kariskhaos


Fail BIG

IMG_3689

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

IMG_1653



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.

10409553_10204893905096258_2423681511721109781_n



A week, a lifetime, a future

It is Sunday, Isaac has been off work for two weeks, we leave for Cal Polly SLO in six days, and he says to me “Hey mom would you be able to get a dental cleaning appointment for me this week?  Oh and I need a hair cut.”  Really?  I manage to get him an appointment for the cleaning and the morning of his appointment he comes out of the bathroom after brushing his teeth and comments to me about how he thinks it is going to be a rough visit because his mouth is bleeding.  I casually smile and say well that’s how it usually is when you don’t floss, and then finally do it the day of your appointment. He looks at me with his typical sheepish grin, and then says the words a parent never wants to hear from their 18-year-old child who is leaving for college in a few days, “Its not from flossing mom, they are bleeding from me brushing them.  I kinda got out of the habit of brushing my teeth.”

I am totally mortified. I am speechless.  I have failed in a rudimentary way as a parent and mom. What exactly do you say to that? This boy is going to college?

It is now Thursday and his friend Troy is over to say goodbye.  Boys are really awkward with goodbyes.  A quick hug, a fist pump, a joke about being non-emotional and off he goes to get his haircut.  He packs the rental Saturday with the help of his dad.  Tetrus like engineering to fit all his stuff and still leave room for me, my sister and his lanky body to almost fit as we make our 12 hour car ride to San Luis Obispo.  A tearful goodbye from his dad and sister at 7:00am Sunday morning(the brothers said goodbye last night, no need to get up early) and our adventure to his future begins.IMG_0426

We arrive with no problems, find our hotel and talk about the morning move in.  I have all the paperwork, the parking permit printed and the do’s and don’ts memorized.  I am trying to talk to him about logistics, what time we want to get there, meeting his roommates etc.  Isaac calmly says to me “Mom, I want to sleep in till 11:00, I am going to be there 4 years, there is no rush.”  Really? what about your mom and her panic and need to get there and fix things and know that you are going to be okay, what if you need more things, or we forget something, what if there is an apocalypse and you never get to see your dorm room? Really? You will be able to sleep in on the day your new life of college and future as you know it begins?

Monday I am up early, my stomach hurts, I am a nervous wreck.  Isaac sleeps.  My sister and I get up, get dressed, and go to have breakfast so that I do not jump on my boy and wake him up because of my nerves.  I drink coffee, look at the beautiful view and pray for time to move faster and stop all at the same time.  I so wish my husband could be here.  He is coping about as well as I am but has to do his from a distance.  He loses his glasses and spends an hour looking for them before going to work late with his prescription sun glasses instead.

My sister tries to keep me occupied as the minutes creep by.  I breathe in, I breathe out.  I think of him when he was born, I think of his first steps and first words.  I groan as I think of the sarcastic, laid back, man-child he has become.  Can I get him up yet? We go back to the room at 10:00.  I jump on his bed and hold him tight.  Isaac asks what time it is, and when I tell him, he groans and growls at me.  I ignore him.  I look over and notice my bed has been made.  My sister and I look at each other oddly.  How did that happen? We ask Isaac.  He mumbles something about the maid coming in, not knowing he was still in bed.  She started on our bed and threw some pillows on him.  When she turned to get them, she realized Isaac was there, gave a quick start, apologized and left.  Only Isaac I think to myself.

It is now Tuesday afternoon, he is moved in, we have been to orientation, I have bought my Cal Poly Mom sticker and Isaac is off with his roommate and new friends getting their cards for the athletic center.  I want to take a nap because I am emotionally, and physically exhausted but I don’t think Isaac would appreciate his mom crawling up on his bunk and sleeping, instead I decide to write him my good-bye letter.  IMG_1258

Isaac,

You are off with Cole being a college boy as I sit in your dorm room.  You have tolerated very well my comings and goings, my nervous over reactions and my extra affection.  Thank you.

So often I have thought what I might want to say to you at this moment.  Flash backs of your childhood, your buck teeth, your high school years and your laid back, goofy smile.  I do not have any advice.  I do not have any real concerns about you here.  It is a perfect fit- you will do well, thrive.  Spread your long wing span and fly.

You know all the other stuff but maybe you need it in print to be able to look back at.

  1. You are Loved – No matter what – Change schools, change majors, change sexual orientation, change anything  knowing you are loved.
  2. We trust you – Make decisions, make mistakes, fall on your face and get back up.  We trust you.  You know how to make good choices, make them freely.
  3. I am ALWAYS your MOM – I will always worry a bit, I will ask too many questions, I will ‘baby’ you about food, rest, water, girls- it is just who I am, but I will try really hard to limit my vocal worry to when you are not with your college friends.
  4. Remember who you are and Whose you are – You Isaac are a child of God, beautifully and wonderfully made.  It matters not what you claim to believe right now, only that you know you are not an accident.  You are here for a purpose.  Find that purpose and live a life worthy of your uniqueness.
  5. Laugh every day – Find joy in the small things.  When it is hard and you are stressed out and life really sucks remember a corny joke your dad told.  Remember Gus and how he dances with you and will be so excited to see you.  Watch a stupid, crass, no redeeming value movie or an episode of Tosh.O. Laughter heals, laughter calms, laugh to survive

I will miss you, I do already.  There is a spot in my heart that is Isaac shaped.  It formed when you were conceived and will be with me till I die.  It has to adjust and change to not having a daily interaction with you, it will feel empty but it will adjust-it will not diminish, it will not be forgotten, it will be different.

I love you Isaac Scott Johnson, MOM

Its Friday, he has been sleeping in his dorm for three nights. I am home getting ready to go to two football games, help with a basketball fundraiser and work at the shop. I have heard from him in one word texts.  He likes his roommates.  He is brushing his teeth. It is enough.

250



The circle of life

Sitting at a small cafe, drinking my late after finishing the most delicious, buttery decadent croissant I have had in years, I am trying to find my bearings as I start this new day. I have traveled many miles to get here, both physically and emotionally. I am philosophical, and a bit pensive this morning. Isaac, my first born son and the miracle of my womb is still sleeping back at the motel. We are here to visit his number one college choice Cal Poly, in San Luis Obispo, California.

The bakery bustles with activity, the girls behind the counter are very peppy and seem to enjoy being here. Mom’s and babies, college kids, tourists, and an eclectic mix of older women ooh and awe over the delicious and beautiful choices displayed before them. An older gentleman sings his greeting in a deep and beautiful operatic voice and no one seems a bit surprised. I like it here.

I sip my coffee and reflect on the days when I was that college student, that mom of a toddler, and see my self in the funny old lady whose hat is jauntily sitting on her bed of grey hair. It is as the great writers of Disney put it “The circle of life”. I get up to leave and wake up my almost 18 year old son, and some of the butterfly’s in my stomach fly away.

20121004-145429.jpg



Saturday Story Time: Question: “Where are you from?” Answer: “My mother”

Saturday Story Time: Question: “Where are you from?” Answer: “My mother”

I am not really good with small talk, cocktail conversations, polite questions about my life from someone who does not really give a crap.  One such conversation starter is the question “Where are you from?” It is a generally benign question that you answer with some city or state and then they either pursue it because they have, or have not been there, or they know someone who has been there, or they wait for you to ask them this very politically correct question of them.  It is not a bad question and if you are my mom it is more important than anything else you could possibly tell her because she can find not only some connection with you because of where you are from, but probably knows some of your family, friends, or their dogs, by name and life story.

I however do not play the game very well.  We moved a few times and I am never sure what people really want to hear.  Are they asking because they actually want to know? Or are they asking because it is what you say when you meet someone.  I tried a few times to be vague with “all over”, I tried to just say the place I lived last, but finally about 12 years ago I decided to answer with “My Mother.”  This usually gets an uncomfortable laugh, a confused stare, or genuine interest.  Then I know how to proceed.  If I get the uncomfortable laugh, I smile and say, “just kidding, where are you from?”  If I get the confused stare I might respond with a “aren’t you?” or a “thats a long answer, and I need to get a drink”

On the odd occasion I get the genuine interest, I am willing to tell my story.  It goes something like this.  I was born in Fargo, North Dakota, but I do not claim that state as I was only there for three weeks out of the womb and remember nothing.  We moved to Tacoma, Washington and rented a small house there until our home in Gig Harbor, Washington was built.  I lived in that house for about ten years, but spent one of those years in Trondheim, Norway. The summer before my 6th grade year we moved from our small ‘fishing village’ to Chappaqua, New York.  This was the hardest move of any I have ever made.

After staying in Chappaqua for five years, we moved again just before the start of my junior year in high school, to Hershey, Pennsylvania.  I graduated from Hershey and went to college in the small town of Elkins, West Virginia.  Two years into my liberal arts degree I dropped out and ran away to clown college in Venice, Florida.  In the meantime, my parents had moved to Prospect Heights, Illinois where I joined them to start my clowning business.

One year later I met the man of my dreams and moved to Chandler, Arizona where he was living.  After the hottest summer of my life, our engagement was called off and I moved Aspen, Colorado to lick my wounds.  He lasted about ten months away from me, came to his senses, and that is where we got married.  One year to the day of our wedding, we moved to Laguna Hills, California.  From here it was a quick jump down the Pacific Coast Highway to San Clemente, California.

With a one year old boy now joining us, we moved to the daylight basement of my sister Kathi’s house in Federal Way, Washington.  Almost two years later and with a brand new  baby girl we moved to Rocklin, California.  I am now thirty and I have lived in fifteen different cities, two countries, and ten different states.  When we moved to Bend, Oregon I was done.  We were now a family of six and Scott and I wanted them to experience the stability of growing up in one town, and God willing live in the same house until they graduated from high school. We are now three years away from that dream becoming a reality.  When they are asked “where are you from?” It will be an easy answer, “Bend, Oregon” but knowing my son Isaac’s sense of humor, he might just stay with “My mother.”



The First graduation
June 14, 2012, 9:55 pm
Filed under: blessings, college, hospitality, love, Parenting, stress, Teenagers | Tags: , , ,

I think yesterday will go down in history as one on the worst last days of school ever. What should have been a day of celebration for us as a family was not. It was stressful, and long, and ended with locking the keys in the car after driving five plus hours to my parents house with all the kids and Gus.

Today was a new day. We are in Tacoma for my nephews graduation from high school. It is the first of the grandchildren on my parents side of the family. It is the first of four years of graduation in a row. It is significant for many reasons. Clearly, that he is the first grandchild is important. Yet, the most important thing to me, is that Evan is graduating at all.

My sister Kristi, his mother, has raised him as a single mom since he was born. Although she has done an amazing job at keeping Evan’s dad involved in his life, it has been Kristi who has sacrificed over and over to make today possible. It is Kristi who has stayed up long nights, worried, stressed, and raised this incredible young man to be the amazing person he is. It is Kristi who taught him to accept himself, and others, who told him he was not a police man, but a police officer. It was Kristi who raised him as an open minded, generous, caring, outward thinking person. It was because of her love, and strength, that even when she struggled in her own personal life, Evan survived.

Evan remained strong, and flexible, as he moved in with my older sister Kathi, and her husband Scott. His senior year has been full of turmoil, but he has remained focused enough to graduate with honors, and get into the college of his dreams. This graduation is a tribute to Kristi, but also to Kathi and Scott who stepped up, and in providing stability, and hospitality to Evan when his mother was unable to do so. They chose family over convenience, providing Evan with a home, and a reliable place to land when everything seemed to be in question.

Tonight Evan graduated from High School, and a family celebrated not only his accomplishment but village that made it possible.

20120614-214732.jpg

20120614-214914.jpg



Sunday Blessing: Words of Wisdom to All, but Especially Graduates

Sunday Blessing: Words of Wisdom to All, but Especially Graduates

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – Work, Family, Health, Friends and Spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air.
You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – Family, Health, Friends and Spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these; they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for it.
Work efficiently during office hours and leave on time. Give the required time to your family, friends and have proper rest. Value has a value only if its value is valued.”
–Brian G. Dyson
President and CEO, Coca-Cola Enterprises during his speech at the Georgia Tech 172nd Commencement Address Sept. 6, 1996

And God says to all of us, you are no chicken; you are an eagle.
Fly, eagle, fly.
And God wants us to shake ourselves,
spread our pinions,
and then lift off and soar and rise,
and rise toward the confident
and the good and the beautiful.
Rise towards the compassionate
and the gentle and the caring.
Rise to become what God intends us to be–eagles, not chickens.
– Desmund Tutu

Congratulations! Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own.
And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
—Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”