Thursday, February 4, 2016

How Adoption Affects Even a Daughter-Puppy Relationship

I have mentioned before, likely on several occasions, that I have been so surprised, over the years, by how adoption (perhaps particularly of older children) affects every facet of our lives:  The conversations we have (daily, sometimes hourly); how we discipline; how we feed our children; what we save our money for; how we interact with strangers; sibling relationships; what we pray about; how we 'do' school (and, in fact, our decisions around homeschooling); relationships with parents and friends; how we go on vacation; whether or not we hire babysitters; and so on and so  on.

Pre-adoption, I always assumed that these things would exist for a time and that, after life settled down again, we'd be pretty much done with these kinds of issues.  Life would normalize, I completely assumed.

And life has normalized so much...the kids are doing well and and are well attached.  But adoption, and the trauma that accompanies it for our children, is a live and active entity in our it is, I'm sure, in many other adoptive homes.  It really is like a whole other being that exists in the household...the sixth person in our family.  And how it manifests continues to surprise me.

The most recent example has to do with Lizzie and her relationship with our beloved puppy, Charlie.  Lizzie loves Charlie.  Adores her.  Wishes she could inhale Charlie because getting close to Charlie can just never be close enough.

There is fervent love there...on Lizzie's part.

Not quite so much on Charlie's part.

Charlie is attached to Lizzie, to be sure, but she's also wary of Lizzie, and willing to growl (and twice air-snap) at Lizzie in order to make her doggie voice heard.  She doesn't like it when Lizzie wants to (constantly constantly constantly) pick her up, kiss her face, invade her territory, cuddle with her, talk to her, play with her...pick her up, kiss her face, invade her territory, cuddle with her, talk to her, play with her...pick her up, kiss her face, invade her territory, cuddle with her, talk to her, play with her...well, you get the's an ongoing, persistent, frequently-overwhelming issue in our household.

It is like a magnet exists from Lizzie towards Charlie.  In fact, if I happen (as I did yesterday afternoon) to tell one of the kids that Charlie has had enough play time and needs a rest, Lizzie will instantly and reflexively and without any reflection or consideration, drop to the floor to pull Charlie over to herself and want to pick her up and/or squeeze her...which, of course, leads Charlie to growl at her, and me (with a testy edge to my voice) to tell Lizzie that I have just asked her to leave Charlie to rest for a while and that she must put Charlie down.  I have been utterly baffled at this many-times-daily just makes no sense.  Remember my most recent blog post when I asked the kids various questions about myself and, in response to my first question about what I say most often to the kids, Lizzie said something like 'don't pick up the dog?'  Well, that stems from real life examples where I say that kind of thing to her many, many (many) times every day in response to just such a situation.

I have had, I'm sure, well over a thousand of the same conversation with Lizzie over the ten months that we have been dog owners.  I have failed to understand why all of my (frankly extensive) efforts to manage this girl-puppy relationship have failed.  I assumed that the Lizzie/Charlie dynamic would improve over time, after enough conversations had been had, after Lizzie would (finally) understand what was going on and make some accommodation for it, and so on.  But it has not all...since the beginning, and I have been so utterly puzzled.  Lizzie is a bright girl and she loves the dog - why can't she remember how to treat the dog or at least remember the rules that we have set out to help her?  Over and over again, I have asked myself these questions.

Incidentally, in case you're wondering, I refuse to discipline Charlie for growling at Lizzie, for two reasons.  First, this is one of the few ways that Charlie can express her displeasure about anything, and I am totally ok with her having a voice - a growl is a warning sign, a cautionary sign and we all need to respect, even appreciate, when a dog is giving us a warning.  A warning means that Charlie doesn't want to act on her displeasure.  Second, if I train Charlie to stop growling at Lizzie, she will stop growling at Lizzie; and then we will receive no warning whatsoever the day that Charlie decides she is going to bite Lizzie (a day which I hope never occurs, obviously).  Those two air snaps that Charlie has given Lizzie were not accidental oversights on Charlie's behalf - they weren't misses...dogs, including Charlie, have lightning speed and if she wanted to bite Lizzie she would have...her air snaps were further warnings that Lizzie needed to back off.  Charlie does not want to bite Lizzie.  (Hopefully she never will.)  It is we who need to manage this situation.

I have been thinking lately of the classic definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and yet somehow expecting a different result.  I have been the model of insanity over the past ten months, doing and saying the same things over and over and over and over and over again, and somehow miraculously expecting that Lizzie would change something and be different with the dog.

No longer.  I am now in investigative mode, taking stock of where things are at and figuring out why nothing is working to help Lizzie.

It was a conversation I had with Lizzie about ten days ago that stopped me in my tracks and helped me begin to understand what I should have understood months ago.  All of the Gordon Neufeld teaching that I should have been thinking about in the past number of months suddenly came to the forefront of my thinking. I felt like clapping a hand to my was suddenly that obvious.

I was talking to Lizzie (again) about leaving the dog alone when Charlie is resting and not grabbing at her to pick her up because it shocks Charlie and she doesn't like it...and I said that I knew how badly Lizzie wanted a good relationship with Charlie and that we needed to work further on ways of respecting Charlie's boundaries so that this could happen.

"Well, I don't even care about that," Lizzie said to me flippantly, rolling her eyes at my tirade.

"You don't care about what, specifically?" I asked in return.  I'd never heard Lizzie say anything like that about Charlie.

"I don't care if I have a good relationship with her," she countered.

Well, didn't that just stop me in my tracks and make me start to think differently.  (This was the head-clapping instant.  I was just about bowled over by the sudden clicking of my brain.)  Because the fact is that I know Lizzie cares very much about her relationship with Charlie.  She adores her.

This is about adoption and trauma; it's about attachment and defendedness.  That is exactly what it's about!

How so, you might ask, puzzled?  Maybe the brain clicking isn't happening for you yet either. :)

How?  Because Lizzie has attachment issues (though most don't see this in her because she seems so 'normal'), and because Lizzie has alpha issues that make her need to control everything around her  (usually in a very, very loving way, which makes it deceptive) in order for her to feel safe.  Although she is not conscious of this, what she fears the most is being left again.  She talks readily about her sadness and horror at having been left by the most important people in her life (first her mother, through death, and then her father, through relinquishment) and how this has hurt her.  But what she is not able to connect yet is how this impacts her current (and future?) relationships...including, oddly, now with the dog.  She has a defended heart, despite her seeming emotional availability and warmth and charm.  She is so scared of losing relationship with the dog, so terrified that she will be rejected by the dog, that she acts in a way to make sure that this very thing, her worst nightmare, happens...but on her own terms, so that she can be braced/prepared for it and know that she can survive what she most fears.

Does that make sense?

She's tried desperately to do this with Geoff and me, she unconsciously tries to do this with her brothers, and she's trying to do it with the dog now.

For example, she adores Matthew...thinks the sun rises and sets on him and thinks he's awesome.  But she is relentless in annoying him and making him crazy and her actions have a major impact on Matthew's attitude towards her - so although he is maturing and learning how to deal with her antics, he doesn't really think that well of Lizzie over the past year or two - she really does make him crazy and invade every bit of his space and make him want to have nothing to do with her.

She is so terrified (and convinced, based on her life experience) that Matthew will reject her that she is doing everything in her power to make that very thing happen so that she will be able to tell herself that she is in control of it and that she will be able to survive another rejection.

And that's exactly what I now see her doing with Charlie, except I wasn't cognizant of it with the dog until she said that words that she didn't care about her relationship with Charlie and I knew that not to be true. Suddenly everything clicked into place in my ever-so-slow brain.  She needed to not care about her relationship with Charlie, just like she's gone through in every other relationship in our family, because eventually Charlie was just going to reject her anyway so she may as well gird herself to not care (because otherwise it would hurt too much for her to handle it) and to bring that outcome about on her own terms because then she knows she could handle and survive it.

Make sense now?

Totally, completely, absolutely makes sense to me now.  I just wish I'd seen it months ago.  Because now I can handle it differently.  Now, when Charlie growls at her, when Charlie wants to be with someone else, I can work with Lizzie on her heart issues (and not behaviour issues), to help her start to grieve what may in fact be lost (eg. the love of her puppy); I can do so many things to encourage her to feel her pain and her fear (rather than going into automatic mode where her brain, based on past trauma, pushes her to shut down her feelings and to do things unconsciously so that she can cope with certain pain of rejection later) and then help her to understand that she will survive because she has fully grieved her losses (and not because she has orchestrated the destruction of her relationships in a twisted, self-fulfilling prophecy kind of way).  This will be a long process, but if we can help her with it, it will be sooooo helpful for her in future relationships.

I experimented just a little with Lizzie yesterday after a growling incident when Lizzie was just way too much in Charlie's space and clearly over-stepping her boundaries.  Rather than rebuking Lizzie...

"That must be so hard when Charlie growls at you, Lizzie," I said, and I went over to give her a hug.  "I feel so sad when that happens to you, Lizzie, and I think if Charlie growled at me I'd be super sad."

Lizzie just nodded and looked at me.  Her eyes were instantly tearful...although no tears actually fell, I was stunned by how close to the surface her sadness actually is.

"Lizzie, I've been thinking about something you said recently," I said, ready to touch just a little more on a difficult area.  "Remember when you told me last week that you didn't even care about your relationship with Charlie?"

She nodded.  Just stared at me, unusually silent.

"I've been thinking, darlin'.  I have this feeling inside of me that I actually think you care a lot about your relationship with Charlie."

Another nod.  Tears ready to brim over.

"Lizzie, I'm actually thinking that you care with your whole heart about your relationship with Charlie and that you might actually care so much that you can hardly stand the thought that she might not love you as much as you love her."

Total gushing of tears.  She launched herself at me and absolutely flowed tears.

I just kept saying things over and over like, "oh, that must feel soo sad, Lizzie," and "your heart is so full of love for Charlie and it must be so scary to think you might lose that..."  Even though I don't think that Charlie will ever really 'reject' Lizzie, this is an inevitability in Lizzie's eyes and so I need to help her feel in her heart the pain of that rather than try to convince her cognitively that this will never happen.  I offered her no hope...just let her feel the pain and sat in it with her.

She cried and cried.  And when she was finally done, she said that she loves Charlie so much but she's never going to have a good relationship with her so she didn't want to care any more.

How profound is that??!  She could even articulate some of the essence of the issue, with just a little help from me.  How could I have missed this for so long???!

Anyway, there have been no miracles yet, and there is much work to be done, because this is just the tip of a much larger, hidden iceberg.  But I couldn't help but notice that, yesterday afternoon after our conversation was over and the tears had dried, she actually completely left the dog alone for about an hour.  She was more relaxed; less frenetic.

I'm not sure where all I need to go with this, but I can say one thing:  I'm changing my approach towards Lizzie when it comes to the dog and I am going to treat it as a heart issue, rather than a behaviour issue, which is (duh) what I should have been doing all along.

I guess when it comes right down to the root of it all, despite all of the ways in which adoption trauma infiltrates our every day, day-to-day lives, I never imagined that it would be important when it comes to the puppy that Lizzie loves with her whole heart.  I never for a second contemplated that bringing a dog into our house would be one of the many ways in which we would be able to help our daughter navigate the complicated world of adoption and relationships.  I'm a slow learner, to be sure.  But the good news in all of this is that the penny has dropped now...I'm on this.  We'll see this through to the end.  And I don't think it's going to be 'just' the Lizzie-Charlie relationship that will benefit.

Monday, February 1, 2016

How well do the Kids know me? A Test!

There's this thing floating around on Facebook that lots of people are posting - it's a list of questions that you're supposed to ask your kids and you write down their answers verbatim.

I decided to try it with my kids, and asked them each the following list of questions (in private, when the other kids weren't around).  I've also included their verbatim answers (and a bit of my commentary in brackets).  I must say that a few of Seth's answers were like a knife in the heart...I don't know if he answered the way he did because I asked him when he was hungry and a bit grouchy, or if he'd give these same answers if he had a full tummy and was a little more cheerful...but is what it is!

Matthew - age 11
1. What is something Mom always says to you?
I love you.

2. What makes mom happy?
When I listen.

3. What makes mom sad?
When I don’t listen.  (true)

4. What does your mom do to make you laugh?
I don’t know. Lots of things. Lots and lots of things. You’re funny and say funny things and you can be weird sometimes and that makes me laugh.

5. How old is your mom?
49. (correct)

6. How tall is your mom?
Maybe about…how am I supposed to know this…5’6” (close - I'm 5'7")

7. What is her favourite thing to do?
Spend time with the people in her family.

8. What does your mom do when you’re not around?
Read, relax, organize stuff for us kids.  (pretty accurate)

9. If your mom became famous, what would she be famous for?
Her cooking. (huh)

10. What is your mom really good at?
Being great with people and being a great mom.

11. What is your mom not good at? 
When Charlie (the dog) is begging for food, you always give in to her. (note: I do sometimes feed her from the table, but she doesn't ever beg for food...not sure where this comes from)

12. What does your mom do for a job? 
Be a mom.

13. What is your mom's favourite food?
Oohhhhh…I don’t know…elephant meat!  Maybe a breakfast thing with eggs and bacon or waffles. Oh, chocolate.  (wrong on all counts - my favourite food is a really good pepperoni pizza or Thai yellow curry...but I do love chocolate and I do love homemade waffles)

14. What makes you proud of your mom?
That you stand up for me and that you think I’m a great son no matter what I do and you’ll always always love me.  (wow!)

15. What do you and your mom do together?
Sometimes watch movies on netflix.  And sometimes read a book and cuddle…that’s what we usually do. (yup)

16. How are you and your mom the same?
When we play ping pong for too long we both start freaking out that we do so well; we both love food; we both love to spend time together.  (It's true about ping pong - we both get so excited if we hit a few good shots in a row that we start flapping our arms and missing the next shot!)

17. How are you and your mom different? 
You're weird, but I’m way more weird than you are; I’m a kid and you’re a grown up; we’re not actually all that different in many ways.

18. How do you know your mom loves you? 
'Cause she still has me!  Seriously, she feeds me, nurtures me, and does everything that a loving mom would do for her son.

19. Where is your mom's favourite place?
At home with her family (on her favourite chair in the library), or at church with her family, or with our whole extended family when my cousins and uncles and aunts are all there too.

Seth - age 10
1. What is something Mom always says to you?
Stop, please.  Clean up this, please.  (wow - that makes me sad)

2. What makes mom happy?
When we clean.  When we're in summer camp...that makes you happy because then you're alone.  ( a knife in the heart, this answer)

3. What makes mom sad?
When we're fighting.

4. What does your mom do to make you laugh?

5. How old is your mom?

6. How tall is your mom?
I don't know. How am I supposed to know that, Mom?

7. What is her favourite thing to do?
Spend time with her friends.  (again, ouch...I mean, I do love spending time with friends, but it doesn't happen that often...can't believe he thought this would rank above spending time with him! Well, lots of work to be done here.)

8. What does your mom do when you’re not around?
Text.  Watch tv.  Clean.  I think that's pretty much it.  (really??  text??)

9. If your mom became famous, what would she be famous for?
That's a hard one.  Making Hello Dollies.  (this is a 10 minute dessert I make)

10. What is your mom really good at?
I don't know. Lots of things, I guess.  (you should have heard the snort that went along with this one)

11. What is your mom not good at? 
Oh, well, you're not good at wanting shedding dogs. You're not good at soccer and horse riding. 

12. What does your mom do for a job? 
Nothing.  Takes care of her kids...that's it.  (yeah...that's it.)

13. What is your mom's favourite food?
How am I supposed to know?  Let me think.  Oh, that restaurant where we went with Uncle David and Aunt Cathy - the Thai restaurant where we had that meat and potato yellow stuff.

14. What makes you proud of your mom?
For getting a dog. 

15. What do you and your mom do together?
Usually school. You never spend time with me anymore.  All we do is Learning Eggs and school stuff.  (Man, this kid knows exactly where to put the knife!  We do soooo little school, especially with him, and we've done all of one session of an online reading program called Reading Eggs.  And we try every weekend to have one-on-one time with the kids.  Ouch!)

16. How are you and your mom the same?
We like horses, we like dogs. We love animals. 

17. How are you and your mom different? 
I like tv and you don't.  I like video games and you don't.

18. How do you know your mom loves you? 
'Cause she says it. 

19. Where is your mom's favourite place?
With us...and with your friends.

Lizzie - age 8
1. What is something Mom always says to you?
Don't pick up the dog.  And that you love me.  (pretty accurate!)

2. What makes mom happy?
Us.  Us as a family.  (yup)

3. What makes mom sad?
When we don't do the right thing.  (yes)

4. What does your mom do to make you laugh?
Everything. She tickles us. And she says funny things.

5. How old is your mom?

6. How tall is your mom?

7. What is her favourite thing to do?
When she's with us. And when we play with Charlie all together in a circle.

8. What does your mom do when you’re not around?
She sometimes goes out with people and sometimes by herself, and she likes to go to Starbucks and snuggle in a corner and read her book and drink coffee...and sometimes she just rests at home.  (yes, she's pretty much nailed my Thursday nights out!)

9. If your mom became famous, what would she be famous for?
Being the kindest mom ever.  (awwww...)

10. What is your mom really good at?
Taking care of us. Cooking, too.

11. What is your mom not good at? 
(laughter) This is hard. I don't know. Wait. I'm thinking.  Thinking. Fixing stuff. Yeah, she's not a great fixer of things around the house.  (true)

12. What does your mom do for a job? 
Takes care of us. She always does that - takes care of me. 

13. What is your mom's favourite food?
Her stuff...the stuff she cooks.  But mostly that yellow curry stuff with the meat and potato at that Thai restaurant that you say is the best food in the entire world. 

14. What makes you proud of your mom?
That she's beautiful.  (here she stopped the questions to throw herself at me for a hug and a kiss)

15. What do you and your mom do together?
We sometimes snuggle up and sometimes we go out together. Sometimes we shop for clothes and once we went for pizza after shopping for clothes. And then we both ate a dessert and it was so good and I want to do this all the time with her.

16. How are you and your mom the same?
We like her food. We both smile a lot. And we're both beautiful.  (love that she so readily thinks herself beautiful!)

17. How are you and your mom different? 
My mom is tall and I'm not.  She has kids and I don't.  I'm one of those kids.  Probably other stuff but not that I can think of.  I lose more things than her, too!!  

18. How do you know your mom loves you? 
Because she's very kind to me and she loves me. You always smile at me and you never say mean things to me.  And you hug me and you kiss me.  So that's how I know I'm safe with you.  (interesting to me that she connected my loving her and her safety)

19. Where is your mom's favourite place?
Starbucks when she goes out.  And our home.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Second Brain...It's All About Heart

Sometime last year (or the year before?) I was speaking with a friend while our children played at a mid-week program.  He was telling me about some things he'd been hearing and thinking about in recent months, based on the work of author Michael Gershon, who wrote The Second Brain.  Apparently it has been discovered that there are as many or more neurons in our bellies as in our brains; that there is increasingly empirical evidence to show that our gut is as big an epicentre as our brains in influencing our reactions, emotions, and behaviour - to the point where some experts studying this area are calling our gut our second brain.  Apparently, those neurons in our guts do far more than break down food; they also have extraordinary ability to influence our mental state and our emotions, often subconsciously.  It is thought that this will eventually have a wide-sweeping effect on how mental health professionals will understand emotion and heart matters.

I'm sure I've completely bastardized the thoughts that my friend was talking about in my inability to summarize accurately what he was saying...but these were the things that caught my attention.

Both my head and my gut are telling me that this direction is bang on...seeing the second brain as an epicentre that has wide-reaching impact on our heart, our emotions.

In fact, and here's a radical thought that may sound silly or so embarrassingly stupid that I should reconsider writing it thought in the months since that conversation with my friend is that this second brain is, perhaps, where the heart is.  Maybe, even, this second brain is our heart.  Obviously not the heart that beats and pumps blood and all of that, but the heart that we refer to when we tell some one that we love them with all of our heart...the heart that I mean when I feel heart broken...the heart that provides me with instinct and occasional bits of wisdom and insight.

It feels somehow so validating to hear about this concept of a second brain, and to think of it as my heart, because I operate more out of this second brain than I do out of my first.  I naturally function more out of my instinct, my gut, my heart-felt sense of a situation than I do out of logic and rational thought.  Interestingly, the Bible doesn't contradict this notion.  Although we're to transform ourselves through the renewing of our minds in Christ (surely a head notion), the greatest commandments are to love God and to love neighbours...the greatest commandments have to do with love.

I've come to believe that life, at least my life, really is basically about the heart....working in conjunction with the head, sure, but mostly about the heart.  It's about allowing myself to feel things, and to feel them deeply.  It's about allowing myself to live through, and fully experience, the experience and knowledge of survival that comes from living through the pain of the things I cannot change; and it's about experiencing the joy at the other end of the spectrum that extends my hope through the darker days.

I have had a lifetime of nurtured functioning more out of cognition (1st brain) than out of heart (my definition of 2nd brain).  My father and both of my siblings function first out of the head, and that was certainly the root of my upbringing.  Throughout my childhood, even now decades later, I often felt/feel with my family that I am swimming upstream, against the current of what came/comes most naturally to me.  They were working out of head knowledge - logic, intellect, that which was rational and understandable.  I was working out of instinct and in-the-moment gut reaction, and unconsciously knowing that I was different than them and believing that there was something wrong with me.  I often felt the shame of that, believing based on my environment that their way was the right/better way (and that there was something wrong with my way), and thus learning to squelch the direction of my heart in favour of doing the 'right' thing.  It is only in hindsight, and decades later, that I understand that I assumed the right thing was a cognitive response rather than that what came most naturally to me.  Now I see that the head/1st brain is important, and great in helping to provide logic for those things that require it; but that the heart - the gut, the belly - is where it's at for me.

It's why music moves me more than almost anything else; it's why books like Rohington Mistry's book A Fine Balance remains a lifetime top 20 favourite; it's why being alone in nature can draw my soul and its longings to the surface in an instant and move me to tears; it's why a deeper and more personal relationship with my God is what my heart longs for, even despite myself sometimes; it's why I can be fully in the moment with someone without worrying about the 'where to from here;' it's why I resonate so deeply with words such as those by William Wordsworth, whose sentiment in the following words arrives at the juxtaposition of joy and sorrow and the feeling of them both simultaneously and deeply:

"Surprised by joy - impatient as the wind
I turned to share the transport - Oh! With whom
But thee, long buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?"...
(see below for full sonnet)

I suppose that, in some ways, I had the best of both worlds as a result of my upbringing.  I was born naturally a heart person; and raised as a head person - I now possess elements of both, though the heart side of me is becoming more powerful and certain these last few years.  But for a long time I struggled with the dissonance between those two things and it has been quite a process of coming towards an understanding that my natural state of being is as a heart/gut person.

All of that being said, I need to explain something...and this is as important as anything I have ever written.

I see our world as being largely driven by emotion these days.  I hinted at this in my recent post about happiness.  The mantra of today's society seems to be something like 'well, if it feels right, it's right for you...' or 'if it feels right, just do it.'  I distinctly and definitely don't believe in this.  I do not believe, and in fact refute, that we always need to follow our feelings into action.  Our hearts are subjective and can be just plain wrong if based on fleeting feel-good drivers...perhaps in our pursuit of happiness.  I think that this 'if it feels right, do it' perspective is a pretty dangerous way of living life and that it breeds relativity and a moral vacuum in a world that is crying out for a deeper moral compass where right and wrong coexist with the heart.  Acting indiscriminately on the basis of what one's heart is saying is not a pretty outcome; it is not something I aspire to, and it's something I deeply long for our world to move away from.

So what am I saying?

What I'm getting at is this...a few things.

I'm saying that adaptation and true resilience, as well as enduring behaviour change, is predicated on the feeling of deep and heart-felt emotion - often pain - rather than on the logical/cognitive processing of events.  I'm saying that cognitive processing alone will not lead to adaptation...for that to happen we need the workings out of the heart.

I'm saying that we should not feel obliged to follow the direction our heart would have us pursue (and that's where our head can play a role, in sussing out the details and realities of a situation; and this is where the passage of time can play a role, in giving us the space to let things settle and to make a decision with wisdom), but that we are obligated, for our long term inner health, to hear and to feel what our heart, our gut, our second brain, is telling us because the more we repress that, the less healthy we are on the inside.  In fact, as I write this, I wonder if the real definition of wisdom might be something of the marrying of 1st and 2nd brain...where we take the time to both feel things deeply and process things thoughtfully and make decisions based on the joining of the two.

I'm saying that as a Christian, the most important job I have is to love the people around me.  Do I have beliefs that have roots deep in my soul that are counter to what our society would have me believe?  Yes.  Profoundly yes.  Oh good heavens, I think that we are sinking into the depths of quicksand, morally, as a society.  But I read somewhere and believe that it is God's job to follow through on judgment based on what He has declared truth to be; I believe it's the job of the Holy Spirit to convict of wrong-doing and that each person on this earth will be accountable to and for this; and I believe it's my job to love people, and thereby show them the love of my Creator.  My job of loving doesn't mean that I don't get to speak truth when I see something I believe to be wrong; but that's different than playing the role of judge exacting punishment.  And there is the freedom I'm called to.

To feel is huge!  As I've come to terms with these things over the past decade, I've felt the real me, the me I was born to be, come more and more to the surface.  The real me is someone who feels things, even often little things, very deeply.  I cry far more readily now than I used to, I express frustration far more easily and often, I feel compassion for others more readily and certainly more deeply than ever before, and I am learning to allow the depths of my heart a greater voice.  And accordingly, I'm finally beginning to be able to express those things I'm good at, gifted at, and know that they are gifts unique to me.  I've spent so much time, so many years, in denial of my gifts because they seemed somehow to be the lesser things to aspire to; and yet these days, when tentatively reaching out to use those gifts, these are the times I'm most myself, and most the person I was created to be.

One of those gifts is a kind of discernment.  I have a hard time defining precisely what I mean by this, but it's a perception - an ability to perceive things about a person or situation that are not readily apparent, and often to understand the direction necessary (even in the face of opposition).  It's an ability to understand beyond the present facts, and includes an ability to judge well in certain circumstances.  I am often with someone and can sense something beyond what is being talked about, deep in my gut.  In the past, I shut this part of me down all too often, not having any confidence that what I was perceiving was accurate and feeling rather stupid for believing I might have this kind of understanding...only to learn some time later that my gut had been precise in that moment.  It's been a long process towards understanding, accepting, and even fostering that gift.

I have a gift of compassion and an ability to be in the moment.  I'm not always the person who is going to act on that depth of feeling and understanding through long term action.  I don't always follow through on things very well.  But I can be with someone in the moment and be present for the need of the moment.  I see this, for example, in how I am with my kids during hard times that they experience.  My heart quiets, I can let go of everything else, and I can meet them at a heart level, without fear of where the moment might take us.  I can be in the moment with them without moving forward or forcing them to move forward and I can give up thoughts or anxiety about what to do/say next.  This has been huge when it comes to Seth, who has needed just that gift in order to help him begin to learn to feel and express his many griefs.  It's been huge for Matthew, too, in his high levels of sensitivity (and often anxiety), to have someone to just be with in those times of high need.

Do I wish I'd learned all of this stuff years ago?  Of course.  I feel keenly the pain of wasted years in this regard and wish I were even farther along my life's heart journey.  But then I think about what it took to get to this understanding of myself and know, simultaneously, the joy of having journeyed this path and of having, thank God, gotten at least to this point.

Just last Friday I had an opportunity to sit down again with the friend who first started me thinking about the second brain, and I shared with him my (silly) notion that maybe this second brain in our gut is what we refer to when we talk about our heart.  Oddly he didn't laugh away my fact, I might dare to say that he might agree with me, or at least think that it is possible.  True or not, the notion seems to work for me.


Surprised by Joy
William Wordsworth
Surprised by joy – impatient as the wind
I turned to share the transport – Oh! With whom
But thee, long buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind –
But how could I forget thee? - Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss? – That thought's return
Was the worse pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart's best treasure was no more;
That neither present time nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Nice Problem to Have

This morning I caught myself in the midst of some frustration and realized how fortunate I am to be having this particular problem.

My kids now all own ipods (for the younger two, these are ipod nanos used exclusively for listening to audio books and select music).  The kids were all pleading with me this morning to put more books onto their ipods because they had finished the books they already had, and so I was in a moment of chaos at the computer while all three were telling me (at the same time) the books that they wanted downloaded.  I was getting a little frustrated by their speaking all at once, and then stopped when I realized how lovely it is to be having this problem.  Even Seth, my most reluctant reader/listener, now likes audio books and listens to them for about an hour (sometimes more) almost every day.  Matthew listens for 1-2 hours/day pretty much every day, and Lizzie is similar.  So, amidst all of the chaos, I downloaded a bunch of audio books to the kids' ipods today, and know that two or three weeks from now we'll be having this same conversation about the next books we'll be downloading.

In case anyone is interested in what they are listening to, here's what went on to their ipods this morning:

Matthew (age 11 - total of 28.5 hours' listening time):
* The Hobbit - this was already on his ipod, as he is listening to it again, but he likes to break it up by listening to other books intermittently.
* Brian's Hunt, by Gary Paulson - this is book #5 in Paulson's Brian series, and will finish off the series for Matthew.
* My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George.
* Frightful's Mountain, by Jean Craighead George (the 2nd in George's series)
* The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White

Seth (age 10 - total of 26 hours' listening time):
* The Hobbit - I read this to the kids last year, but Seth wants to listen to it again.
* Blue Bay Mystery, by Gertrude Chandler Warner - this is the 6th in the Boxcar Children series.
* The Woodshed Mystery, by Gertrude Chandler Warner - this is the 7th in the Boxcar Children series.
* The Prince and the Pauper, by Mark Twain
* Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLaughlan
* Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen - this is book #1 in the Brian series

Lizzie (age 8 - total of 25 hours' listening time):
* The Hobbit - like Matthew, this was already on her ipod and she is listening to it again.
Blue Bay Mystery, by Gertrude Chandler Warner - this is the 6th in the Boxcar Children series.
The Woodshed Mystery, by Gertrude Chandler Warner - this is the 7th in the Boxcar Children series.
My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George.
Frightful's Mountain, by Jean Craighead George (the 2nd in George's series)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Article: Please Don't Say "All Kids do That" to Adoptive and Foster Families

Good Heavens, I can so relate to virtually every word of this article!  Here's the link, and the full article is below:  Please Don't Say All Kids do That


Please don’t say “all kids do that” to adoptive and foster families…

thegirlsToday’s blog post is fromShannon Dingle. Shannon serves as co-director of the Special Needs Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC alongside her husband (Lee). Shannon also serves as a church consultant for Key Ministry. Here’s Shannon…
Children cry. Children have meltdowns. Children sometimes push or shove or hit. Kids act out from time to time. Some kids shut down when disciplined or even simply when an adult talks directly to them at all.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Many behaviors or responses are common for kids.
But behavior is always a form of communication. Who we are, where we’ve been, and what we want others to know all direct our responses. While all children act out or shut down or lose tempers or cry from time to time, what each one is communicating with that behavior might be different.
While all children display certain behaviors, not all children have lost their parents to death or abandonment or addiction or disease. Not all children have been uprooted from the home or country or familiar voices in the womb to live out the rest of their days in a different home and maybe a different country and with a different mother. Not all children have witnessed or experienced abuse or neglect or malnutrition. Not all kids have permanent structural changes to their brains due to early childhood trauma. Not all kids have learned that adults aren’t always trustworthy, home isn’t always safe, and family isn’t always forever.
Some of my kids have, though. And some other kids who have been adopted or are in foster care have too.
I have two daughters turning 8 soon and two sons who’ll be 6 in March. For each pairing, one arrived via birth from my womb and one joined our family by adoption after years of life experience before us (almost 7 years for our daughter and 4.5 years for our son). Sometimes our kids act out in similar ways, but I know their behavioral responses aren’t coming from the same place.
shutterstock_173700593For example, my friends recently adopted a preschooler. They already had another son less than a year older than their new addition, so they’ve parented a two year old boy before. They’re familiar with those things that all kids do. But like any good parents, they know their kids. They know that when one son is clingy at Sunday school drop-off, it’s just age-appropriate separation anxiety that will resolve not long after they’re out of sight. Likewise, they know that when their other son does the same, he’s acting from a genuine fear based on a history in which other caregivers left and never came back. It looks the same, but it’s not the same.
I get the temptation to say “all kids do that.” Truly, I do. But when foster or adoptive parents like me hear that, it feels dismissive to the real grief, pain, and trauma our kids have experienced and how that history still influences their actions today. Usually when someone tells another parent “all kids do that,” the words are meant to be helpful, to soothe our nerves or encourage us in the midst of a hard parenting moment. But that’s not what your words do. Instead those words invalidate what we know to be true and minimize the extra layer of thinking that parenting kids from hard places requires.
Finally, every adoptive and foster parent has different ground rules about how much we can or will share about the children in our homes. You might not know our children’s trauma or circumstances, because you don’t need to. You don’t need to know the details of their personal pain to understand that when our kids cry or yell or fight or melt down, they might be acting out of deep losses and hurts.
So, please, don’t say “all kids do that” because even if behaviors look the same, that doesn’t mean they are the same for our kids from hard places.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Pursuit of Happiness. Is This the Best We Can Do?

The beginning of the new year generally prompts most of the western world to contemplate the upcoming year...the possibilities that it may bring, the hopes and dreams that we would like to fulfill in the coming months.  This annual period of transition has me thinking about the various pursuits I have, and the pursuits that I see being undertaken in the world around me.  I thought I would write about that today, in the context of something I have been thinking about for a while now.  Here goes.


Matthew is struggling over a word, frustrated, not wanting help, despairing because he thought he was going to be able to read anything now that he can read.  He is determined, despite his disappointment.  But not happy.

Seth cannot remember the word twenty ("20") when I point to it.  He knows how to count way beyond twenty, can point to it in a lineup, but when asked what that number is, he still sometimes just can't do it.  When he finally remembers, grunting with exertion, he asks me to try again with him.  He is driven.  But not happy.

Lizzie is trying for the third time to fix her lego project and to follow the instruction booklet to get that little stable built for her lego ponies.  Every few minutes, I listen to her screech with impatience, knowing she has to take it apart and start again.  She is utterly focused.  But not happy.

I'm cleaning the kitchen for what seems like the hundredth time this week.  Perhaps it's been a hard week and as I load the dishwasher a few tears fall and begin the wash cycle.  I am deflated, discouraged, depressed.  Hardly the definition of happy.  But I pick up the next dish and I move onwards.

I've been stewing on what it means to be happy, and the importance of it (or not) in our lives.

A couple of years ago, during one of the kid's gym class, a few of us moms who crave intelligent (or at least empathic and adult) conversation found ourselves chatting about the goals we have for our children.  One of the notions that came up was a desire for our children's happiness.  Something about how that topic was pursued didn't sit quite well with me, but it's taken me a while to think about why, and now find the time to put pen to paper about what was bugging me about it.

The women I was talking with were not alone in their thoughts about happiness as a worthwhile pursuit for fact, I would say that this perspective is the norm in our culture.  As I go about daily life out and am out and about in the world, it is not uncommon to hear these kinds of phrases:

"I just want my kids to be happy."

"You deserve to be happy."

"Do what makes you happy/feels right/feels good."

What is it about the pursuit of happiness that obsesses our society?  Our whole world (from friends, to advertisements on tv and in magazines, to products we simply must have, to entertainment that we can't seem to live without the distraction of...) seems to sidetrack us in a direction where the pursuit of happiness is the main goal.  It's an approach that suggests that if we're not usually or always happy, we're doomed to be disappointment and dissatisfied.  Happiness is the thing to strive for (overtly and, more often, systemically), it seems...and usually this is thought of in terms of having the things that we want or in striving for a certain state of being that we think/believe/hope will be enduring.  We feel entitled to be happy; seem to think that life is about the pursuit of happiness and instant gratification; think that we deserve to feel happy (or not, if we've behaved badly in some way or another).

"Hey, married person, if your partner isn't making you happy, well, just ditch that one and find another. "

That's a pretty strong flavour in today's world and it's all about the pursuit of happiness and the sense that we are deserving of happiness.  And I'm not speaking from some high and mighty position here - there have been lots of times over the past twenty-one years when I'd love to have ditched my partner in pursuit of greener pastures; and I have no doubt he would say the same about me.

The thing is that we will ditch what is difficult or painful if pursuit of happiness is our mainstay.

To be clear, I am not depressive or negative in orientation; I am not seeking experiences of dissatisfaction and disappointment instead of this notion of happiness; and I don't really want that for my kids either.  I feel radiantly happy about life on a regular basis, am generally an optimistic person, and when I don't experience happiness for a while, I will chase a hit of dopamine as much as the next person will, and with as much abandon and creativity as necessary.  I think it's terrific to feel happy.  I love to feel happy.  And I would love for my children to feel happy - often, frequently.

But equally, I do not have as a goal for them (or for myself) to be simply happy.  Happiness is not the pursuit I would have them take up.

Why?  Well, I think the key for me hinges on my understanding/definition of 'happiness.'


What is happiness?  

First and foremost, IMO, it's an emotion.  Maybe more than that, too, but an emotion as a beginning point, I'm thinking, and likely the endpoint as well.  It may be defined as a feeling of pleasantness, perhaps?  Of well-being?  Perhaps the feeling of being in a good mood or having a cheerful outlook on the day?  It's a symptom, a result, a reflection, a feeling.  It's the sense of feeling good about the world in a given moment (or period) of time, to be followed by something lesser when circumstances change.  It's fleeting, in that it is based on 'happenings' and what happens in this life is certainly not always happy.  It is based on circumstance, and it may persist for a while or it may disappear quickly

(Note: I do not associate the word happiness with the word contentment.  Because if happiness is first and foremost an emotion/feeling, I see contentment as more of a state of being regardless of circumstances, rather like I view joy.)

The cult of 'just do what makes you happy' in North American culture (sold to us through tv, marketing, products) dooms to us, in my opinion, to being disappointed and dissatisfied because imbedded within this kind of thinking is that we should be in pursuit of happiness as an end point in itself.  And I definitely do not want disappointment and dissatisfaction for my children or for myself.

It's more than a cult following, though, this pursuit-of-happiness culture.  There's something innate in all of us, I believe, that exists on a pain-pleasure spectrum.  By this I mean that I believe there's something in all of us that makes us want to choose pleasure over pain...every time.  Instant gratification over the longer sell.  It's easier for me to just eat the cookie now because I don't want to experience the pain of self denial.  It's easier to procrastinate cleaning up the kitchen in favour of reading a book or watching something on netflix because, well, the kitchen can always wait until later.  It's easier to buy the tv or couch or whatever now before we've got the money saved up because we can buy it on credit and pay it off later and enjoy the widget now.  Whatever the choice facing us, we find it so automatic to justify our leanings toward pleasure that we often don't even think of it as a choice; unless, conscious of it, we deliberately choose to take the path less travelled.

Call it a fleeting notion of happiness, call it instant gratification, call it the pursuit of pleasure over pain, call it the fallenness of mankind; by whatever name we use, our society as a whole is altogether far too consumed with this pursuit of the fleeting. We (myself very much included) chase after moments of instant gratification and tend to think that life sucks if we don't get to roll around in our state of happiness on a regular (or constant?) basis.   We have an expectation that we should experience happiness, not understanding that all this pursuit leads to is unrealistic and unreasonable expectations.

I tend to be both drawn to, and repulsed by, that notion of happiness.  On the draw side, who doesn't like to feel in-the-moment happy about something?  I surely do.  I love being happy with life, love feeling good about stuff, love feeling like I've got it all together.  But I'm also rather repulsed by the notion of happiness-in-the-moment because I tend (perhaps wrongly) to think of the pursuit of happiness as an inherently selfish thing and the establishment of a wrong priority; I see happiness as an elusive thing...difficult to find, challenging to catch, impossible to achieve with any permanence.

What I'm saying, albeit poorly, is that I'm interested in more than happiness.  I'm interested, for example, in learning how to do the right thing, even when it's not comfortable and even when it's not leading me to moments of happiness.  I'm interested, as another example, in listening to God's input into my life which, when I obey it, seems often to lead me first through moments of great discomfort before moving on eventually to feelings of completeness and peace and a sureness that I've done what I was meant to be doing.  I'm interested, as a third example, in investing in other people's lives:  First, my family's life; secondly, the lives of friends; and, increasingly, our church.

In addition, as a person of faith who sees the Bible as God's word (yes, I'm going religious here for a moment, and I may again!), I don't remember reading anywhere in the Bible (and I'm open to being wrong!) that we are to pursue happiness or that happiness is some kind of guaranteed outcome for a certain, even laudable, even God-like way of living life. 

In fact, as a believer in the Bible, I see Jesus as telling us that we may instead experience more lasting states of peace and joy, even though in this world we will experience trouble.  Peace and joy are not the same thing as happiness because happiness is based on happenings and happenings are temporary, but the bible tells us that the peace of God endures forever, even in the hardship of life.

Through my learning with the Neufeld Institute and the years of Neufeld-based therapy that helped Geoff and me survive the past few years as adoptive (and biological) parents, I have also learned that feeling the pain and sadness and futility associated with the things in our lives that we cannot change, are ultimately what will bring about adaptation and enable us to build resilience and to feel the corollary of those hard feelings - including happiness.  It is not a pursuit of happiness that will enable us to adapt to life's circumstances, but rather the endurance and survival of the difficult things.  A by-product of believing this theory to be true is understanding, really and truly, that if we pursue happiness, we will inevitably resist/deny those experiences of futility that are really what will bring about the possibility of feeling happiness as well as, in my view, the more significant states of joy/contentment/peace.

Whew.  That was a mouthful, and it's been wanting to come out of me for a while.

So what am I looking for, for my children and for myself, if not happiness?

Well, I'll start my thought first from the perspective of being a Christian parent:  I would love it if my children grow up to be Christian men and woman seeking God's will for their lives.  In addition, like many parents, I imagine, I wish them to be kind and compassionate people who are socially conscious and environmentally intentional; I hope that they find a partner to share their life with who is of like faith and their best friend and I hope that they have an opportunity to be parents; I wish that they would be able to pursue the kind of daytime occupation that would see them utilizing their gifts and talents, whether that be in a stay-at-home capacity or a financially employed capacity; I hope that they have sufficient income to support themselves and any family they might have.  I would dearly love for them to experience joy despite circumstance, and heart-embedded peace that is eternal.

A couple of years ago, when I was first thinking about that gym class conversation with the other moms, I did a very light bit of research into what happiness meant.  In the course of this, I wrote down a few lines from a piece of writing that I came across.   I apologize that I cannot quote its source...I jotted the lines down without referencing where it came from.  But this author echoed some of my own thoughts when s/he wrote the following:

"...I absolutely want my children to feel happy, often, frequently, sustainably.  But I don't just want them to be happy.  I want them to be...fulfilled.  To know how to get full.  And how to fill others. I want them to be purposeful, to have purpose, and live lives of meaning.  I want them to be resilient. And grateful.  To contribute, build, create, change.  Help.  Love.  Be Loved.  I want them to pursue difficult things.  To glow with success and satisfaction when they succeed - to cry and mourn and to learn and find a way to move forward when they fail.  I want them to know how to to persevere...and you know, also, how to give up.  Because that's a skill, too, and sometimes you've got to stop beating your head against the wall, step away, and look around for a rope ladder with which to climb over that wall...  I want them to be...human.  Alive.  Fully alive, aware. And that means: They will be sad. So sad. Angry.  Thwarted.  Frustrated.  Discouraged.  Disappointed.  Battered.  Rejected.  Full of suffering, angst.  And then, later, or even at the same time, they will be in the flow, productive, thrilled, ecstatic, stoked, oh-so-happy... But in the pursuit of something other, grander, more important, more meaningful, bigger than 'just being happy.'"

We've all seen it in the kids we know/parent/love:  They're happy one moment; crushed the next.  It's part of the roller coaster of life, this happiness/disappointment pendulum.  Let's seek more for our kids, be the voice that drowns out the messages they hear all around them in this crazy world.  Let's teach them that there is so much better to be had than the momentary gratification that is all that the pursuit of happiness has to offer them.  For other believers in the Bible, we know this to be so true - that there's a far greater reason for our existence than the happiness of the here and now.  For all of us, let's rather model the pursuit of being - in a state of contentment/joy regardless of circumstance, in a state of peace regardless of the shifting sands around us.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Saying Farewell to 2015

Well, as 2015 draws to an end, I'd like to wish each of you a wonderful New Year.  New Year's Eve in our home will be a quiet and relaxing one - we chose to stay home this year and let our boys stay up to midnight.  Although being with friends would also be fun, it's turned out to be a good thing to stay home, because both Lizzie and I are struggling with sore throats and coughs (and her a cold as well).  So we'll watch a movie or two, nibble on some munchie things, and watch the ball drop at midnight.

I always view the transition between old and new as an opportunity to reflect a little on days past, and thought I would do the same today.

As the years go by in my life, I tend to view the entrance of each new year with a little more awe, a little more respect, than I used to.  Maybe it's something of a 'I survived another year' mentality, maybe it's a sense of gratitude that a particular year has evolved into the next...I'm not sure.

What I am sure of is that I'm far more fortunate than most of the world's population:  I am healthy; I have clothes to wear and food in the pantry; I have a safe, warm place to live and even a car to drive; I can attend my church and adhere to a faith of my choosing; I am legally allowed to vote and to speak as freely as I wish; I have enough money in the bank to afford much of what I want and all of what I need; I don't have to risk my life or the lives of my family by fleeing my homeland on a boat; and the list could go on and on.  I am a very fortunate woman in very fortunate circumstances.  I have done nothing to deserve these things and yet they are true.  I am thankful.

Every couple of years (I try for every year, but it hasn't always worked out that way!), I try to complete a little questionnaire that I came across years's a way of tracking events of the year just completed.  Here are the questions with my answers for 2015.

1.  What did you do in 2015 that you'd never done before?
- the thing that comes first to mind here is the kids' involvement in performing Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in April of this year.  The 28 kids and 10 moms of our Learning Centre put on four performances in a real theatre, and we all spent months in preparation.  I learned more than I've ever learned before about theatre (which isn't really saying much because I knew virtually nothing beforehand!).  During the final weeks before the play, when we were in rehearsals every day (our tech weeks), I had another new experience - with another mom, making lunches and snacks for over 30 people for each of the eleven days leading up to the performances and for a party the night of the last performance!  I plan to be involved in the same way in the coming months as we lead up to this year's Shakespeare production of Henry IV.

2.  Did you keep your new years' resolutions and will you make more for next year?
- I didn't make any last year.  I'm still wondering if I'm going to make any this year.  If there was one resolution that I've been thinking of, I'd have to say that it would revolve around a determination to get more sleep...consistently.  This past week between Christmas and New Year's has been the laziest and quietest and most restful week I've had in a very long time...I was shocked to realize how much I needed this kind of week, and I think I need more rest going forward as well.  Otherwise, I'd say my resolutions will always revolve around the need-to-lost-weight-and-exercise-more stuff that most resolutions are made of.

3.  Did anyone close to you die?
- thankfully, no.

4.  Did you travel?  Did you visit other countries?  Where did you go?
- we started out the year with a bang in Vancouver, with my family of origin, in a big house that my parents rented.  It was terrific!  Despite having lots of opportunity, this year, to rest and be lazy at year's end, I really miss being able to connect with my siblings and their families as we've done over the past six Christmases.

- I travelled again to Vancouver for a quick few days, to celebrate my nephew's high school graduation. 

- I travelled to New York City in June, to visit my oldest friend, who was studying there for about 16 months...she's just arrived back home in the past week or so - which is good because I don't have to travel so far to visit her, and bad because it means I have no more reason to visit New York!

5.  What would you like to have in the coming year that you lacked in the year past?
- it always comes down to one thing for me:  I need more discipline!  Discipline to exercise more, eat better, clean the house more, read my bible more regularly, get enough sleep, educate the kids, and so on.  The list here is endless. 

6.  What date from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory and why?
- April 18, 2015.  This is the day we brought our Charlie into the family.  She was about nine weeks old when we brought her home and she's definitely one of the best parts of my 2015.  I totally love this dog...she brings such un-reserved joy!  As is often the case, she is wrapped around my feet as I write here.

7.  What was your biggest achievement of the year and why? or What things are you proud of?
- something I'm proud of is launching a new book club this fall.  I had been part of a different one for nine years and I really loved it; but it slowly lost momentum over the past year or two, and finally it died this summer.  There weren't any problems - I think people were just ready to move on to a new chapter of life (pun intended).  I wasn't ready to give up on the idea of a book club, though, because it's an enduring interest of mine, so I contacted a few people I was pretty sure would be interested in attending a monthly book club and launched it in September.  It's now our book club, not mine, but I'm proud of being its founder.  It's a lovely and diverse group of women, and we're reading some fabulous books.

- it's a little thing in the scheme of things, I suppose, but I'm really rather proud of myself for how we brought Charlie into the family.  I kept our puppy plans a secret from the kids for about seven months, and Geoff and I executed her home-coming in such a delightful and surprising way that I won't soon forget the looks on the kids' faces or the tears of delight on their cheeks!

- without going into detail, I had an opportunity earlier in the year to have a positive impact on the lives of a few other women...and I feel rather proud of knowing that I was 'in my element' and doing what I was supposed to be doing.

8.  What was your biggest failure of the year and why?
- I think this would be the same thing as in every other year:  home organization/management.  I realized just now at Christmas time, while enjoying a lazy week 'off' from regularly activities, that I can actually get quite a lot done around the house when I let everything else go!  When not having commitments, when not having to read out loud, when not having to truck people to lessons/activities, when kids are allowed a week of lots and lots of tv/movies, when a husband is around to help with laundry, when cooking is relaxed and lazy and sometimes out of a box as it was for part of this, I can get a lot done around the house...a drawer here, a cupboard there, a whole room's unbelievable!!  It's actually been a freeing thing to experience this week - understanding how much the stuff of life and having kids with me 24/7 impact my ability to manage the household.  It's allowed me to understand, more deeply, that I really just can't do everything.  My parents have offered several times to pay for a house cleaner for me every two weeks, just to help out with what they know can be very overwhelming for me with the kids always here (they've seen the mess we sometimes live in!).  I've refused their generosity for almost a year now, because I've been teaching my kids how to clean (and they can).  But I'm just this week starting to revisit my decision about cleaners.  I'm realizing that the tidier/cleaner my house is, the more relaxed I am.  I don't think I've really understood until recently how chaos around me leaves me feeling like chaos on the inside.  So I'm thinking and re-thinking this decision about cleaners.

9.  Did you suffer illness or injury?
- Well, I ended up in Emerg in March...does that count?  I had been experiencing two weeks of nosebleeds, which I'd attributed to having bonked my nose coming out of the shower one morning; but when the nosebleeds kept coming back, with copious amounts of blood leaving my body, I decided early one Sunday morning that I needed to take myself in.  A friend came with me and spent a bunch of hours there with me while the hospital staff ran a bunch of tests.  Turns out the nose bonk was just coincidental to sudden and unexplained high blood pressure...high enough to get me past the hordes of people in the waiting room at Emerg and into a cubicle to see a doctor immediately.  Whether anxiety produced or otherwise, the cause of that incident is not known.  My blood pressure isn't nearly so high any more, but I have had to go on BP meds for the foreseeable future.

- otherwise, not much more illness than a cold...though as we transition from old year to new, I fear I have a cold and cough coming on...transmitted, no doubt, from a rather ill and germy daughter who insists on spreading those germs throughout the house!

10.  What was the best/biggest/most novel thing you bought?
- well, it's not the best thing, by any stretch, but I certainly know what the most expensive thing is that we bought...and it was just about eight days ago.  On Christmas Eve, after a few days of being rather cold in the house, we spent a whopping $6,500 on a new furnace.  That just burned.  I mean, really, it's not even something that one sees, and it's not like we get to choose a hot pink colour for a furnace or anything.  It's just something sitting in a back storage area of the basement that we must have in this climate in order to keep heat coursing through our registers...and our bodies.  We didn't even choose the high end model...'just' middle of the road.  $6,500.  Burn.

- just before having to invest heavily into that darn furnace, I'd ordered a new (desktop, iMac) computer, which is what I'm using at the moment to write this.  It's lovely, and I'm so glad to finally have a family computer...but it's money that we may not have spent quite yet had we known about that darn furnace.

11.  Whose behaviour merited celebration?
- our new Prime Minister's behaviour merits celebration this year, in my opinion.  I was uncertain about Justin Trudeau before the election, given his youth and relative lack of experience.  And I know he's still in the honeymoon phase of his first term, having been in office for all of about two months.  But still, I have to say that he's made some brilliant (or at least, very welcome) moves in these early days, IMO.  First, I am happy to say that I love, love, love his attitude towards renewing/transforming relationship with the indigenous people of this country; even better, he's making moves beyond lip service and acting on his good attitude - my hope is that his will be the government that begins to restore and make restitution for some of the idiocy that has been inflicted on the Aboriginal peoples of this land.  Love it.  It's totally refreshing and changes things almost end over end from any previous leader of this country in my lifetime.  It's a big two-thumbs-up from me.  Second, I take my hat off to Mr. Trudeau for his compassionate and willingness-to-get-things-done attitude towards Syrian (and other) refugees.  His commitment to bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees here asap (as a starting point) is a direct contrast to the approaches taken by the leaders of many other countries and it is a laudable one, Mr. Prime Minister.  That is a leader...taking compassionate action in the midst of/despite fear.  I respect a person who is willing to stand up and say that we will help; and it feels a little like the Canada I knew growing up is being restored just a little by his plans for refugees.  I can feel my chest puffing out just a little.

I can't believe I just lauded the behaviour of a prime minister and that it made the number one spot of my year in this category...particularly given that this is a prime minister that I didn't vote for.  Keep it up Prime Minister Trudeau...this year it's your behaviour that merits my celebration, and so far you're earning my vote for next time 'round!

12.  Whose behaviour made you appalled and/or depressed?
- on the opposite end of the spectrum, I am appalled by the behaviour of the ER doctor who was assigned to care for one of my loved ones just a few weeks ago when she was in a bad way in the hospital emerg.  I was genuinely appalled and stunned when this doctor walked into the room to talk to us about test results and focused instead on the cell phone that we were using to record the conversation (to be used for the exclusive purpose of being able to re-listen to that conversation when our bed-ridden loved one was able to think a little more clearly).  The doctor slammed his file onto the table and asked if this is how we were going to handle things, by recording our conversation, because if so he was "out of here."  He went on a tirade about the inappropriateness of it and started to walk out of the room.  When we assured him that, ok, ok, we would not record the conversation and we'd only intended it for good purpose, he testily agreed to continue the conversation (about his patient's she not his patient at that point and does he not have a duty to report to her??).  He told us about the test results and asked if we had questions.  We did.  When we asked the first question, he said sarcastically "well, I'm not the can google that one as well as I can."  Then he asked if we had other questions.  To each and every question we asked, he answered by saying (with sarcasm) that "again, I'm not the specialist" and a few more times he referenced our ability to google these things ourselves.  About 20 seconds after he'd left the room, and while we were just beginning to process what he'd said, the curtained door was suddenly flung aside and a large, heavily muscled man in a white uniform was suddenly standing there; in a loud voice he said "I understand we have a technology recording issue going on here that we have to deal with?!"  He was loud and had a threatening tone, and we had to show him our phones so that he'd see that the doctor hadn't been recorded...and this just seconds after we'd received hard medical news.  I am shocked and appalled that a doctor/hospital could act like this and I have concluded that there is a reason that this doctor was fearful of being recorded.  I'm still thinking about launching a was utterly appalling.  Not ok, Dr. van Dyk.  Not ok at all.  You get my vote for most appalling behaviour of the year.

13.  Where did most of your money go?
- Out the door, is the snappy response.  We're fortunate that Geoff has a good income and yet it still disappears all too quickly.  The first things that come to mind, beyond the furnace and new computer, when thinking about where our money has been spent are:  Groceries (I seem constantly to be in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning up after those three kids who never, ever seem to stop eating; and we are part of a food co-op where we buy only organic produce and dry goods, which ends up costing a bit more than were we to shop at a grocery store despite the volume discount we enjoy as a co-op); charitable contributions; homeschool expenses (because nothing is covered by the government, despite the fact that we save taxpayers money by not having children in school...but that's a rant for another time...); and lessons.  I'll likely have a better answer to this question a year from now, because I will shortly be resuming the monthly budgeting/record-keeping that I used to do but have slacked off of over the past couple of years.

14.  What did you get really, really excited about?
- I was very, very excited about my trips to Vancouver and New York City this year, without a doubt. As much as I love my children, these short breaks were very much needed.

- I'm pretty darn excited that Seth is in the early stages of learning how to read.  I wondered if the day would ever come, and I feel some confidence now that it is coming.  Given the extensive efforts I have put into this in the past 4.5 years, and the amount of time I have spent waiting/praying/hoping/wishing, you can believe I've been pretty pumped by his new desire (and ability) to launch into this big thing.

- I was pretty pumped to bring a dog into our family in April.  I'd researched Havanese as a breed for quite a while and made many trips out to our breeder's farm before making a decision...and once made, it proved to be an excellent beginning to a new adventure, even despite her major and unexpected hip surgery in October.

15.  What song(s) did you enjoy this year?
- oh there is so much good music.  Music moves my soul in a way that nothing else does.  I can get totally lost in it when I have a bit of time.  I'm a bit out of date now, but for the first half of 2015, I spent about two hours every week (always late at night while I was supposed to be sleeping!) listening to current music and loving it.  Select songs by pop artists such as Parachute, Daughtry, Sam Smith, Jesse J (whose videos I generally find totally and unnecessarily inappropriate, but whose Thunder I think is outstanding), some Sheeran, Mumford & Sons, Sam Hunt, The Lumineers, Imogeen Heap, Adele (though not particularly her new album), some Shawn Mendes...well, these are just a few of the dozens of songs/artists that caught my ear this year, in addition to amazing and soul-inspiring worship music by the likes of Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, and Mercy Me...and sooo many others.  My kids and I are really loving Walk off the Earth these days and we listened to quite a bit of Pentatonix in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  
I'm a huge music fan in general and it seems a shame to list only a few artists, but that's all I've got for now!

16.  Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. happier or sadder?  I think I'd say I'm about the same as last year, though this year I feel a bit more together and somewhat more resolved than I did this time last year...a little more settled, a little more easy in my skin than last year.

ii. thinner or fatter?  Sadly, about the same.  Wish this were different...but whatever.

iii. richer or poorer?  About the same...a little better.

17.  What do you wish you'd done more of?
- for sure this would include more time with God.  It's the most important relationship in my life, and the one that matters for all eternity.  And yet I take it/Him utterly for granted.  Though He is always with me and always present in my mind and active in my internal conversations, it's the relationship I tend to exert the least amount of effort on, in general.  It's difficult to continue to deepen a supposedly-two-way relationship when I am not immersed in listening to Him through one of His main sources of communication: the Bible.   It's the big thing that I will look to change in 2016.

- I also need to continue to be more who I was created to be.  This is a hard one to articulate, but I'm working on it.  There are times when I say/do/think something that really aren't me.  There are skills I haven't really cultivated despite them being things I'm genuinely good at.  There are ways in which I know I can live a little more authentically, within myself and with those around me.  This is a work in progress, admittedly, but I wish I've moved a little farther down this journey in 2015.

18.  What do you wish you'd done less of?
- watching netflix.  About 10 months ago I realized that I was watching too much of it.  I don't watch live tv, but I was watching more netflix than I was comfortable with.  I found myself binge-watching shows and getting irritated by life's day-to-day activities just because it was interfering with my night-time watching of some series or another...I couldn't wait to get through the day and put the kids to bed so that I could watch.  I spent about three months in this state before realizing that this was not consistent with how I wanted to live life.  I wish I could take that time back, that I'd spent it more wisely.  What a waste.  What a waste.  It still makes me mad to think much time do we waste on watching and being entertained by other people's lives instead of living and engaging more fully in our own lives??!!  Thankfully I made a lot of changes to my night time routines after noticing that, but still...I want those wasted hours back.

19.  How did you spend Christmas Day?
- at home with family.  We were downstairs opening stockings and gifts by 7:00am.  The kids gave Geoff and me a bunch of gifts they'd made and wrapped themselves: paintings; cards; perler bead creations; etc.  And I think the kids fared pretty well too, and loved the gifts that we gave them!  My parents came over for brunch at 10:00 and we relaxed over French Toast Casserole and egg nog coffee.  The afternoon was spent lazing around and napping and nibbling on treats.  Then we went to my sister's for the evening, where my parents brought in a delicious turkey dinner from a local hotel.  It was a peaceful, joyful, relaxed kind of day that I'd love to repeat in the future.

20.  What was your favourite tv program?
- well, most of what I've watched took place earlier in the year, when I was watching more than my share of netflix, but for sure the two series that I really enjoyed in late 2014 and early 2015 were Friday Night Lights (my favourite) and Rectify.  They were both terrific.

21.  What's the best book you read this year?
- I'm not sure that I have one favourite, but I can list a few that I really enjoyed:  The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden; Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch; The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins; and The Hobbit (which I've read before, years ago, but which I found new love for when reading it aloud to the kids this year).  There are many, many others I could list here that I enjoyed (oooh, others come to mind, like Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, and Kline's Orphan Train and...well, I need to shut this down!).

22.  What did you want and get?
- an iMac computer...a desk top.  I love my little macbook notebook computer and use it all the time, but there's something about a nice desk top that is exciting.  Also, this is our first family computer and I'll be starting next week to teach Matthew keyboarding.  Exciting.

- a puppy!

23.  What did you want and not get?
- I have enough of everything.  More than enough. 

24.  What was your favourite film?
- Far From the Madding Crowd - a British romantic drama that was in theatres this year.  I loved it!  I'm a huge Thomas Hardy fan and this was likely my favourite of all of his books; I was delighted to also love the movie that was based on it.

25.  What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?
- I turned 49.  I'm sure the kids will remind me, but I have no idea how I spent my birthday this year.  Maybe it's a sign of old age and dementia setting in.

(Post script:  Wait - I do remember!  I was at the cottage with the kids and my niece.  I forgot that it was my birthday until we were well into the day and, shortly after I announced to the kids that it was my birthday, they surprised me with a bowl of fruit and chocolate (to resemble a birthday cake!) and a rousing rendition of 'happy birthday.'  It was lovely!)

26.  What one thing would have made your year immeasurably satisfying?
- I'm not sure.  There have been some difficult moments this year and some really awesome moments.  I'm not sure what could have satisfied me more.

27.  How would you describe your personal fashion concept this year?
- definitely I live in comfortable clothing...likely a little too comfortable.  Capri pants throughout spring/summer/fall; sandals until winter; no socks until absolutely necessary by winter standards.

- I did dress up on a couple of occasions - when going out with Geoff once, for example.  Lizzie takes inordinate pleasure in 'dressing me up' for these kinds of "oh-so-romantic" moments (quoting Lizzie here).  She is the one to help me pick out clothes and choose accessories (good thing...I need help here); she watches me blow-dry my hair and put on make-up, and oohs and aahs over pantyhose or pretty trouser socks and the black boots I bought for one occasion.  She is always a good reminder to me, that Lizzie girl, that sometimes it is good to put in a little extra effort!

28.  What kept you sane?
- I have likely answered this question the same way for the past few years already:  My Thursday evenings off are my sanity-preserving moments.  Sometimes I hang out with friends on these evenings; other evenings I hibernate in a Starbucks with a book or hide out in a movie theatre with a bucket of buttered popcorn.  I both love and need these evenings desperately.

29.  Which celebrity/public figure did you admire/fancy the most?
- I confess...I'm a closet Kate Middleton fan!

30.  Who was the best new person you met?  Who did you meet for the first time?
- although I'm sure I met new people, no one immediately jumps to mind for 2015.  In fall of 2014, when the kids and I began with our homeschool Learning Centre, we met and began to get to know a number of women and their kids.  That learning process has continued throughout 2015, and these women have become part of our community.  We're very blessed to know these families and call them friends.

31.  Who did you miss?
- there are people I miss constantly, some of whom probably don't think of me nearly as often as I do of them.   I miss my brother and sister-in-law and the five kids they have between them; I miss being a regular part of their lives, and I miss not being able to bring food to and drink tea with my sister-in-law, who hasn't been well and who it pains me not to be able to help from a distance.  I miss my Alberta-based friends (Shelley and Sharla, to name but two).  I miss Liz.  I miss Les and Ed, and often wish I could have a cappuccino or latte with this other sister-in-law of mine.  I miss Jean, way over in Uganda.  I miss our kids' first father and community of family in Ethiopia.  Interestingly, I also somehow miss a few online friends that I've never met but who have nonetheless been a supportive part of my online community (Cindy, Ellen, Charity and Jackie, to name a few).

- my friend, Joanne, who spent the year in New York studying.  She's back now, so I no longer need to miss her, but I did throughout the last part of 2014 and all of 2015.

32.  Any other highlights / lowlights of the year not already discussed?
- I asked Geoff and the kids about some of their highlights of the year.  For Geoff, a definite highlight was completing his first ever 10 km run in spring; and he loved having a sailboat to use at my parents' cottage this summer.  For all of us, Charlie was a highlight of the year, and the kids considered her entrance into our family the single best day of their year.  And the kids also recounted the following amongst great moments of 2015:  Seth's summer horse camp; the kids' Adrenaline Adventure summer camp; lots of tobogganing over the past few weeks followed by my homemade hot chocolate; the boys' spring backyard camping while it was still below freezing temperatures at night; Seth's birthday party at Skyzone; times we went swimming; our Christmas in Vancouver last year; being homeschoolers; the weeks we spent at the cottage; performing Romeo and Juliet; the good food that I apparently make all year long (this was a Lizzie contribution to the year's best moments!); the boys' anticipation of being allowed to stay up to midnight tonight for the first time, to celebrate new year's; receiving an ipod (Lizzie) and ipod touch (Matthew) for Christmas.  Wow, it really does sound like an awesome year when you put it like that!

33.  What valuable lesson(s) did you learn in 2015?
- I'm not sure that I really learned any big lessons this year.  Perhaps I'm more learning to be grateful for each day that passes, and for the opportunity that the next day holds.  I'm looking less and less at long term plans, and more and more at living each day well.  I find being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom both challenging and exhilarating and continue to believe that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be for this season in my life.

And that's it for another year's wrap-up.  To each of you, I wish you a very Happy New Year!  May 2016 be blessed and full of joy, and may we see our world find its way closer to a measure of peace.