“What’s your love language, Mrs G?”

That’s the question of the summer, I think.

My summer, in a way, was started with that question.  In May, a lovely young woman asked me that question at a “Theology on Tap” evening.  I kind of blinked.  I said, “I don’t know….” and then I rambled a bit, thinking out loud.  She, being young and smart and quick, said, “Oh! You’re ‘Acts of Service’!”  And I said, “Hmm…maybe….

Thus, I knew I’d better finally go and read the book.  Nothing like being stumped by a twenty-something to light a fire under me.  And so I did.

This book, it’s been around for a bit.  I knew of it, and it’s companions.  But I’d not taken the time to sit and read it through, even though it was not long.  Frankly, I kind of blew it off.  There are SO many theories and modes and ways to approach parenting stuff that it’s simply impossible to be on top of it all.  I’d been absorbed in the therapeutic parenting realm for a good while now and this seemed so simplistic that I could get a good gloss from the title; more excuses, not my mode, and so on.

But her question made me think I might need to give it another chance.  What I found was this: there is quite a bit there worth thinking about and, more, worth applying.  It’s not the be all and end all answer to everything.  But it’s another very good set of tools in the toolbox and I’m all about that! I’ll take every tool I/we can get!

So, to put it in the short gloss here: love languages are the modes that we each have, instinctively, naturally, in which we understand, give, and receive love.  It’s how we communicate love.  Sounds drippy? Maybe, but it’s got some real substance and value to consider.  We are all about communication in our  house.  We have one kid who is language impaired.  We have others who just don’t have great communication skills.  Plus, we have multiple teenagers….talk about communication snafu’s! Ok, kidding, kinda, maybe not so much…..  So, if I can find ways to their love languages, and speak to them more clearly???  What’s not to love?

The five love languages, as put forth by Chapman and Campbell, are, in no particular order: Touch, Time, Words (of affirmation), Gifts, and Acts of Service.

First, as it’s always all about me…I realized, that savvy young gal was right.  My love language IS Acts of Service.  Which explains so  much.  It’s why I DO for my family (Which works out well, as there is SO MUCH to do.  God’s no dummy).  It’s why I am tickled pink to cook favorites of returning college boys, and to give second helpings to guests.  It’s why I get so bent when I return home from the market and the kitchen has been trashed even though I asked to have it tidied.  It’s why I get my feelings hurt when no one, ever, sees the laundry bucket on the stairs and takes it up, and why the rogue shoes are no big deal until they make me come unglued.  {Why yes, I’m just all that petty, thanks for asking.}  But now I know, the temper is because I feel like no one is caring about me enough to do for me…when the reality is, they just don’t speak my love language.  All this time it’s like I was talking to them in Greek and they were just smiling and nodding because they couldn’t understand anyhow.  So I’d get bent and upset and they’d be dismayed  -wondering what was my problem and why I was so upset?  Because they didn’t/don’t understand my love language and I didn’t even realize it was mine.

That very insight made me realize I’d better figure out theirs, and quick.  Because no one likes being misunderstood and/or feeling unloved.

So, I’ve been evaluating and testing it out.  And I’ve got folks across the spectrum of love languages, no surprise.  I’m the only Acts of Service (bummer, but best to know).  I’ve got 4-6 Touch, 3-4 Time, 3 Words, 2 gifts.  If that math doesn’t seem to add up, it’s because you can have more than one love language.  And of course, there is overlap of for us all and everyone needs all of them…but the primary language is one that is WELL worth finding.  And using.

WIth this new perspective, I’ve (we, tom and I) have been trying to speak the languages of the kids, and each other.  The love languages.  Not that we didn’t before, but intentionally, more consistently.  It’s a work in progress….

But here is what we’ve noticed.  I’m not gonna go into each kid, privacy and all, but a few high points: Gabriel, who has moved into a phase of whiney and difficult over the past number of months…..is a total Touch speaker.  It explains why he has taken to careening into us and he must DIVE into a lap if it’s available and even swifter if it show signs of occupation by any other kid.  His way of getting that touch has been to bump and thump and push us around, literally, in his five year old rough and tumble way of learning a language of love.  Discovering this, we’ve ramped up the cuddles and hugs and he has been simply blossoming under it.  Not that we didn’t squeeze him and tell him we love him before, but we have stopped fussing about his careening around into us all and instead directing it toward more functional touch.  On his part, he has ramped up the affirmations and is visibly relishing the cuddles.  He crawls into my lap in the rocking chair and says “I want to rock with you forever.”  He says, “I love you you,” more and first.  His attachment needs are being met, better.  Age and stage? Maybe? Better communication in his love language? Oh yeah.

The others too, they are noticeably responding to the touches on the shoulders, the passing hugs.  They open up with the time and words, focused.  The gifts is a tricky tricky thing in a house of hypervigilant kids (with a sharp eye for equity)..but we are brainstorming on meeting that need and seeing their gifts to us when they happen.  Marking them.  The intention to speak each kid/person’s love language is a very helpful tack; it opens up paths that were narrow, makes them wider.

The defensive side of me wants to say that we’ve done all these things, the touch, the words, the time spent.  We did. We do.  But when you KNOW it’s the language that your kid receives and give love…it takes on a different depth.  And intention.  And that makes a difference.  Is our house filled with rainbows and unicorns now? Um, no.  But is there more growth in the garden of connections and is communication a bit easier to acheive? Yes, I think so. It’s all a continuum, of course.  Teens are still prickly, but might be a tad easier to soothe, to reach through the static.  Those kisses and  hugs and hand holdings are even more meaningful…what’s not to love?  The trash waiting to go out and the rogue shoes? They are still there, but now I can remind myself that it’s just that I speak greek, and not that they don’t care.  And I can switch to another language instead.

Becoming multi-lingual….it’s paramount in my big family.  Even now, I’m learning.

Open Letter to the New Novice Moms

{…and the Dads too….but, most especially, to the Moms.}

Today is the day.  Today is the day that you are taking your son to the Novitiate; or are bidding him goodbye as he sets out.  I don’t presume to know you, of course.  However, I think I might be able to understand some of what you might be feeling.  Not all, surely, as we are all different; our families are unique.  But, even so…I want you to know that you’ve been on my mind and in my prayers and will be.  Your son is setting out on a great new journey; the adventure, literally, of a lifetime.  It’s exciting and wonderful and amazing and scary and nervous making and a little uncertain maybe, and maybe even more…bittersweet.  I get it.

Now you might be just so ready for your son, younger or older, to make this step forward.  You might be able to slap him on the back with a hearty “best wishes” and big happy hug and grin at him as turns.  But, maybe your brow is furrowed and your heart is cracking just at bit as you wonder what this all means – to you and your family, how’s it going to work, will he be ok?

And I want to tell you this: I wish I could sit you down at my table and pour you some coffee, or, even better, some wine, and give you something good to eat and talk with you…compare notes, chat a bit.

I wish I had someone to tell me what it’s like, last year when we opened our eyes, this day.

So, today, if  I could, I’d tell you:  Yes, this might be one of the hard things you’ll do.  God is asking a big thing of your son, a radical thing.  Thus, by extension, he is asking it of you as well.  BUT….he doesn’t ask this of you and leave you hanging.  Grace abounds.  Seriously.  I promise.  Grace abounds.  You do have to walk the walk, you have to make the drive, do the drop off (be it at airport or St. Gertrude’s).  You have to gulp and blink away your tears and swallow your heart as you hug that young man goodbye and kiss him.  But it’s gonna be ok.  It’s gonna be better than that…

To tell you how it went for me {and of course it might be totally different for you!}: Last year, I’m telling you, I was a MESS!!! I was sure of this for him and happy for him too.  But I was also practically sick with tension and tired, eyes swollen like a bullfrog from crying the night before at our farewell dinner…sleep deprived because I can’t sleep with a crying headache and swollen eyes.  I leaked tears as we prayed in the car, I was tense and jangley.  My husband and my son were too, tho Chris was also excited; tempered tho by the difficult family/sibling goodbyes.  So, as we got to St. Gertrudes, I had to remind  myself to breath and then we turned the corner and saw the white tents.  Really, lovely against the bright green lawn.  We saw white splotches against the green: Dominicans in habits meandering about.  Breathe….  Then suddenly, Fr James swooped toward us and shook Chris’ hands, Toms, and tried to shake mine but I burst into tears. He made a joke and we all laughed.  I wasn’t and you won’t be the first to blink tears or force a smile.  Then they took us on a tour of the priory, and all the words slipped past my ears, my heart was scanning every detail: the rooms, the old novices to see how they were, what kind of men, and so on.  Very soon, it was time to go and so we did.  That last hug was searing….but… we did it, we got in the car, we drove off. Were we kinda robotic by then? Um, yeah.  Did we crash the car in our blinding tears? No.  But, Tom was driving.  Ahem.  Still.

I write all this not to ratchet up your emotions, but to confirm them.  I get it.  And to tell you the most important part of this.  Today the worst part of this.  Period.  And it’s fast and it’s done.  Like ripping a bandaid in a way.  YOWCH!  Gasp!  But then, the task is done.  You’ve delivered your son into God’s hands; this priory, his house.  Well done!  Faithful, hopeful you.

All day, especially, grace abounds, only to increase in this transitional year.  I promise.  And your son? Well, he is in [spiritual] boot camp of sorts; but it’s one he chose and it will lead him to be the man he was made to be, either way.  New ways, new folks, new modes, new tasks.  Some of it is so beautiful it made me grin just to hear him when he would call and describe it.  Some of the life is a chore, literally.  (He will develop great expert skill sets: dishes, laundry, mopping, minor carpentry, landscaping, tutoring….)  And, if this life is for him, he will grow into it.  He will.  It’s so very cool, actually.  If it’s not for him, he will figure it out and that in itself is a great gift and part of the process.  This process, this novitiate, works.  It’s our process too, the whole year of loving him and connecting to him in a deeper, more prayerful way.  A process that actually does bring a closer joyful connection.  I promise.

And for the practical concerns? Those parishioners are so great! They feed the Novices, take them under their wings like their own sons, they bring them cookies and cakes and hug them.  The priory cook is a great cook, plus terrific and caring and kind.  They don’t go hungry, I’m just saying.  The priory is not plush but it is sufficient, totally, to their needs.  They have medicine and privacy and time to be goofy and exercise, they walk into town together, they can watch a big game in the common room.  They laugh, all the time.  They are funny!  Let me repeat, they laugh, so much!  They study, they pray, they serve, they sing. The rigor of the ordered days strengthens them, even as they adjust. It conditions them, seriously, just as if they were training for a marathon.  They are training.  They are laying the foundation for a Dominican life.  As dear Fr. Benedict told me, “The foundations they lay in the novitiate are absolutely necessary to live a (happy) Dominican life.

And so, they begin.  You do too.  You’re a Dominican mom now. Your sons just increased in number, tenfold.  See, that’s the beginning of it in the most tangible way: Grace abounding.

It’s all gonna be ok.  It’s all gonna be better than ok, it’s gonna be wonderful.  And, for what it’s worth, I’m praying for  you, all the way through.

Michele

ps, if you’d like to reach me, just email {info in “about me”}.  

Novices knocking on our door…

…and so they did!

That visit I wrote about? Well, this past Saturday was the day!

We had ten Novice brothers and their Novice Master, Father James Sullivan, come to visit at our house.  They dropped in to see us, as promised, on their way back up the St. Gertrude’s.  We spent the morning prepping what we could (because some things just can’t be spiffed up in a jiffy, like the balls stuck way up in the high roof gutters…)  Little Gabey was beside himself with excitment, literally bouncing and careening around the house all morning.  They showed up later than expected; once again reinforcing the fact that Dominicans do things their own way (which is part of their unique charm, seriously).  Gabey started some serious whining and sulking and I have to admit to a bit of pacing myself.

Finally, they arrived! Literally, knocking on our door at the same time that Gabey ran out to jump them and we all felt time freeze for just a half second.  Then I ran, (yes, literally) out to see them and ran smack into Peter Joseph for a huge hug.  Maybe a tear or two but all simple grinning clapping happy. I hugged each and every Novice.  They hugged me back.  I hugged Fr. James and whispered my thanks into his ears.  Then they all were tugged and hugged and hustled into the house and more hello’s were said and hugs were passed around.

We sat, we visited, they munched on cheese and fruit and crackers and salami and devoured MamaDo’s brownies and lemonade and iced tea was poured.  Jokes were cracked, stories were told.  Small boys dragged big ones in habits out to play basketball.  Rooms were wandered.

Quiet, private long conversations were impossible but that wasn’t the point of this visit.  This visit was a particular sort of gift.  This visit was to soak in the presence of each other….

…to see the brothers interact, josh, joke, hang out with each other and us too.  To touch base and touch habit, literally.  To feast our, my, eyes on my boy and my other boys by extension…..for I feel something like a mom to them too.  I looked at them with “mom eyes” and hugged them with “mom arms” and got them brownies and milk and coffee just like I do happily for my own.  I’m putting up all our pics, just so you moms and families (if you’re out there) can scour them for your sweet sons….That’s what I’d do too!

Brother Edmund has his eyes on the cheese and crackers…..

Br Allen playing basketball w/ Little Man

Br. Timothy playing with ball with Gabe and Anthony

If any of  you other Novice Mom’s of these boys by chance read this blog…..thank you for sharing your son with us for a few  hours.  It was a pure gift.  And know that I tried to give them a hug with your love in it and a snack with the same care  you might.  I saw them and listened to what they said and what they didn’t say.  And this is what I saw and heard:  These  young men, they are so good.  They are happy.  They are well.  Extrapolating our from my son, and applying to yours:  They have grown into themselves.  They are more themselves,  in a fuller deeper way.  They seemed very bonded together as a community; they seem very ready for first vows.  They are totally ready and excited to see all of their family’s in a month too!  It is so good. It is all good.  I hugged them all again, stand in mom, as they got in the car.  They have phenomenal manners.  And Fr. James is one of the most gracious men I’ve met.

Marta especially loves Fr. James

But, they all left smiling, for what it’s worth.

My stupid grin was on my face all afternoon and softened into a tired happy one later that night.  But it filled my and our hearts.  It gave us all a chance to connect that was everything. Everything.

Two hours, of jokes and hugs and smiles and brownies and wild children scrambling around these great young men.  Bliss.  I am so.  Very. Grateful.

American Girl: times 3

Three Years.

Sost Ahmet.

Trois Ans

Tres Anos.

First Year

Our Marta has, today, been an American girl for three years. We can hardly believe it. The anticipation of this anniversary has made her grin and ponder at length what sort of cake she wants (You didn’t think she’d let this pass, ever, without cake, did you? Of course not!). Happily, this anniversary arrives just past the fourth of July, so we get the benefit of a yearly thematic shirt to bring the anniversary home. You know, a cute flag shirt. To match the cute (but ever changing design request) festive cake.

Second year.

It’s a very personal anniversary, of course. One she marks in a big way, anticipating it for months and in fact one of the reference markers of the calendar in her head. The day is and was watershed day in many ways….the day she set foot on American soil, thus becoming a citizen. It was the day we finally got home after a long long trip; made longer by her fear of flying and crowds and new things, as well as my getting hit hard by Swine Flu in Addis and needing desperately to get home to fully recover. It was the day she stepped into her new family, meeting the kids who stayed at home: her little brothers and her big ones. It was the day she first got her own bed (soon enough to be her own bedroom) and a space of her own …..even as she joined up into a new (strange hard good big) family.

Her life has changed so. She is now in school, she is learning, slowly but with excellent support in the excellent teachers who work so hard in her program. She has begun to relax into things a bit here and there. Some days she even sleeps in past seven! Seriously, that is a much bigger marker of change than you might realize. She has grown physically a bit, but only a bit. She has experienced so many new things. The American culture is still often a mystery to her, tho let’s face it, isn’t it a mystery to us all at times? She adores movies and country music and her dog and big brothers. She does not like fish or snow or heights. She is growing into America – America is slowly seeping into her, bit by bit. She will, however, always retain her Ethiopian-ness. So she gets to swap between those options/cultures at will. And does.

There is more to this day, however, than just the external stuff. This is not just a day of getting a different stamp or passport; though she did. This day was a day of fusing, in many ways. It was the very beginning of her fusing into us and us into her. I choose the term “fusing” because you don’t only ‘form’ a family. It is fused. When you adopt an older child, especially one from hard places and or around the globe…that fusing is literal. It sears. It burns. It is accompanied by tears and grasps and gasps for all members. But also by the flashes of light and color that spark and make you say “Wow!” at their beauty. It takes time. To fuse you have go over and over the seams, laying down the sauter, the binding. It takes time to fuse and cure and set.

But it starts with a beginning, a bright burning torch. And that is today, three years ago. Miss Liberty is more representative than we knew.

She carries the torch.

We carried our girl.

Together, this day, three years ago…they were brought together.

The process of fusing a family began.

Just a few weeks ago at the beach, at her favorite perch on the balcony

And so it continues….three years. American girl.

Jumping for Joy

So I got some fantastic exciting news today.  I was literally jumping for joy and yup, might have cried a wee bit.

Turns out that we might have a quick drop in visit from the Novices this weekend! I know! Haven’t seen  my boy since October…and have been gearing up to go see him in August for first vows.  Another whole post or two, that.  Anyhow, turns out they are helping one of their priests move down to the our town and so the whole crew is coming along to lend a hand, and visit some of their sister Dominicans.  Mercifully, Fr. James has decided that we are on the way home and that they might just be having a craving for some MamaDo’s (the brownies that I make from the recipe of one of Peter Joseph’s best friend’s mom).  So they have asked if it would be too much trouble to stop in for a quick visit, “Just family, no muss no fuss.”  Hmmm….”Um, yeah, yup, I think that would be all right…”  That’s what I said, I’m pretty sure.  All cool and collected like that, just like that.  (Tho, it might, just maybe, have also had a few leaking tears, stupid grin, and gibbering, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” )

gonna do some visiting

 

So it’s a family only quick visit, but with all those brothers and ours too and I am simply giddy in anticipation.  I have been warned to not kill myself cleaning or make too big a fuss.  So I will try, try I tell you, to heed that directive and simply bask in the pure joy of it all.  But I will admit to a little happy dancing around my kitchen this morning when I told the big girls, and that I will be thrilled to be hugging the neck of my other big boy heading home when he arrives in the wee hours of Friday morning.

best brothers

And I’m gearing up: gonna be making multiple batches of MamaDo’s, some for here and some to go!

I can’t wait!

Home Again, Jiggity Jig

So, home again.

I didn’t fall off the end of the earth.  Though you wouldn’t be far off if you had presumed so.  We took the annual trek across to the end of our earth, by which I mean California.  Yup, we had our annual beach vacation/family visit and out there it is pretty much off the grid.  Cell service and wi-fi is pretty much out for the count, so we go mostly low to no tech.  Even if I could find a signal, I was still doing intensive parenting and ‘working’ the vacation. Don’t get me wrong, we had some afternoons of sheer sunny sandy relaxing bliss.  But, a small family place is small with many kids with many issues…or even one or two (or four!) teens.  Thankfully, the beach is big.

At any rate.  Blogging was on hiatus.  Everything was on hiatus except living in the moment.  A gift, even that, the good the bad the ugly….but especially the sandy sunny of it.

Now I face a couple of rigorous thrashing days of time change and reentry as we jump back into real life again.  So, my connected status is still spotty.

But I wanted to check in, for me mostly.  I haven’t fallen off the ends of the earth. Just dipped my toes in the tide waters.

My favorite place on earth

And now I’m back again.  Soon to be musing and sorting my thoughts through my keyboard again.

It’s good to go on vacation. It’s good to see family from afar!  But oh….It’s good to be home!