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.



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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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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Soul restoration

I come to the sea to breathe. I come to the island, my island to restore my soul. It has always been this way. My life off the island is filled with good things, four kids, an incredible husband, friends, work, and a color coded calendar. It is crazy, busy, chaotic, stressful, satisfying and non stop. My island is my oasis, it my gift to me, it is the one place I completely relax. A favorite theologian of my husbands, Dietrich Bonehoeffer once said “My time with others prepares me for my time alone, and my time alone prepares me for my time with others.” The Island gives me the strength, courage and restoration that allows the life that I lead off island to be possible.

I have never come to the island alone, various amounts of family, friends and pets accompany me here. It is a small cabin, one bathroom, two bedrooms and a large deck. It is enough and I never feel crowded or claustrophobic. Island time is slower. Island life is a step back in time from all the communication breakthroughs, the social media, the constant background noise of a tv or computer or PS3. It is life unplugged by choice.

I have heard experts say you need time for yourself everyday, and though I know this is true to an extent, my life does not lend itself to this. My non island life is a whirlwind from the moment I get up to the time I hit the pillow once more. It is filled with teenagers, sporting events that need team dinners, stinky laundry washed, meal after meal made, a quick walk with the dog and then off to other wonderful, very necessary appointments and so the days go. It is a very fulfilling life, I really like my life, but I could not manage this pace, this frenzied atmosphere of 110 miles per hour if I did not get my island break.

Escape is not easy. Juggling the kids summer camp schedules, work, time with family and other obligations try to claw and plead and work on my sense of responsibility and prey on my need to please others. This year was especially hard. Two of my sons have full time jobs for the summer. They would not be coming with me to the island for the first time in 12 years. My best friend’s oldest son is getting married in Bend with lots of drama and the pull to stay and help and support Jen was strong. The hardest part by far this year, was leaving my husband who after eighteen months of living away from us during the week was finally home with a new job that started the week I left for the island.

A younger me, would have changed her plans. She would have given in to the belief that she was so important she must stay. A younger me would push herself to be everything for everyone and do it with a smile. A younger me would need the ego stroking accolades that would come from sacrificing my plans to serve others. It’s not like a summer in Bend, Oregon is a hardship, spending time with my husband and best friend is not difficult, or a burden. It would have been fine, but the older me is wiser now.

I chose me, I chose from a menu of good things, the best one for me. My understanding of this need is ultimately my gift to others for it allows me to have a reservoir of mental health and strength to give the rest of the year. I come to the sea to breathe. I come to the island to restore my soul.

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Managing Monday’s: Parent/Teacher communication

Managing Monday’s: Parent/Teacher communication

Tonight is open house for my four high schoolers. It is a time where you are invited to follow your child’s schedule, hear expectations and meet the teachers. It is an important opportunity because it is often very difficult to have any personal interaction with your kids teachers as they get into Jr. and Sr. high school. The only problem with this system is if you have more than one or two children you must choose who you will meet and who you will not.

With 4 kids, 28 classes, 25 different teachers, and my husband out of town, this task becomes a bit overwhelming. I ask the kids who they really want me to meet and I get “no-one” from the boys and “as many as you can” from Jessie. I print the four schedules and map out my best plan. Some of the teachers I know from previous years, some are for electives that I am not concerned about, and so the narrowing process begins. In the end I can get to two of John’s teachers, two of Christian’s, one for Isaac and three for Jessie. There is one teacher for Isaac that I would really like to meet but will have to do it on another night.

Now I could just leave it at that, but I have learned the more you show interest and communication with your child’s teacher, especially in high school, where class sizes are edging towards 40 kids, your interest makes a difference! I then wrote the following email to all the teachers explaining my dilemma and letting them know of my interest and appreciation for what they do.

Good Morning!
My name is Kari Johnson, and if you are receiving this e-mail you have one of my four wonderful kids.  Isaac, John, Christian or Jessica.  My amazing husband, Scott, works is Eugene as a hospital chaplain.  He is gone during the week days, and I am a single mom for that time.  This leads me to tonight open house,  with four kids in seven classes, I clearly can not make it to meet all of you in person.  Our kids have the honor of being in 25 different and unique classrooms.   With Isaac a senior, and three others following close behind, I have had the chance to meet many of you on this list and feel so blessed by the time, effort, and expertise you bring to our children’s education.

If we have not yet met, I look forward to having that opportunity. Please know that if it is not tonight, it is not a reflection of my lack of interest or investment in my children, or you.  I volunteer in the Future Center, I have three-part time jobs, four high schoolers with sports and activities, and am very organized.  I am also just one person, and sometimes things slip through the cracks of the chaos I have chosen for my life.  Your communication with me through Parent Assist and e-mails are invaluable.  If there is any concern, a funny story, or frustration with any of my kids please do not hesitate to communicate with me via e-mail or phone: 541-948-1746.  My role is to support you in any way I can.

We are so thankful for Bend High, and for your contribution to making it such an awesome place for kids to be challenged both in education, and personal character to reach their full potential.  We are well aware that your job is the least appreciated, under valued, and under paid positions for the importance of what you are doing.  If our family can do anything to support you, make your life a bit easier, or just bring you your favorite cookie let us know. Thank you for your time, your dedication and your investment in our future.

love and laughter, Kari and Scott Johnson

No matter how old your kids are, no matter how many you have, your involvement in their education from pre-school through high school is imperative. These wonderful public servants give and give and give. If nothing else they give you a break for 6-8 hours a day so you can be a better parent when you do have time with your children. Communication is vital, and can be done in a way that everyone feels good about investing in your child. One email, supportive phone call or act of kindness will help so that no child slips through the cracks and your child gets the best possible education.



Managing Mondays: Rhythm

Managing Mondays: Rhythm

I slowly sip my coffee and revel in the mornings stillness. It is the first Monday of the first full week of school. My two sophomores, junior and senior are out the door. Gus, our golden retriever, has been fed and is curled at my feet. The day is going to be full, and a bit crazy as I juggle appointments for Jessie’s knee, Lila, and the cooking for my kick off of Kari’s Kitchen. I am looking forward to it.

The Summer was terrific and I enjoyed myself immensely, but I am so thankful that school is back in session, and a new rhythm is establishing itself. I can only go for so long without a structure or schedule. My kids need it and so do I. It feels good to have a plan and to be able to quantify accomplishments. The tension in our home the last two weeks before school starts is palpable. They are fighting for every last moment of freedom, video time, tv time, sleeping in and staying up late. I am at my wit’s end with the house, the mess, the laundry, the bickering, and the physical presence of large teenagers, three of which are smelly boys clogging up the air and space.

“Rhythm, a procedure marked by the regular recurrence of particular elements, phases, etc.” Good coffee, kids out the door, a chance to write, then tackle the day. Find your rhythm. Be willing to change the beat. Dance through your day!



Really??
August 23, 2012, 10:22 am
Filed under: humor, love, Parenting, Teenagers | Tags: , , ,

Did you really just say that? These are the words out of my mouth and in my mind over and over again. I know that he is bright, I know he likes to lure me into his antics to get a reaction, I know he thinks he is funny and clever. I know these things, and still I ask, did he really just say that? Isaac is trying harder than ever to prove the theory of why animals eat their young. I texted a few friends over the last few weeks asking if they would come visit me in jail after I suffocated him in his sleep. Maybe Scott could be a jail chaplain instead of a hospital chaplain. Sarcasm continues to be my survival technique, and I have needed it.

We have just gotten back from close to a month of non stop togetherness. On the island we have every meal together, and do not have much time alone. I love it, it is the epitome of family time. Still, when we get back we all need a bit of our own space. Jessie, John and Christian have soccer and football workouts. Isaac has nothing. Jessie and John actually have summer homework to get done. Isaac has nothing. When Isaac has nothing we are all in trouble.

I have been working quite a bit at the boutique my friend owns. I usually work afternoons into the evening. A couple of weeks ago, a few days after we had been home, Isaac called me at work. Our policy is to text unless it is an emergency. Isaac’s cell phone screen is cracked(for the third time) so he can not read his texts. He calls me at 6:30pm and asks what is for dinner. This is an emergency? I tell him it is FFY which in our family means “fend for yourself”. I hang up. Five minutes later he calls again, “Mom, in the future if it’s going to be FFY can you please give me more advance notice?” Did you really just say that?

I get home and find Isaac at the kitchen counter eating cereal. I smile and say; Isaac, on Tuesday I will be going to Eugene to be with your dad. It will be a FFY night. Without skipping a beat, he says “Mom, that’s so far away can you tell me when it’s a bit closer?”