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


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.


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.


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


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.


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!”

Saturday Story Time: Bitter-Sweet

Saturday Story Time: Bitter-Sweet

The discussion has been on going for most of the year. The decision, though his to make was a family topic. While for Christian, basketball has always been a passion, Isaac’s take on it has been a bit more laid back. He loves the game, loves playing in games, enjoys the his teammates and is quite good. His height and natural talent lend him an ease of playing that is fun to watch.

It has been a frustrating journey for him at times. He has struggled with knee issues and this year he was diagnosed with Asthma. Isaac is willing to work hard, but he also needs lots of affirmation(who doesn’t.) He does not sit well, so sitting on the bench is more difficult for him just because of the way he is wired. This past season, his junior year was particularly difficult. Between being sick, figuring out the asthma thing, and his knee he had quite a bit of time on the bench.

I have written about my excitement about having two children on the same team. The fun of watching these boys who have been playing against each other in our back yard since they were five and seven. The pride I have in seeing them both succeed. I have also mentioned how hard it is for the younger brother to excel past the older and get more playing time, accolades, and respect. Their relationship has stayed strong and much to Isaac’s credit he has been nothing but supportive of Christian.

Isaac has always said he has no desire to play in college, he has no aspirations of NBA other than to get court side seats when he is rich. He plays for the love of the game. This year he lost most if not all of that joy. Playing became work, and he did not like it. He was frustrated with his lack of playing time, lack of energy, and what he felt was lack of respect for his abilities.

This became troublesome for all of us. It is never easy to see your child struggle, it is never easy to see both sides so clearly but no easy answer. It will be his senior year, do we need to make him play? Do we need to force him to finish what he started? Will he regret this decision later in life when he is looking back? Scotty and I have talked about it, worried about it, and argued both sides. We have tried to put our feelings aside, tried to not let our love of the game, and our joy at seeing him play taint our judgment. It has been much more painful than I thought it would be.

The three of us made the choice to have him play Summer ball and hold off on a final decision until the Fall. Go to camp, have fun, see if anything changes. Isaac was committed to this, and had every intention of following through. In a tournament with a pick-up team the weekend before Summer ball started he re-injured his knee. This was not the way we wanted to start. He went to the trainer and just started practicing and playing in games this week. On Wednesday he took himself out of the second half of the game, telling coach his knee was hurting and he wanted to be able to play in the tournament this weekend. I only came to the second half and was frustrated to see him riding the bench again.

It came to a head last night at nine o’clock when he said he had left his shoes and brace in the locker at school, so he would not be able to play this weekend. Scotty and I had been mentioning to each other that perhaps his sickness, his attitude, and his knee hurting, this might be a passive aggressive way to not make a decision. I was done with sitting on the fence. I forced the issue and called him on his crap. Isaac you need to make a choice, it is not fair to your team, yourself, or your family if you play this game any longer. Do you want to play or not, no more half way, no more complaining, you are in or you are out. Your dad and I are not investing any more time, energy or money into your something you clearly are done with.

To my great surprise he said, “Mom you are right, I want to quit. It is not fun, and I am done.” I looked at him, he was confident and sincere. Okay, well, you need to tell coach tomorrow. “What? Why? Can’t I call him? What if I text him or wait till Monday?” No Isaac, you need to step up and own your decision, this is a huge part of your growing up. More grumbling, whining and then finally a defeated “okay.”

Today Isaac stepped up to the plate, looked his coach in the eye and said he was done. I was so proud of him, and so sad at the same time. He made a choice, he did it the right way. Today we had the bitter-sweet joy of watching one of our sons play high school basketball, and one of our son’s take a giant step toward adulthood.

Whimsical Wednesday: The Journey to Becoming Hugz the Clown and Beyond; The miracle of Face Book

Whimsical Wednesday: The Journey to Becoming Hugz the Clown and Beyond; The miracle of Face Book

In January and February of this year I did a series of posts on Wednesdays chronicling my journey of how I became a clown. It brought back a ton of memories and brought to mind people I had not thought of in years. By chance through my blogs I was led to a page on Face Book for Clown College Alumni. This then led me to a fellow classmate, and because of that on Sunday I saw a picture posted on his timeline of my graduating class of 1987. I tagged my self and through this amazing technology of social networking, I am now in touch with half of my class from that special time in my life.

It is interesting to see and hear from these fellow clowns, who is still clowning, who remembers what, the stories, the jokes and the bond that is unique to this experience. This year is our 25th clown college reunion, and because this picture was posted we are talking about getting our class together for a reunion. It may indeed be a small world, but thanks to social media like Face Book it is possible to reunite a small class of clowns, twenty-five years after graduation, who are scattered across the USA. It is a gift I never expected would mean so much.

comment if you think you can figure out which one is me in either pic but the one with just make-up is harder


“Can’t we just talk about this later?” Isaac asks me as I step into the office where he is playing PS3. Well, you leave tomorrow, I need to do a few things around here and finish my blog. I am already missing American Idol, and you know how I feel about that. When are we going to talk? “ Well,” long pause as he makes some important move in his game. “Its really not that big of a deal is it? I just have to throw some stuff together. Can we talk while I pack at 7:00 tomorrow morning, then I can shower while you take everyone else to school.” I roll my eyes, I take a deep breath. Sure, Isaac, if that’s what you want to do, I am sure we can make it work. In my head I am throwing darts of “attitude adjustment” and “please pretend you care” at his head, and heart.

At exactly 7:00 am this morning he is at my bedroom door. I am a bit startled as I am usually pushing, prodding, poking, flipping lights, and threatening who knows what to get him up. He is in his robe and bright-eyed. “Mom we said 7:00, can you grab my suitcase and come down?” I grunt something about sure now you are ready as I grab a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. I walk into the bedroom he shares with his brothers, both of whom are still in bed. Isaac flips on the light and grabs his clothes. You need shirts, underwear, a swimsuit, something other than your basketball shorts to wear for the tour and interview with the engineering department.Isaac throws theses things down on the suitcase. “Wait, what? Interview? I do not have anything besides basketball shorts, no one said anything about an interview, I mean all I am doing is checking out the campus right?” His voice is pretty robust for this time in the morning and his brothers are moaning and swearing at him.

“Will you pack this stuff for me mom, I gotta jump in the shower.” I grab his suitcase and his clothes and move to the living room to give the other two boys some peace. I quietly fold his clothes thinking of the days when I had to pack for him. The times when, if I did not pack for him, the only thing that would have made it to our destination was legos, and his favorite blanket. I sigh as my heart and mind continue the battle of wanting him out of the house, and desperately wanting to cling to my first-born and never let go.

We are now in the car about one-quarter of the way to the airport and Isaac mentions he forgot a toothbrush. He then pesters me with a zillion questions. “What if my bag is too big? What if I lose my boarding pass? Will you walk me in?” Isaac you have flown to England and back, to Maine by yourself, this is a short flight, no plane changes, I think you will be fine. He gives me a sheepish grin “I was just playin’ with you.”

We arrive at the airport and I ask if he really wants me to park and walk him in. “Yes, mom” he says. It is a very small airport. The security check is about ten yards from the front entrance. Isaac, I say a little exasperated. It is going to cost me a dollar to park and walk you those few feet, you really want me to park? “What, I am not worth a dollar?” he asks? I park. We get out and walk to the big revolving door. We take three more steps and he is already getting his ID out to give to the security. He has forgotten me. Hey Isaac, a goodbye would be nice. I say not very quietly or very nicely. He turns back a bit bewildered, “Oh sorry mom, bye” as he gives me a hug. I love you Isaac, I say to his back as he is already walking away. He turns, a big smile, “I love you too mom.”

I wait for him to get through security. His basketball slides come off his size thirteen feet, as his bag and electronic equipment move along the conveyor belt. He shuffles along, his six-foot three, twiggy body moving at his slow pace through the scan machine and out to the terminal. I sigh and walk back to the car, yeah Isaac, my funny man-child, you are definitely worth a dollar.