kariskhaos


Shopping the Middle

imagesIt was a Tuesday night and Scott and I had just come from a local restaurant where we had enjoyed a happy hour special.  Just in case you did not get the significance of that statement let me repeat it to be clear.  My husband and I went out for happy hour during the week. It was not for a special occasion, not in-between running from one event to another, not because I had a meeting for a sport, school,volunteer, work, charity or committee of any kind.  We were at Costco to buy a land line phone.  As we are coming up the aisle we see a teacher, coach, parent and friend with his three little ones and his teacher, coach wife walking towards us.  She is pushing the flat bed cart, He is pushing the regular oversized Costco cart with two of his kids in the cart and one in the ‘front seat’.  The three kids are all eating slices of pizza with varying degrees of greasy mess and success.  They greet us with big smiles and “What are you doing here?” We laugh and say buying a phone and you know other unnecessary items.  His eyes get real big and he says “You are shopping the Middle! We avoid the Middle of Costco” He turned and looked at his wife and then laughed as his daughters cheese oozed off her slice of pizza dropping on her brothers lap.  “Someday we will shop the Middle too!”costco-is-the-perfect-example-of-why-the-minimum-wage-should-be-higher-1

I am still laughing at that revered look and comment. I, Kari Johnson am an empty nester and I get to shop the Middle!  We have downgraded our cable package and our internet usage.  We added a land line because we are “saving money” by bundling services so for the first time in many years we have a home phone.  We got rid of the land line to save money now we  got it back to save money.  I have not been grocery shopping in three weeks, if we go out to dinner and bring food home we actually get to eat it.  I put it in the fridge and low and behold the next day it is still there.  We bought a sleep number bed and it is fabulous.  We go to bed at 8:30 and nobody makes fun of us, needs a poster board or asks me to edit a paper at 10:00pm that is due the next day.  My family room has been transformed from an athletic shrine of four stellar athletes trophy’s, awards, uniforms, and varsity letters to a tribute to my love and obsession with Otters. My kitchen counter does not have water bottles, cups, shoe laces, mouth guards, or notes for me to sign from last  week.  I do not trip over the shoes, coats, or backpacks on my way to let the dog out in the night. I have not used the expressions “What do you live in a barn?” “You are gonna be late” or “Seriously??”IMG_8324

In my one month of experiencing life without kids in my home daily I have been questioned multiple times if I am really okay.  You seem to handle this so well, are you really celebrating and enjoying it? You were so involved at the school, in the sports, do you miss it? What do you do with all your time?  Are you bored? Have you been to any games or stopped by the school? These  questions are usually from parents still entrenched in the wonderful craziness of full-time at home mothering.  They ask with hope and a bit of incredulous disbelief that this will ever happen to them.  They are right.  I gave 100% to my kids, their school, sports, events, teachers and social life.  I was the first one to get there and the last to leave.  I screamed loud, passionately and was probably a bit over the top.  I honestly do not know how to do things any other way.  I juggled, organized, cooked for an army, took on way more than I should have, and loved every minute of it, well, not every minute. I was THAT mom so I understand the questions.

My answer is an unconditional, resounding, YES! I am loving it.  I do not miss the chaos and the crazy schedule.  I have not been back to a game, or even visited the school.  This is not because I do not care or don’t want to see people. I do like football but gosh sitting at home with a glass of wine and cuddling up with a book while my other friends are freezing, bundled, and screaming for the first down is pretty great. I absolutely loved being a part of it, I would do it again in a heart beat. Yet for me, the gift of life is in its many stages, and being able to embrace each stage and give myself 100% to the moment I am now living is truly a blessing.

That being said, I miss my kids.  I send Jessie a card every week.  I text and talk to them when they have time and sometimes when they don’t.  We just got back from a family weekend in Montana with Jessie, I have visited Isaac and Christian on separate weekends and will hopefully see John this Sunday when he has his first regatta with the novice crew team of Seattle University. IMG_8323 I wake up every day and on my way down my stairs I say good morning and touch each of my kids portraits and do the same in reverse when I go to bed at night. When I say my prayers at night I thank God for the honor of being their mom, that they survived being a Johnson kid and for the amazing husband and partner I get to enjoy these stages with.  It is different, but I really like shopping the Middle.



Fail BIG

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Two weeks ago I said goodbye to the last of my four children as my husband and I dropped him off for his junior year in college.  That same weekend we dropped off our youngest boy at a different college.  The weekend before I dropped off my  middle son for his second year of college.  Seven weeks ago my husband and I journeyed to Montana to drop off our baby and only girl for her freshman year.  After 21 years, two births, adoption, four kids going through school with just two and half years between them, and now four kids in four different colleges I am an empty nester.

While I am just getting used to this wonderful new stage of life one of the many benefits is I have time to write.  I am very excited to see where this will lead and invite you to join me on this next step in Kari’s Khaos. Below is the letter I wrote to my daughter after leaving her to find her wings in the new, strange, scary wonderful world of college.

Jessie,

It is appropriate and ironic that I finally have time to write these word to you as I sit drinking coffee and watching the Ferry go by.  This island is so special to us and a place we both find rest from our crazy schedules. So as I write, I feel you here, I see your smile and your sleepy morning face after spending the night with Gus on the mattress outside on the deck.

I know that you know these things.  You have heard them and been shown them all your life. This is just a place you can go to remind yourself when it gets hard to remember.

YOU ARE LOVED

By God:

Before their were stars in the sky, our infinite and creative God knew you and loved you. He created you in his image and his plans for you are good. You have learned about him, worshipped him and continue to follow Him. God will always be your True North.  Trust Him.

By your family:

From the bottom your toe to the slope of your pierced nose you are loved. That my dear favorite daughter will never change. It can not be altered by anything you do or don’t do or is done to you.  You are a gift to our lives and we are always here for you. You Jessica Elaine Johnson are loved.

By Others:

Jessie you have more support and love than a leader of a small country.  You have invested well in kindness, loyalty and the true essence of friendship.  you are only a phone call, text, email, snap chat, or Facebook post away from anything you need. From a joke, money, a listening ear, a hug to cookie dough and ice cream it is available. Use it.

Go ahead and call what you are wearing an outfit!  you are so beautiful and no outfit, dress, pony tail, sweats, Berks or heels will change that. Look in the mirror and see the incredible woman you are. Your beauty comes from deep within your heart and soul. It shines out to the world through your contagious smile, goofy faces and the kindness that is always in those beautiful eyes.

FAIL, FAIL BIG. Make mistakes, fall on your face (not literally like your mom) take risks knowing you can always come to us, no judgement, just love and probably a congratulations because that is how you will learn and grow.

Try New Things

Play Hard

Study Hard

Go outside your box and surprise yourself

I know you will change the world for the better in small and big ways.  You are an amazing woman who makes the world a brighter place because you are alive. As always I wish you could see yourself the way I see you.  There has never been a time when you were not loved and cherished.

Laugh and cry often. Share both with someone safe.  Be you and everything else will fall into place.

I love you, Mom

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18 thoughts on your 18th birthday!

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Today is the day my youngest boy turns eighteen. I did not know him as a baby, he did not come from my womb.  I missed his first smile, word, and step.  I did not get up with him in the middle of the night to calm him or to change his diaper.  I do not have a baby album to ooh and ahh over with him as I do two of my other children.   I cannot tell him what it felt like to have him inside me, or where I was for the moment of his birth.

Our story begins in a bombed out, pepto-bismo pink house where behind a broken half wall, Christian peeked over and looked directly at me trying to hide his smile as he ducked down again out of sight. His white teeth and rich, dark ebony skin in such contrast that he seemed almost larger than life.  I was done for, smitten, completely in love, head over heels and a bit dumbfounded at my immediate unconditional love for this stranger whom I would now call son.

ry=400-5This sweet miracle of a four-year old in front of me was now my son, and I his mother.  God did that. No less miraculous than when I gave birth, and just as awe-inspiring. Christian turns eighteen today.  Today I share with you my letter to him as he reaches for adulthood peeking over the tumbling  wall of adolescence and hiding his smile as he takes on this new adventure.

My dear and precious Christian,

Happy Birthday! Eighteen, I am not sure either of us thought you would make it to this day! I love you so very much and am so proud of the person you are, and still becoming.  Here on your 18th birthday  are my 18 bits of advice and reflections, ( you know it was hard to pick just 18)

  1. You are my son, being your mom is more than a bloodline, more than the same skin color and certainly more than the word adopted.
  2. Your birth mom loved you so much, she chose to give you life twice, once by birth and the second time by entrusting you to our care.  How lucky you are to have two moms that love you and always want the best for you.
  3. You are black, you are African, you are Liberian, you are beautiful, never be ashamed of where you came from or the rich heritage of your ancestors
  4. Keep asking questions, your curiosity is one of your greatest gifts.  Even if it annoys me keep asking until you understand.
  5. Remember to keep your hands off your penis and fingers out of your nose
  6. Life is not fair, keep going
  7. Your sister is not the base of all evil (some, but not all)
  8. Bacon is the answer to almost anything
  9. A man who cooks is more desired than a man who orders out
  10. You will encounter prejudice, racial profiling, and discrimination, acknowledge it and move on.
  11. Try to remember to look people in the eye, and speak clearly
  12. Look before you leap, think before you speak, don’t do it just because your brother is doing it.
  13. You have amazing tenderness and a heart of Gold
  14. ‘Please’, ‘Thank you’, and ‘ I’m Sorry’ are three of the most important phrases you will ever learn, use them often
  15. Your smile is infectious and will open many doors, share it freely
  16. Find your passion and make a living doing it
  17. Take care of me when I am old-which is now.
  18. You are a child of God, dearly loved, alive and on the earth for a purpose, never doubt your worth

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I Felt Nothing

Every child is unique and different, and every rite of passage a unique experience for the parent and the child. This past weekend Scott and I dropped our second child off at college. John is now a freshman at Seattle University. It was not a tearful goodbye, there were no long hugs, or emotional anything really. He said his signature “See ya” and we left knowing we won’t see him again till November.

I felt nothing, which if you know me, is very unusual. I did not feel sad, I did not feel pulled, or torn for his youth, or wonder if he would be all-right. I left, and in a small part of my heart I felt relief. Mothers are not really supposed to feel this way, your child, whom you have raised in most cases since birth, and in my case since John was five, are supposed to feel torn, sad, like a part of them has moved on and though excited for them, there is this sense of loss- at least that is how I felt when I dropped off Isaac last year. With John it was a non emotional relief.

disc2 340The thirteen plus years that have led to this parting have been an emotional roller coaster to say the least. The joy of expanding our family by adoption, the thrill of meeting John and Christian for the first time that April day in the slums of Liberia. The elation of coming off the plane to be greeted by 50 of our family and friends welcoming this new beginning for them and for us. The adjustment for all six of us as we settled in Bend. The devastation of finding out John had glaucoma, the hundreds of dr. appointments, surgeries, research, and grief as we realized the world we had dreamed of giving our son would be altered drastically.

John’s amazing determination, stubbornness, never quit, never compromise, never let them know you are different attitude was admirable, and in many ways a true miracle. He was legally blind, he rode a bike, played basketball, football, and learned in both braille and print. He is an intelligent, sarcastic, quiet, young man. To many he is a poster child for facing adversity. At home, with Scott and me it has been a different story.

They say the safest people will be treated the worst and that has been truer than true in our family. As Scott and I tried our best to raise these four beautiful children,(none of them, or us being perfect) was not easy. John’s betrayal of being given away by his birth mother, his frustration and denial at his lack of vision, his post traumatic stress, his attachment disorder created a very angry, sullen, volatile child. The best way I can describe it was living with a volcano, never quite knowing when and where it would erupt, but knowing it would.

Counselors, friends, pastors, family supported us and comforted me each time. The heartbreak of knowing you could not change the situation, I could not give John my eyes, and I could not break through his wall guarding his heart from further pain, was at times debilitating. The tears I have cried for him, and because of him would fill a small lake. Bitter tears, angry tears, helpless tears, tears of joy, elation and pride for his many accomplishments despite the odds.

Finally this Spring, tears of release, tears of grief for a relationship that will never be what I had dreamed, and tears of resignation. I came to the point where I had to let go and move on. John has never said “I love you,” never calls me mom, speaks mostly when spoken to and tries to live his life in our home like a guest. I let go of my search to find the answers by reading the right book, finding the right language to love him, the right advice to reach him, a new way to approach his heart. I let go of the need for my self esteem and value as a person and a mother to be defined by his actions, and indifference. I came to the freeing conclusion that I have done everything I could possibly do. John has been raised in a loving home, had opportunities many kids dream of, was graduating from high school with honors and his life long dream of being independent from Scott and me has come true.

It has been a very long road. John is a terrific young man with a bright future. John is now a freshman at Seattle University. It was not a tearful goodbye, there were no long hugs, or emotional anything really. He said his signature “See ya” and we left knowing we won’t see him again till November. I left, and in a small part of my heart, I felt relief, and it was ok.

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Island silence
July 20, 2014, 6:10 pm
Filed under: Parenting

My soul yearns for rejuvenation and rest. I find it here in the quiet of my island at last. The purple rolling hills of island after island as the sky turns pink and the water is calm, help me to remember once again the peace that this special place brings to my heart. A time to reflect back on the year, to dream for the future and revel in memories of the time spent here the last 47 years. I am so blessed and honored to have this spot, this sanctuary of space and time that has been in my family for so long.

I sip my wine, I hear the wind in the tall evergreens, a seal slapping its dinner on the water and my favorite melody rings out of the ferry as it enters the pass. The long soulful horn that reaches into my essence with peace, love, relationship, memory and tradition. All is well, all is in order, sleep well tonight my sweet daughter, sleep well indeed.

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Alone?

Sitting by the window I find myself itching to write. Out the small oval portal of my seat I can find nothing but blue ocean and fluffy white clouds. I am alone, actually the flight is full, I have a couple from Australia next to me but for all intense and purposes I am alone. I have no husband here, none of my four teenagers, no sisters or other family, I am alone. It is almost a foreign feeling to me, a novel concept, a dream/nightmare where I am not quite sure how to behave. I can not remember the last time I traveled by myself. This is not a trip to see anybody, not because I am needed anywhere, not for an anniversary, birthday or another worthy occasion. This outing is a designed vacation to a beautiful destination just because.

I think I am in shock, I have not eagerly anticipated this trip, I have been almost embarrassed to tell people what I was doing. “Who are you going with?” “Whats the occasion?” “What will you do?” Alone? You are going alone? Well, not completely, my parents will be there when I arrive, they are generously giving me a couch to sleep on in the condo of their resort for five nights. I have not been alone with them for five days since I was last living with them twenty plus years ago.

I am going to a familiar place, a fabulous resort in Ixtapa, Mexico where my parents bought into a time share about 14 years ago. I have come every other year for Thanksgiving week with my whole family- my kids, my sister and her kid, my other sister and her husband, and my parents. This is the off year, the year my parents go by themselves. I have never been here alone. I do not know Ixtapa without my kids, and husband, and sisters. I have no experience, no memory, nothing to anticipate doing because I have never done it by myself.

I have been told that I do not take care of myself, that I do too much, that I push myself too hard and need to be better at self care. These are wise words from good friends and family. An opportunity came for me to go to Mexico, by myself and I actually did it. My amazing husband encouraged me to go, my kids said why not? My parents actually seemed pleased at the opportunity to have me alone.

The turbulence of the plane brings me back to reality, I hear the flight attendant droning on about the mileage program. I look out the window, see the ocean, the blue sky and I take a big breath in, exhaling slowly; letting the stress, the hurried chaotic life I live on a regular basis leave. I am here by myself but in reality far from alone.

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A Twelve Year Winter

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The Rose

 

Some say love, it is a river

That drowns the tender reed

Some say love, it is a razor

That leaves your soul to bleed

Some say love, it is a hunger

An endless, aching need

I say love, it is a flower

And you it’s only seed

It’s the heart afraid of breaking

That never learns to dance

Its the dream afraid of waking

That never takes the chance

It’s the one who won’t be taken,

Who cannot seem to give

And the soul afraid of dying

That never learns to live

And the night has been too lonely

And the road has been too long

And you think that love is only

For the lucky and the strong

Just remember in the winter

Far beneath the bitter snow

Lies the seed that with the sun’s love,

In the spring, becomes a rose.

 

Writer(s): Amanda Mcbroom

Copyright: Third Story Music Inc., Warner-tamerlane Publishing Corp.

 

I have always loved the song “The Rose” with its sad melody and haunting lyrics.  I sang it for a talent show when I was much younger, I found solace in it after a tough breakup, but until we adopted our son John I do not think I really had a grasp on the truth these simple words brought. 

 

When we adopted John and Christian in 2001 adding them to our family of four, my idealism was at an all time high.  We had struggles leading up to the adoption as anyone who has been through the process can attest to, but the day we saw our two sons for the first time is etched in the memory of my soul.  The dreams and desires of my heart for these two children was palpable.  The joy of knowing we were making a tangible difference in two lives as well as enriching our own families global perspective was intoxicating. 

 

Reality hit hard within weeks of their arrival to the USA.  John was diagnosed with Glaucoma, and every year seemed to get harder with him.  His anger at the world was focused directly on Scott and me.  His times of happiness were rare and short lived.  A river of tears, angry shouting matches with God, Scott, John, questioning my ability to parent, heart break for my son who has so much potential, so much to offer, so much life to live.  Sleepless nights praying for a miracle, praying for sanity, praying to get through the next hour.

 

Glimpses of hope, a wonderful Summer, an emotional break through, the volcano dormant for a bit.  Perfect in school and public, stubborn and fiercely independent, beautiful man-child with a world to conquer.  This roller coaster of hope, anger, heart break, frustration, helplessness, counseling, flashes of potential, and resentment, riding strapped in with a love that has not wavered but at times has remained only by the seatbelt of faith, friends, family and red wine.

 

Its been twelve plus years since the wonderful day we chose to grow our family.  John turned eighteen this past weekend.  He had a party with friends, his laughter and deep voice still sing in my heart.  He played his African drum that we brought home on the plane with him so many years ago.  The twelve year winter is over, the hopes and dreams lying dormant are budding into an award winning rose.  

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