I had no choice.

A poem that I’d never particularly loved before came to mean a great deal to me during this time; it was Emily Dickinson’s poem that begins:

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all

I needed that kind of hope. I could relate to “the tune without the words,” as my heart cried out for things I couldn’t even verbalize. Waiting, at this point, felt anything but passive; it felt like my soul was running an ultra-marathon.

A few days after the induction that wasn’t, we received another call from our adoption counselor: The birth mother and birth father, who had initially not wanted any contact with us, now wanted to meet us.

We set a date and time for the meeting, which would happen at the same hospital where the baby was to be born – two hours away. We arranged for childcare.

The night before the meeting with the birth parents, another call came from our adoption counselor: The mother was in labor. At around 9 PM, a text: A baby boy had arrived. He was healthy but tiny, tipping the scales at just over 5 pounds. We would all meet at the hospital in the morning.

Another miracle: We’d already lined up childcare for the next day, since that’s when our meeting with the birth parents was supposed to have happened.

The hours that followed were a blur. I packed – again. I wrote a note to the baby’s birth mom (I’d like to take credit for that idea myself, but it was on the suggestion of our adoption counselor – I was far too scrambled.) I slept a little, then woke at dawn to take care of animals and say goodbye to our daughters. My husband and I got into the truck and drove across the mountains in the misty autumn morning.

Our adoption counselor met us in the hospital lobby, and after a short wait that seemed like forever the birth parents’ counselor arrived to take us all up to the room.

Now. You may have all sorts of opinions and stereotypes when it comes to mothers who place their children up for adoption. I did, too, and this experience exploded them all. Adoption is every bit as much about supporting a mother in the heartbreaking situation of needing a safe home in which to place her child, as it is about supporting that child.

What happened in that hospital room, when we met our baby and his birth parents for the first time, is far too personal and emotional to put into words, but I will say only that this woman loves this baby, she wants the best for him, and she handed him to me. It was one of the most profound acts of grace that I have ever experienced.

And then he was our baby. He was tiny, but all of our babies have been tiny. I looked at him and saw that he had a head full of fuzzy, strawberry blond hair and blue eyes – almost the red hair and blue eyes my daughters had envisioned when they still called him “Turtle.”

Our son is now seven months old; his adoption was just finalized. The past seven months have not always been easy: Almost immediately, our son was diagnosed with severe gastric reflux, which required medication, special formula, and home visits from a nurse. In December,he was hospitalized for “failure to thrive”because he wasn’t gaining enough weight. A week later, he caught a respiratory virus and was intubated for two weeks in the PICU. And as soon as those issues had stabilized, a global pandemic hit.

But our little guy is thriving now. He is happy, full of smiles, giggles, and babbles. His big sisters are over the moon. Adoption, more than anything else in their young lives, has shaped their understanding of love and family; it has done that for us adults, as well. I have no idea what the future holds, but I can say with total certainty that adoption was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

I’m not sharing our story because I think it’s the most interesting, amusing, or touching. My “ulterior motive” is to encourage, in case there’s anyone out there who is standing where we were four years ago. Do you sense a tug towards adoption? Is it something you’ve considered vaguely, but discounted because it just feels too difficult or scary? Does it seem like stories of adoption are following you everywhere you turn?

We have been there. We know it’s a huge threshold to cross. There are 1,000 great reasons NOT to adopt. And we’d be the last people to tell you to leap without looking.

But if you need some encouragement to keep going, please let us encourage you. We are not saints. We are not the world’s best parents. We are not fantastically wealthy, brilliant, energetic, or hyper-organized. We started with love, we felt a pull, we put one foot in front of the other, and we adopted a child. So can you.

Adoption Story, Part 1: Vague Feelings, Specific Decisions

Adoption Story, Part 2: The Next Right Thing