Family Livin’ in a Tiny House

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In a quaint mountain village, nestled in groves of aspens and pines, sits a sweet little chapel. If you were to cross a certain wooden bridge over an alpine creek, and follow the path past the bell tower and under the looming blue spruce trees, you would find yourself at the entrance to our sanctuary.

Inside, an understated stained glass window casts fresh light onto the alter. Towards the back of the pews, by the drinking fountain, there is a conspicuous door marked “private.” Most people don’t notice it is there, but if you went through that door and wound your way down the cluttered hallway, my family would welcome you to our tiny home.

If only you would fit.

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We are a family of 4… 5 if you count the dog… living in 692 square feet. That 692 square feet also happens to be in a church.

This is a post about life in the tiny house we share with God.

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My husband and I moved into this cozy apartment with cathedral ceilings 4 years ago, in the summer of 2011. Since that time we brought our energetic dog Roxy home from the pound in 2012, welcomed a foster (and now adopted) daughter through our doors in 2013, and in 2014 brought our newborn baby boy home from the hospital. With each new addition to our family we declared, “we have run out of space.” And then we added one more. And one more. Seriously this time. We have run out of space.

The other night my daughter and I brushed our teeth in God’s bathroom. No joke. We pit-pattered through that door that says private in our jammies, barefooted, toothbrushes in hand, past the last row of pews to the two-stalled restroom that you use on Sunday morning. I think the Easter choir was a bit confused when our shoeless, PJ clad selves accidentally barged in on their rehearsal, but such is life. Our life. We couldn’t use our own bathroom because infant Ziggy had monopolized the bedroom / bathroom space with his need to sleep. Our bathroom – with its curtain for a door – is not an ideal situation when you want your baby to get some rest. And your toddler to have healthy teeth. And to keep the pee outta the bed.

I present our dilemma. And thank God for his bathroom.

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Welcome to our life in a tiny house. In a church.

I type this at my kitchen table, laptop taking up almost the entire surface. The clip clop clack of my keyboard clicks in the darkness. I can hear my daughter’s deep sleeping breaths 8 feet in front of me, the hum of the refrigerator just to my right, the lull of Ziggy’s sound machine floating through the cracked bedroom door. Peaceful noises come together in new ways at midnight, inside the walls of a tiny house.

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Last night at 3 AM I lie awake in bed considering my options. We were half-way through a feeding cycle and I desperately needed to take care of some mommy boob business before getting back to sleep. But I knew if I walked past Ziggy there was a chance he would smell my sweet fragrance and wake up. I should note that to the rest of the world the fragrance may not be so sweet because of the bathroom / shower / sleeping baby situation, but at least Ziggy still seems to like me. I can tip-toe. I can be very quiet. But I haven’t yet figured out how to not smell fabulous to my sleeping son.

I weighed my choices. I finally decided if I was going to get any sleep at all, waking Ziggy was a chance I had to take. I crept past him to our bedroom door and out to the living room to retrieve my pumping device, thaaaaat was unfortunately plugged in next to my daughter’s slumbering head. I had to climb over her body and reach down behind the couch for the outlet, shifting her mattress and clunking the heavy-duty cord against the wall in the process. She slept on. Phew. Toddler up at 3 AM crisis avoided.

Sleepy eyed, I lugged the pump out my front door and down that cluttered hallway to the only outlet I could find that wouldn’t wake my family. Nothing like pumpin’ in the pews. Now how many people can say they’ve done THAT in the middle of the night?

These are the things that happen in a tiny house. In a church.

Thank God for his church. And it’s outlets.

As you can see, when the kids are sleeping, every move is carefully considered. Do I really need to pump? How bad do I need ice in my water? How bad do I need water in general? Tomorrow I better bring three bottles of water to bed so I don’t have to run that loud faucet. Or bring no water to bed so I don’t have to pee. Peeing is an issue. Every night I think to myself, “I can probably hold this pee just a little bit longer.” If I do pee I better not wash my hands – that dang faucet. If I put toilet paper in the bowl first the pee isn’t as loud. Definitely won’t flush until morning.

Sometimes Adam pretends like he’s camping and goes outside. Hmm… I’ve considered it.

Oh, life in a tiny house.

The sun starts to rise and I’m up. I might not have gone pee all night so as not to wake the kids, but Lord help me, coffee is worth it. Solana sleeps in the living room on the pull out couch. The living room, which is right next to the kitchen, which is home to the coffee machine. Riiiggghht. Like I said, every move is carefully considered. I pull out the coffee. Turn on the light under the microwave. Grab a mug from the cabinet and the cream from the fridge. Accidentally bump a glass. It clanks. Whoops. I peer past the sink. She’s still asleep. The glass bonking and the coffee mugging and the creamer pouring and the microwave light and my breathing and the measuring and the 89 decibel faucet haven’t woke her. You don’t realize how loud coffee brewing is until your kid is sleeping feet from the machine. You don’t realize how much you need coffee until you’re willing to risk a wake up for it.

It’s time to start the day. I know I should get myself ready before the kids wake up, but showers require some light and some water and some noise and I decide that at least this morning, the shower isn’t worth it. Oh, but I still have to pee. Into God’s house I go. Most people go there to pray. I do that too. But I also go there to pee. Thank you Jesus.

Adam is up and has roused the dog for her morning walk. She stretches her way past Ana and shakes her sleepys out. She does this not once, but twice. The metal tags on her collar clang against each other. How is Ana still sleeping?! Husband heads out the front door and a rush of invigorating altitude air fills our space. A night full of sleepy breathing can make a tiny house stuffy. My new obsession with diffusing essential oils is helping, but it’s still not the same as fresh, outdoor, mountain air. Wish I could bottle that up and diffuse it.

Adam is back and all at once the day gets started. Dog takes her cozy corner. Ana sits up and yawns to see the whole family in her room. Couch bed is made and pushed in. Couch cushions are put back. Coffee table is relocated. Ziggy’s swings and play mats are pulled out for the day. Adam unloads the dishwasher. I dance around him to pack A’s lunch. Ana drags 15 toys into her “playspace.” I step on 5 on my way to the bedroom. The laptop comes off the table. Breakfast is served. Sink is filled with dishes. Ana gets off to school.

Ahhh. For a minute I can just stand still outside and breathe that mountain air.

Then it’s into my office that’s just steps from our tiny house that should be called disaster house. We clean non-stop and still our home is always a disaster. Stuff is everywhere. I am over stuff. I am at work now and I still smell a little bit good and a little bit bad.

These are the adventures of tiny house living. In a church.

Amen.

Kara

P.s. We are moving soon! Stay tuned!

“An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.” G.K. Chesterton

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering… Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.” – Romans 12:1-2 Pretty sure in this one, God is talking about brushing your teeth barefoot in your jammies in front of the Easter choir.

You can read more about our tiny house living here. In that post, pre-newborn, things were still looking fairly clean. I may have also cleaned up for you a bit that time. We’ve rearranged and here is the new normal. Don’t judge me. God says it’s not nice, and we live in his house.

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Honey, I Want To Love You Like This

Him.

His gaze shifts as she rises from the table. He puts a hand on her chair. Steadies it as she scoots back. She makes her way across the room. He looks past his beef tenderloin and gnocchi dinner. Past the vodka on ice, three olives, in the martini glass. She’s just headed 20 feet to the restaurant restroom, but he doesn’t take his eyes off her.

“You still watch her like that?” my husband comments.

“62 years,” he replies. “Gotta make sure nothing happens to her.”

Her.

She wakes up early. Gets the coffee going. His with just a little cream. She likes it black. She brings him his mug and then layers up on the sweaters and jackets, hats and scarves, and gloves to ward off the fall mountain chill. They are headed outside to watch the hot air balloons take off. It is balloon festival weekend in Snowmass. They take their place on the berm, side by side. The sun has just risen. The same fire that fills the balloons to make them rise lights up her eyes. She waits with awestruck anticipation. Like a child. Like someone who has only seen a hot air balloon once in their life. Or twice. Or never. The balloons begin to ascend. Colors and patterns float up and speckle the morning sky.

“Oh look Vin,” she says. “Aren’t they beautiful!”

Him.

The cruise ship had lots of options to offer its senior citizens on port days. Historical tours. Boat rides. Bird watching. Bingo. There was the all you can eat buffet and the lounge chairs on the deck that were good for reading books about the war and retirement. Then there was also this… the option to participate in an oceanfront yoga class. The sun was hot that day and the sea water crystal clear. He’d never done yoga. Wasn’t very flexible. Was on the backside of 80 and had forgotten to pack his yoga pants. It was no matter. He knew something. He knew that life is a grand adventure and to really live it sometimes you just have to say yes. Even if that means a little down dog in the sand.

Her.

She stops to the side of the crowded brick walking street. Turtleneck peeking past the scoop of her sweater. It’s a warm summer day in Barcelona. She reaches into her purse and pulls something out. It’s a little green bottle. Jim Beam. She unscrews the top and puts the plastic to her mouth, the olive skin of her taut cheekbones shines in the sunlight. She doesn’t even take a sip. Just lets the liquid touch her lips. “For the cough,” she says, a twinkle in her winking eye. There are people bustling all around us. Street performers. Tourists. Locals in a hurry. Vendors hawking their wares. Most don’t notice grandma and her airplane sized bottle. Those who do, smile. This same bottle has been in her purse for two weeks. Grandpa let’s out a breath and his lips curl up when he looks in her direction. I could tell what he was thinking. “That’s my girl.”

Them.

After 62 years of marriage there is no him and no her anymore. Not in the “I’ve lost my own identity” kind of way, but in the, “I am nothing without my teammate,” kind of way. They are what love can look like when you say yes. On repeat.

After 80 plus years of life there is still no “we’re too old,” with them. There’s just, “what do you need?” and “how can we help?” and “what fun can we have?” They are what life can look like when you say yes. On repeat.

Need a last-minute Santa for the Christmas Eve church service? “You bet,” he said, “but not unless Mrs. Claus is by my side. 62 years. Not going to change that now.” Want hundreds of homemade cookies made for your wedding? “Sure thing,” she says. “With his help we’ll get it done.” Could use some new shelves for your kitchen cabinets? “I’ve never used an electric saw before,” he said, “but I will figure it out. ” (Okay that one actually reeeeaaaalllllly scared me, and took a slice out of our patio table).

You probably think these stories of love and adventure are sweet?

You probably hope some day this is you?

Please hear this.

It can be.

Someday you can be them.

Because once upon a time they were you.

There were nights when he worked late. Times he just needed a beer with the boys. There were days when she got tired of the kids and the laundry and doing the same damn things all the time. They stressed about money and paying the bills. They needed a vacation. They worried about things, like whether or not to take that new job, trade in that old car, and where to send the kids to school. They made new friends and lost touch with old. They got short with each other. They fought. They made up. There were days when they went to bed mad and woke up mad and there were nights when one of them slept on the couch.

They got from where we are to where they are and here’s how they did it.

They said yes.

Yes to God. Yes to each other. Yes to adventure.

Husbands, can you be like this? Wives, can we be like this? Will you join me in the yes parade?

Let’s drink coffee and watch balloons fly and hold hands in the sunrise when our hair is gray and our skin has wrinkles and I wear turtlenecks and your belly sticks out. Let’s make people smile at the beach, and at weddings, and on the cobblestone streets of Barcelona, and in the jam-packed pews of the church on Christmas Eve. Let’s go big or go home. And when we get to their age, let’s go big and then go home. Because for goodness sake, when we’re 80 and we’ve gone all chaturanga in the sun, we’re going to need a nap.

XO,

Kara

 

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What Love Looks Like

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“I miss my papa,” she said.

It was nighttime. Dark in the room. She rested her tangled head of curls on my shoulder. I held her and did a few paces around the bed before crawling into it. We were staying at my mom’s house in Arizona. We were day 4 into a 10-day stretch of being away without Adam. This was the 3rd night in a row she had whispered this to me, and the whispers continued until Adam arrived.

Adam got to town one night around midnight and sneaked into the room Solana and I were sharing. I had told Ana her daddy would be there in the morning. She was pleasantly surprised when she woke up in the middle of the night to find him lying next to her. She spoke to him with quiet and giddy excitement. She made him stick out his arm so she could nest into the crux of his armpit. He hugged her tight. He was love wrapped around her.

I smiled into my pillow. “This is what love looks like,” I thought.

At first blush this little encounter probably seems unremarkable. A child loving and missing their parent is a given. Or at least I had always thought so. Instead, I stand as a witness to a brokenhearted father who poured his love out to a little girl who wanted nothing to do with him.

You see, Ana came to us with chapters of mistrust for men already written in her life’s storybook. At a year and a half she had been burned and had learned her lesson. Men were no good. Men hurt people. Men were something to run from.

I remember a night not so long ago when I stood in the kitchen with my husband. We were new to parenting. New to foster parenting. We were tired. Beat down. Uncertain what the future would hold. Uncertain we were doing anything right. Ana was sleeping and though Adam is a man who is strong and steady he looked at me with tears in his eyes. He was deflated. A well of untapped hope and love and unmet expectations for fatherhood was finally bubbling over.

“Your kid is not supposed to hate you,” Adam choked. “This is not how first time fatherhood is supposed to feel.”

I ached for him. This was a path he was walking alone. For months I was the one who got to hold our daughter and hug her. I dealt out love and felt its warmth returned. I was the one she ran to, cried for, and wouldn’t let go of. She was looking for someone to feel safe with and I was her girl.

I played babies and blocks while Adam did the dishes and the laundry. I gave baths and got smiles while Adam walked the dog in the cold and took out the trash in the snow. Adam worked behind the scenes to keep things in our house together. Our daughter hardly noticed him.

In the beginning Adam would reach for Ana often. Time and time again she recoiled, or screamed at him, or ran away. She hit Adam, pinched him, and pulled his hair. If he dared to pick her up she flew into hysterics. He quickly learned and started to reach for her a little less. He gave her time and space to heal. He never stopped reaching altogether though, and if ever there was the off chance that she was willing to give just a little something, he was right there to relish in her love and let it sustain him until the next time.

On occasion Adam would let us know he was hurting. Mostly he just kept his head down and loved like he does. Quietly. Persistently. With the hope but not the expectation that he would be loved in return. He kept on doing the dishes. He took out a lot of poopy diapers. He did not give up.

My husband’s patience with our daughter has taught me more about God’s love for us than anything I’ve ever read or seen or heard about before. Day after day God washes our dirty laundry and throws out our poopy diapers. So often we don’t even notice. But He is there. Loving like my husband did. Quietly. Persistently. With the hope but not the expectation that we would love him in return.

I think it’s time to stop running. I think it’s time to let your daddy love you.

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XO,

Kara

Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not give up. It never fails. – said at every wedding ever

 

All of the pictures in this post were taken by the lovely and talented Melissa Young, who just so happens to be Solana’s auntie and my sister. Thank you Mel. You are THE BEST!!

http://www.melissayoungphotography.com

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Daughter, This is Who You Are

A story about the honest, imperfect, messy love in adoption.

Hugs for Momma on Adoption Day. Photo cred to Adam Gilbert

Daughter,

It is the middle of the night. Your newborn brother is sleeping soundly next to me. I should be taking advantage of that by trying to sleep myself, but I can’t. There are things you need to know. Things you might wonder about when you are 12, or 15, or 20. Things I need to say before time turns the answers to your questions about memories and conversations and reasons why into foggy hues of grey.

November 24th, 2014 was your adoption hearing. You would no longer be “Little A,” a number in the state’s foster care system, or a child in limbo.

November 24th was the day we would be recognized for the family we had become.

November 24th was one of the best days of your daddy and I’s life.

November 24th was the day you would get a new name.

I had visions of the perfect celebration for your adoption day. I should have known. Instead, your adoption day turned out a lot like how adoptions really are.  It turned out a lot like how life really is. It was messy. And honest. And imperfect.

And it was beautiful.

Adoption Day!

“You wish to change your daughter’s name to Solana Alejandra Gilbert?” the judge inquired from the front of the courtroom.

You had skipped your nap that day and you were loaded up on a party weekend’s worth of sugar. There was a substantial audience of state workers present to witness our new beginning. We had tried to explain to you in advance what was going on, but it had to be more than a bit confusing. Any of these things may have thrown you off that day. Or maybe it was just the fact that you were two. At any rate, it was a court proceeding to write home about (or maybe one to keep a secret!).

That day your dad and I sat at the same desk your bio mom had occupied throughout her involvement with the court. The judge hammered us with questions about ourselves and our intentions and our family. During this time you made it your mission to distract us and everyone else from the business at hand. You fidgeted and squirmed, whined and loudly demanded your way, and splashed drinking water all over the expensive wooden desk. The floor beneath you was littered with your deconstructed paper cup. You paid zero attention to the judge’s questions or to my pleas for you to behave.

And then the judge came to the name change question.

“Adam and Kara, you wish to change your daughter’s name to Solana Alejandra Gilbert?”

Your over-stimulated little head shot up from your busy work. “I noooooottt Solana Gilbert,” you proclaimed to the world loudly. You said it with conviction. You looked the judge in the black robe straight in the eye.

Well… Crap.

I flinched.

The judge raised an eyebrow.

Your daddy kept his composure. “Yes. We do.”

Only a few months have passed since that day and you have already embraced your new name. We know this because when Santa Claus called out “Solana Gilbert” at your preschool, you bolted out of your seat and ran to his lap to retrieve your gifts. Your dad smirked. I know what he was thinking. “Who’s Solana Gilbert now?”

Your reaction in court on adoption day probably sums up adoption pretty well. It’s not lost on your dad or I that one of the best days of our lives may carry with it some heaviness for you. While your adoption day is a day to celebrate the making of our family, it is also forever a day that will represent the loss of your bio family. Your dad and I get that. We want you to know that however you feel about it throughout the years, it’s okay. And your feelings do not have to be a secret. You already made them clear when you were two. :o)

A messy beautiful adoption day in all its realness.

I am not sure if it was “Solana” or “Gilbert” that you were reacting to in court that day. I don’t think you were sure either. I do want you to know that changing your first name was a tough decision and one that your dad and I struggled through making. We spent months talking it over. Ultimately, here is why we did what we did…

Let me start by saying it really makes no difference what your name was yesterday, is today, or will be tomorrow. We love the person you are, the heart you have, and the fact that we get to call you daughter. Your name does not change YOU.

But…. we did reason that perhaps your name would impact the way you saw yourself. We wanted to give you a name that we felt fit who you were. We wanted to give you a name that would tell you what you meant to us.

There is a story in the Bible where God gives the gift of a name to a dude named Simon. Jesus says to Simon, “now I am going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock.”

I’ve always been a little jealous of this situation.

Some people… many people… spend their whole lives trying to figure out who they “really are.” Simon was lucky enough to have it stated for him by the freakin’ God of the universe. God said, “you are a rock,” (the rock on which I will build my church) and Simon left the conversation with a new name and a sense of purpose.

We chose the name Solana for you because it means sunshine. That is “who you are, really are.” (Unless that is not who you want to be and then when you are old enough we will talk.)

You are our sunshine

We also felt a new name would befit your new future.

Throughout our interactions with your bio parents one thing struck us. We could not help but notice how consistently alone they were.

In one particular meeting I watched as your lawyer delivered unpleasant scenario after unpleasant scenario to your bio mother. Your mom sat by herself on the lonely side of the room in a cold metal chair. She was told that she had made progress towards getting you back but that it probably was not good enough. She wiped a tear away. Nobody was there to hold her hand, pat her knee, or pass her a tissue.

My eyes were looking at your mother in that chair, Ana, but my heart was seeing you. Like a scene from A Christmas Carol, what could have been your future played out before us. Your papa and I left there that day determined. The lonely side of the room was for the girl you were and could have been. The lonely side of the room was not intended for the girl you were going to be.

Your father and I know we cannot control the decisions you will make as you grow up. You are your own person. But here is the deal. If as you get older you find yourself in a mess… a mess that involves a cold metal chair… my darling you better pull up two more. The girl named Solana will not be sitting by herself. Your papa will be holding your left hand, your momma will be holding your right, and daughter, I dare someone to tell you that you aren’t good enough.

This is who you are. Really are. You are Solana. You are our sunshine.

We love you,

Your Parents

 

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Living Thanksgiving Day With A Black Friday Heart

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The biggest shopping day of the year is exactly one day after we proclaim to be most thankful for what we already have.

Did that register?

The irony is thicker than mom’s gravy. Our Thanksgiving thankfulness seems cheaper than Black Friday’s cheapest deals. It’s like we can’t be done with giving thanks fast enough.

And sadly, the story is nothing new. It’s a humanity problem as old as Adam and Eve. The commercials and the web ads and the glossy mailbox catalogs are just modern day apples that distract from what is really important. It’s hard to see the apple for what it is when you are in the midst of the story though. Isn’t it?

So before you send your mother-in-law off to buy your family a new Vita-Mix, when you have a perfectly good working blender in your cabinet, put the latest Apple product (pun intended) on your want list, or set out for Best Buy and Toys R Us to make all your child’s Christmas dreams come true, I hope my own Black Friday story will have you giving a little thought to the kinds of things you want to fill your home with.

It is a story called “Black Friday Heart,” and it goes like this…

In a few weeks we will bring our second child home from the hospital. For months I could be heard telling my husband (and my co-workers, and parents, and friends, and anyone who would listen), “If I have to bring this baby home to our one-bedroom apartment I am going to flip.” It had been the same old complaint for a long time.

First the one-bedroom abode was perfect for us. It was an answer to prayer. It has cathedral ceilings, is surrounded by gardens and groves, and you have to cross a little bridge over a creek to get to our door.

Then, after a while, our home became not enough. It was only one-bedroom. My husband needed an office. Our guests needed a guest-room.

Adam's office and our cozy dining room. :o)

Adam’s office and our cozy dining room. :o)

When 18-month-old Little A came to live with us the one-bedroom was really not enough. Where would we put our daughter?

Our room and Little A's nook and trundle bed. The bright side - How fun that we get to have a trundle bed in our adult room. We don't even have to make it in the morning. Just push it out of sight.

Our room and Little A’s nook and trundle bed. How fun that we get to have a trundle bed in our adult room. Right? We don’t even have to make it in the morning. Just push it out of sight. :o)

Now we have a newborn about to join the mix and here we still are, in our one-bedroom place, with me pulling my hair out.

The baby's nursery, the dog's room, and Little A and baby's closet all tucked onto a wall in the Living Room. I mean, what's a "Living Room" if you're not "living" in it?

The baby’s nursery, the dog’s room, and Little A and baby’s closet all tucked onto a wall in the Living Room. I mean, what’s a “Living Room” if you’re not “living” in it?

It is simple math. Two adults + two kids + one dog does not = one-bedroom. This was not going to do. This was just NOT ENOUGH.

For two years I’ve been praying hard and complaining harder for something more. I’ve asked others to pray hard for us too. Surely God would provide. He was no idiot. He had to know. We needed MORE.

Can you sense where this story is headed?

God knew what we needed all right.

He knew momma needed a new attitude. He knew momma needed to sit down at the Thanksgiving table and stew in some thankfulness for a while. He knew momma needed to get rid of her Black Friday heart.

And this momma has come to learn that a Black Friday heart is the kind of heart only our good God can get rid of.

You guys, after two years of me praying for a new house and asking others to pray too, one morning I woke up and none of my prayers were answered. But. Everything was different.

I woke up and my glass was not just half full. It was over-freaking-flowing. I suddenly began to see our “predicament” and my “problem” as our “adventure” and something “fun.” I suddenly began to see this part of life as I should have seen it all along.

I woke up remembering how the best time of my life so far was when my husband and I spent 4 months together with one backpack on one motorcycle. We had nothing but each other and adventure and a $12 / day food budget. It was awesome.

Me, my love, and the open road. The year was 2010.

Me, my love, and the open road. The year was 2010.

Add a dog and a few little people to the mix and should I choose to see it this way, we are kind of on the same bike now. We don’t have much, we are snuggled up close, and life is still a big adventure.

I did not need a new house. I needed a fresh perspective.

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Sooo thankful for these two! Little A and Papa. Snuggled up close.

Living in this space we are not able to give our children very many things. Things don’t fit in our home.

But here comes the really neat part…

Do you know what we do have space for? (And you do too, no matter how big or small your house.)

Thankfulness. Joy. Kindness. Appreciation. Love. Adventure. Patience. Fun.

These things are FREE. And they are so good. And we don’t need to buy a bigger or fancier house for them.

Pretty cool how for the important stuff, there is always enough room, don’t you think?

If you too are missing out on an “adventure” because of a Black Friday heart, I hope my story will help you reconsider your perspective. I also hope that this Black Friday we will all remember to cherry pick only the very best deals, keeping in mind that the best things in life are free.

This holiday, let’s fill our homes with the stuff that matters.

From a momma who sometimes forgets that to raise a happy family all you need is love. And, if you want to have a lot of fun, a cardboard box…

Happy Turkey Day!

Kara

P.S. I will let you know how this family-of-four-in-a-one-bedroom-adventure turns out. Wawho!

P.S.S. I hope it’s clear enough that this is not a post against big houses (or people who own them). Rather, against black and lustful hearts. A big house just happened to be one source of mine…

 

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Doing projects at the dining room turned art table.

More art. This time in baby boy's room. We needed to mix up the surroundings to inspire creativity, ya know.

More art. This time in baby boy’s “room.” We needed to mix up the surroundings to inspire creativity, ya know.

The Privilege of Being Mommy

I used to take the concept of motherhood for granted. Like it was something that was owed to me. Like the moment I decided I wanted to be a mommy my husband and I would just pull the trigger and bam! – new title – “Mommy” I would be.

It didn’t work out like that. I now know that for many, it does not work out like that.

After three miscarriages I was faced with the harsh reality that motherhood was not something I would be able to control. And after three times the loss you would think that Adam and I would have turned next to a family planning method that was a little more… I don’t know… predictable.

Instead, God had us sign up to be foster parents.

It seems his timing was right. We were not even through the entire certification process and a child was placed with us. In no time at all we had a foster daughter in our home.

I had not had the chance to be mommy to our lost babies.

Was I mommy now?

I had been yearning for the moniker of mother, but the despair of miscarriage had taught me that motherhood was not something I was entitled to.

I was about to meet another mother who, for different reasons, was learning the same hard lesson.

………….

Have I told you about the first time I met Little A’s bio mom?

………….

Little A was placed in our home on a Saturday night. The caseworkers left and we didn’t speak with anyone from the department until Monday morning. On a side note, that was weird. They dropped the child off and then trusted us enough to wait 36 hours before checking back in! But I digress.

Monday morning rolled around and the case worker called. She asked how it was going. She said we needed to get A to a visit with her mother. That day. Like within the next two hours. This was a fast intro into the world of needing to be flexible and, just like with the miscarriages, having no control.

Visit with mom? No problem. In between trying to research and set up daycare for the very next day we would bring A down to the DHS office for a visit.

I presented myself and the little girl to a locked door. The buzzer clicked. I met the case worker in the hallway.

“Should I come into the room?” I asked. “Like, should I meet A’s mom? Or should I stay out of it and let you do the hand off?”

“It’s up to you,” the case worker replied.

That is not what I wanted to hear. There were actually some things I did not want control over. We had to make so many new parenting decisions I just wanted one more to be made for us.

“Well, does she want to meet me?” I inquired. I was curious about her, but scared. What would I say? How would she act? Would she be combative? Crazy? Drugged out? Hateful? What sort of villain was she?

“It might put her at ease to see who A is living with,” the case worker suggested. “Having A taken away has been traumatic for her.”

I reasoned with myself that despite my own fears, maybe if A’s mom saw that I was a fairly normal looking human being she would feel more comfortable. Not to mention, I was more than a little curious about her.

The case worker led me to the closet-sized grey box of an office space “play-room” where A’s mother was waiting. My heartbeat quickened. This was going to be so awkward! The baby was clinging to my neck like I was a life raft. I took a deep breath before I rounded the corner.

A slight adolescent girl was sitting on the edge of her seat. Wearing black jeans and a hoodie with a messy topknot, she looked like your average teenager waiting outside of the principal’s office. She was not combative. Not crazy. Not drugged out. Not hateful. She was just there waiting for people with more power than her to tell her what was next. I could see my own anxiety reflected in her eyes. This was uncharted territory for us both.

I couldn’t help but notice the baby did not reach for her. Did not even acknowledge she knew her, save for the tightened grip on my neck and hair. I held this mother’s baby close and sat down in the windowless room.

I said hello. I introduced myself. I told her what a gorgeous daughter she had. I think I told her she was pretty too. (Because THAT is important at a meeting like this.)

There is no script for this sort of thing. At least not that I know of. If there had been I would have forgotten it anyway. My thoughts were spinning a hundred miles an hour but nothing productive was coming out of them.

I asked the mother if she had any questions for me. She couldn’t think of any. I asked her what her daughter liked to eat and a few other questions I had been pondering since Saturday night.

The mother’s responses were measured. I detected only the slightest quiver in her voice. She seemed resilient beyond her years.

The baby squirmed in my lap and snuggled in closer to me. The room got quiet. Was this mother yearning to hold her child? Was she mad that I was? Was she embarrassed that there was no connection? It didn’t seem like it, but what did I know?

We looked down at the floor. More silence.

The case worker jumped in. She was new to this too but seemed to know what to do. “Kara, A’s mother is concerned about what the foster home is like. She said she is picturing a place where adults are just trying to make money and take in as many children as possible. Almost like a puppy mill.”

“Oh God no. She’s our first and only foster child.” I looked at her intently, trying to reassure her. “Not to mention,” I thought but didn’t say, “foster care would be a pretty non-lucrative way to make money.”

After a few more minutes of nobody really knowing what to do the time came for me to leave. The birth mother would get one hour to spend supervised time with her daughter. I peeled A from me. She screamed, cried and pleaded with her arms like I was handing her over to a doctor for a round of injections. I pulled the Band-Aid off quick, turned my back, and walked out the door.

I beelined it to my car. I kept my head down. Oh how I cried.

Is the maternal instinct so strong that after 36 hours with this child I couldn’t bear to hand her over? Couldn’t stomach her tears?

Was I mommy now?

She had clung to me.

Children have instincts. They know what they need and they know who is giving it to them. Just four days after having A in our care she looked up at me with her Hershey Kiss eyes and she called me momma. So many questions. That felt good, but should I “allow” it to happen? Was that “ok?”

Was I mommy now?

I sought counsel from the caseworkers.

“What should I do? What should she call us?”

They too seemed unsure about the whole thing. Here was yet another unwanted opportunity to exercise our decision making power. We didn’t know what would be best for her in the long run. Somebody, please, tell us what to do!

Adam and I reasoned…

This child was just learning to speak. She didn’t have many words. Teaching her our names felt too formal. She was one-and-a-half for God’s sake. The child needed a mother. And a father. Didn’t she?

I had just been to a talk given by Susie Krabacher, a former playboy playmate and the owner of an orphanage in Haiti. She said she didn’t want the children in the orphanage calling her mother because she didn’t want them to grow up thinking that a mother was someone who came into and out of a child’s life.

She had a good point. We didn’t want that for Little A either. But, we also didn’t want Little A to grow up without knowing the joy of having parents.

A few days later when I picked A up from daycare, older kids in her class called out, “A’s mommy is here.”

Was I supposed to sit them down and explain the whole morbid situation to them?

“Well, technically kids, even though Adam and I drop her off and pick her up, pack her lunches and give her hugs, you don’t have it quite right. It would be more appropriate if you referred to me as….”

Ha. Yeah right.

So while I still wasn’t sure if I was a mommy I decided to just run with it.

And run we did, for the life of a foster child is busy. For the next few weeks Adam or I drove Little A to and from visits with her parents. On a few occasions we stayed with the bio mom or dad through the entire thing.

I was surprised that it was never that uncomfortable with her parents. There were moments, for sure. Like the first time A called me “momma” in front of her momma. I cringed, held my breath, and didn’t know what to do.

The crisis was avoided before it began. The case-aid came to the rescue. She addressed the birth mother with something like, “since Kara and Adam are playing such a vital role in A’s life right now, and A is just learning to talk, it is appropriate that she sees them as a mommy and daddy.”

The mother nodded like she understood. “I don’t mind,” she said.

I believed her.

I wish I could say I was as mature as this young girl.

Three visits a week continued and we got into the routine of the visits happening during the workday. The case-aide would pick A up and drop her off during daycare hours. Weeks passed without Adam or I seeing A’s birth parents.

I could not help but wonder, “what did Little A call her mother?”

A few times I tried to pry. I asked our daughter how her day was. One time I asked her what she had done that day with her mommy. She looked at me confused. “My mommy!” she exclaimed, pointing to me. I attempted to suppress a satisfied grin.

On another occasion I asked A how her play time with her mother was, but this time I called her mother by name. She responded with something completely off topic, like toddlers do.

And then…

After eleven months of calling ME mommy and one week before her biological parents’ trial I asked, “What did you do today?”

“Um,” she said, “I went to the pool with my mommy!”

The smug smile I had worn in conversations past was nowhere to be found. Indeed, she had gone to the pool that day with her biological mother.

Was I still mommy now?

Little A’s statement was bitter-sweet. Two days after the mommy comment and five days before the case went to trial A’s biological mother relinquished her rights.

I was finally going to be a mommy!

Except that I already was.

And I had been for a long time.

And now, despite the relinquishment, A’s bio mommy was too.

Here is what I’ve learned through the foster to adopt process: custody is something that the court can order. The privilege of being “mommy” is not. Our small daughter knows that better than anyone.

I am beyond words excited to be the “on paper” mommy of Little A. I am also hopeful for the future of our relationship with Little A’s bio mom. We are proud of her for the progress she has made and grateful that our daughter has a courageous woman to look up to. God is good.

Whether you are a “normal” mother, a foster-mother, a step-mother, an in-law, an adopted mother, a bio mother, a yet-to-be mother, or whatever else I am missing, motherhood is not something any of us are entitled to.

I pray that not one of us takes for granted what a privilege it is to be called “mommy.”

Xo,

Kara

p.s. The pictures on this post of our family almost did not happen. They were taken just weeks after Little A came into our life and there was so much that was uncertain. I had so many doubts. Were we allowed family photos with this little girl who may not be with us very long? I watched on Facebook as friends posted snapshots of themselves with their adorable babies and children. Was I allowed this same joy?

Was I a fraud? Or, was  I mommy?

Now that we are where we are I am so glad I let my sister convince me to do this shoot!