Category Archives: Meaning and Purpose

If I’m being honest… Adjusting to life as a transracial adoptive family of 5

On April 6, my family officially became a Family of 5!  Although we have been functioning that way for several months, it was meaningful and symbolic to move forward together.  Since the beginning of our journey with our girls, we have received an abundance of support and encouragement from friends and family near and far.  This has been a true gift to us.  In addition to that, I have also been asked one question more than any other, so I thought I would answer it here.

“How are you adjusting to life as a family of 5?”

There is a quick and sincere answer to that question- I am doing well.  We all are.  Life is chaotic, exhausting, confusing, and amazing.  But what else is new.  The simple answer is, “We are good. Life is good.”

Nothing negates the simple answer, but if you have a little more time and you genuinely want to know, I can dig a little deeper.  Because honestly, life is good, and it is also more than that.  Life is hard.  I have three kids now, so… there’s that.  I became a mother of three in an unconventional way, and I am still figuring it out. They are so opinionated.  And hungry.  And human.  And just when I think I have one figured out, that kid goes and does something completely unprecedented, and all bets are off.  Life is hard, yet rich with insight and perspective.

Another thing I may tell you if I am being honest is that I am seeing very clearly that hurt begets anger, fear begets hostility and grief begets emotional unrest.  When I remember this, I am filled with compassion for my children (and even myself), but when I forget this, the initial hurts, fears and grief beget anger, hostility and emotional unrest in me, too.  I realize all too often that there are actually 5 wounded children in our house, not just three.  My wounds are not like my children’s wounds for many reasons.  I don’t pretend to compare my life to theirs.  But I am a broken, wounded child, too.  I am looking for someone to take care of me and defend me and take on my burdens because, even though I am a grown-up, I feel very small sometimes.  In these moments, I may call my mom or my sister and lament, or I may communicate through my facial expression to my husband to just hug me and tell me everything will be okay.  Sometimes, although not often enough, I remember that I have a Creator who loves me and cares for me in ways I cannot even understand, and I want my children to feel comforted by that, too.  Because I will let them down.  I already have thousands of times.  And I feel like crap when I do it because these are kids that have already dealt with so much disappointment.  I want to come through for them, but I can’t do it all the time.  I can’t even do it half the time. So life is good, and most days, life is overwhelming.

If I am being really honest, I may also say that, even though I knew my life would look very different after adopting two black girls, I had no idea how different it would be.  My husband put it best when he said that he has lived his whole life trying to blend in, and now he is in a family that will always stand out.  It is a drastically different experience when I take my white adopted son to Target versus taking one of my black daughters.  Sometimes, it feels like curiosity.  Other times, it feels like confusion.  Occasionally, it feels like judgment.  I wish I could say it didn’t bother me.  Often times, it doesn’t.  After all, I don’t hate attention as much as my husband does. 🙂  But sometimes, I am over it.  Sometimes I just want to blend in.  Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to wear my Adoptive Mother badge all the time.  Sometimes I wish it was more like it was before- a badge I wore when I wanted to, needed to, remembered to…

After adopting our son almost 4 years ago, I knew that adoption would always be woven intricately into our story, and I honored that.  It felt good and right for our family to embrace the adoption narrative.  But this feels different.  I can’t tell my daughters that it is their story to tell like I have told my son for years.  Although it is still their story to tell, the world feels entitled to know it.  They ask questions in front of my children or to my children about their stories.  Personal questions.  Complicated questions.  And they expect answers.  It’s like they are asking me where I got my purse, and if I refuse to provide the information, I am seen as stand-offish or rude.  But it’s not a handbag.  It’s my daughter’s past.  It is pain and hurt that cannot be summed up in a quick response, but somehow, it needs to be.  I don’t know what is worse: grown-ups asking my young black daughters about their white mom or grown-ups asking me in front of them about my young black daughters.   So life is good, and life is uncomfortable.

So there it is.  Life is good.  Life is hard.  Life is overwhelming.  Life is uncomfortable.  And life is very sweet.  On Mother’s Day, a day that is not simple for any my children or for me, we decided to get away.  We took a day trip to the beach, our first one as a family of 5, and we let the beach do what the beach does.  We let it soothe us and embrace us.  We let it heal us and renew us.  As my husband and I stood on the shore and watched our three children play in the waves together, laughing and unencumbered, I felt deeply connected to and grateful for my family and my life.  As a dear friend reminded me recently, a meaningful life is much richer than a happy one.  And the beauty is that when I seek meaning and connection more than ease and comfort, I experience more contentment and peace than I do when happiness is my pursuit.

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So, back to the question at hand.  “How am I adjusting to life as a family of 5?”

Honestly… It gets richer and more meaningful by the day.

 

To all the kids I don’t adopt

The process of adopting is full of intense and sudden emotions. On our journey to find the next child that will come into our family, there are countless children who need homes that won’t become mine. Some I may see on a website. Others I hear about locally. Still others I will never see a picture of or know their names, but they are still there. Waiting, like me.

This is hard. Devastating. Confusing. It could be a passing conversation with a friend or acquaintance about a child who needs a home. It may be a call from a case worker saying “maybe”, but there is no guarantee. The circumstances may not fit for one reason or another. And then there are times when you just need to slow it down a step to catch your breath, and then the door closes. Thoughtful inaction can lead to missed opportunity. Sometimes, the inaction may not be on my part. I may be waiting for someone else to do their job, to fulfill their role. And then a deadline is missed. An opportunity is lost. A child becomes someone else’s. There are also variables we have to consider as parents to our son. Adding a new family member is a life-altering process for everyone involved, and it requires a layer of sensitivity and care when other children are present. For these reasons and others, there are many children who cross my path (and thousands who don’t) that are not and will not be mine.

How do I make sense of this? How do I go “all-in” and deal with these continual disappointments? How can I keep envisioning possible children in our family only to be let down and skeptical of the whole process? I am sure people in my position have different ways of coping with this aspect of adoption. For me, it comes down to an anchor that I have to lean into if I am going to put myself through this.

I AM NOT IN CONTROL.

There is nothing groundbreaking about this notion, but it is comforting and relieving in the midst of so much uncertainty. I have to trust that life is not arbitrary and random. That if all of life really boiled down to luck or chance or even hard work, then I would be obsessed with doing everything just right and filled with fear and doubt and pressure to make the best move all the time. “If only I had called that case worker back an hour before” or “What if we missed our child because we went out of town and delayed our home study paperwork by a week?” That’s enough to make a person (me) crazy.

There are certainly things I can do and need to do in this process, so I focus on those things.  I make phone calls, send emails, research things online, seek wisdom and counsel from others, continue working on being a good parent to my son and a thoughtful wife to my husband.  I pray. I do what I can do, then I let go of the rest.

I have to remind myself constantly that there is something bigger at work than my own agendas and plans. Sometimes, I feel called to be diligent and relentless and, other times, I feel the need to slow down and trust. It’s hard to discern the difference, which is where community is paramount for me. I need those who know and love me to anchor me, too.  I need people to remind me that my child is out there; that I am not forgotten and neither is she. That I am not waiting alone.

And when I feel my Savior Complex kick in when I think about all of the children who need permanent families in this country, I hold on to my anchor once again. I AM NOT IN CONTROL.  I cannot right all the wrongs in this world, and adopting children is not the only way to seek out justice and show love.  Instead, I can be faithful to fulfill my own life purpose, which I strongly believe involves adopting more kids.  But not 20. Not 200.  Not 100,000.

In order to make peace with the children out there that don’t become mine, I have to hold on to this. I want a family. And for now, my husband and I have made peace with some parameters for what it needs to look like to bring more children into our family. We try to be open to what falls into those parameters, and we push the parameters a little here and there.  We continually check in with ourselves and each other to make sure the parameters are not too tight because of fear or too loose out of desperation.  We want to be thoughtful, hopeful and wise.

In the meantime, as I scroll through pictures on websites or hear stories of children needing homes, I will whisper each name in a breath prayer up to God, and I will honor their story even for just a moment. Because they are valuable and worthy of love. And eventually, it will be my child I whisper a breath prayer for… And the next chapter will begin.

 

I got no patience. and I hate waiting.

I am not a patient person.  In fact, I can be a bit impulsive and rash at times.  It’s a consequence of being passionate, I tell myself. (And that’s called justification.)  Jay Z summed up the sentiments of our culture in an inappropriate song from my teenage years: “I got no patience.  And I hate waitin.”

Many aspects of today’s culture feed into this personality characteristic quite well.  My most common outlet is Amazon Prime.  Pretty much anything I want, I can get instantaneously streamed or shipped to me within 48 hours.  It takes so little forethought to order presents or to be entertained.

In a streaming culture with the world at our fingertips, waiting seems so passé.

I remember a time when trying to recall what movie a particular actor starred in or the definition of a word or a random sports statistic had to be analyzed and argued about instead of just googled.  I recall my family’s first encyclopedia on cd-rom.  It felt like magic.  So much information in one place accessible to me through my clunky desktop computer.

Most businesses have had to find their own ways of speeding up the wait in order to stay competitive.  Restaurants have apps for reserving tables and even pre-ordering your meal.  Theme parks have fast passes and online access to current wait times for rides and attractions. And despite all the increased efficiency in our society, when we are forced to wait for even a minute, we can fill that wait time with scrolling.  Check Facebook.  Check Instagram.  Check the latest scores. Text. Email. Tweet. Snapchat. (This one gets me. “Here is a picture of me waiting!”)

Waiting isn’t a time to talk or pontificate the meaning of life.  It’s a time to distract. To prevent boredom.  To minimize discomfort.

So what happens when all the technological and societal advances aren’t enough and waiting is unavoidable? In those moments, we have to decide how badly we want whatever we are forced to wait for.

That’s where I am.  Waiting.  When we decided to pursue adoption again, I had a feeling it wouldn’t be so quick or smooth this time around.  That was rare, and I know this now.  We had done our fair share of waiting prior to our son’s adoption.  We struggled through infertility and made an intentional decision to pursue adoption, which involved a lot of paperwork and conversations and classes and tons of little details.  It was not easy.  But looking back, it was not nearly as hard as it is for most.  I see that now, and I honor that.

This time around, our process looks a bit different.  We have a little boy to consider and that means more waiting and praying and exploring and information-gathering.  One of the reasons the adoption process is so intense is that it requires patience and discernment and intention, as well as courage and risk and even impulsivity.  It’s a wait, wait, wait….. GO! sort of process.  And sometimes it’s even a wait, wait, wait.. Go-no wait, maybe go?-no, go back to waiting process.

A question I keep asking myself during this ambiguous and confusing stage is “How am I waiting?”

Am I using this time well or am I biding time?  Am I scrolling and streaming instead of reflecting and praying?

I want to wait well.  Not just in our adoption journey, but in all areas of my life.  I want to be present, but also allow myself to have vision and imagination for the future.  I want to look inward and around instead of down or even straight ahead.  I want to share my waiting experiences with others and not pull away or avoid.  I want to feel uncomfortable instead of numbing myself with distractions and surface-level connection.  I want to lean into my fears and honor the uncertainty of life.  But I don’t want to do it alone.  And I don’t think I am supposed to.

I am not a patient person.  I will continue to use fast passes and call ahead to restaurants and get my tickets on Fandango because these conveniences make life less stressful and rushed for me.  But when I have to wait, I want to wait well.  And in my waiting, I want to be more attuned to those who are waiting, too.  I want to wait with people and invite people to wait with me.  After all, so much of the experience is the anticipation.  When I wait with others, the anticipation feels exciting and connected.  When I wait alone, I am much more likely to feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty and run away.  I can tell you this, I would never wait an hour in line for Space Mountain by myself.

Many things feel scary right now.  What would be most comfortable would be to forget the whole adoption thing and enjoy the comforts of my life as it is.  But that is my fear talking.  My flesh.  My physical body instead of my spirit.  So when things start feeling acutely out of my control, I have to ask myself:

How badly do I want this?

When I dig deep, the answer is loud and clear.  Enough to wait as long as I need to.

 

I am not cut out for a Long Distance Relationship*

I am not cut out for a long-distance relationship.  I have never really done it.  I have watched many friends go through seasons of extended separation from significant others, and I have always considered these people to be of a stronger constitution than the average person. (namely, me.)  I have so much respect for the commitment and sacrifice that is needed to maintain a relationship (not to mention a family, a house, a life) long-distance.  It’s just never been my journey.

My husband is away for a few days at a work thing.  He has moved in to a new phase in his career that has resulted in more travel.  And by more, I mean “any at all” because he never really had to travel before.

One main reason why it feels so profound to me when my husband is out of town is that we are truly partners.  I have mentioned often that Dave would make a better single parent than I would for many reasons. (As evidenced by the list below.)  But I can survive when he is out of town.  I know what to do and I can manage the family responsibilities on my own for a few days.  I just don’t want to.  I would prefer for him to be here.  I like him.  And his absence is palpable.

Here are some reasons why I miss my husband when he is out of town:

1) There’s no one to finish the last handful of the popcorn in the bag.  I love popcorn so much.  I eat it every night with grated Parmesan on top, just like my Poppy taught me.  But I have convinced myself that I am displaying some degree of self-control by leaving one handful in the bag.  My husband bats clean-up, making me feel better about myself because he technically finished it.

2) I have to make my own coffee in the morning.  I actually enjoy making coffee, but since we have been married, Dave has been setting the coffee timer for about 4:30 am every day.  I am not sure if he means to set it for that time.  But I have come to look forward to pouring my first cup of coffee and having to heat it in the microwave for 30 seconds.

Dave teaching Josh to dust-bust 2 years ago.

Dave teaching Josh to dust-bust 2 years ago.

3) I used to laugh while watching my husband sweep the wood floors every night (yes, he sweeps the floors EVERY NIGHT), but I get it now.  I have taken for granted the freedom to walk around barefoot and not get a small crumb stuck in between my toes.  As my husband likes to say, “How in the world can so much sand get in to one boy’s shoes?!” (I may ask Josh to sweep tomorrow.  He has a bit of his dad’s compulsion to clean if directed effectively.)

4) Ironically, I watched football by myself.  After thousands of times requesting a channel change to “anything but more football”, I couldn’t help myself.  I watched the second half of the national championship game alone.  I think it made me feel closer to him.  Or maybe the indoctrination is finally complete. (After all, I did play Fantasy Football this year.)

5) Our son wanted to wrestle me before bedtime.  Let’s get something straight.  I snuggle.

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6) The laundry gets backed up. My husband’s deep love for/obsession with laundry has always been one of his most attractive qualities.  I remember an older friend of mine telling me early in our marriage never to complain about his compulsion to do laundry.  I certainly don’t.  I think I can hold off until he gets home…

7) I miss my friend.  The relational extravert in me misses one of my favorite things about being married- coming home to my best pal every day.

8) Watching The Bachelor without him just isn’t as much fun.  Don’t misunderstand me, I still enjoyed it. But I wished he were sitting next to me, making funny comments and analyzing people with me. (Seriously though, what was the deal with that Ashley girl? Is she on opiates?) Another one of my favorite things about my husband: He boldly admits to watching The Bachelor of his own volition and never acts like he just sits through it begrudgingly because I want to watch it.

9) I stay up way too late because, when left to my own devices, I have little self-control and I get a rush from staying up later than normal and doing whatever I want.  I know, I’m a grown-up.  I can do what I want pretty much any time.  But my rebellious nature loves the thrill of being awake when the world sleeps.  Then I regret it in the morning when my son crawls on top of me and Dave isn’t here to get the day started while I maintain my “Morning Zombie Karin” persona for about 20 minutes.

dave and karin dancing10) I’ve grown accustomed to his face.  Like an old habit or ritual or security blanket.  He’s woven into my fabric now, and it’s just not the same without him. I am not the same without him.

I tend to cringe at the expression “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”.  For some reason, it feels like a game to me.  I picture a teenage girl advising her friend to “just not text him back for a while… Then he will realize how much you mean to him.” (I have a perpetual 16-year-old girl who resides in my head.) But I guess there is some truth to the old adage.  Separation doesn’t make me love my husband more, but it does help me appreciate him in a deeper way.  Missing him feels good and bad at the same time.  I think I like it that way. I hope it always feels like that.

*Alternative title for this blog post: Why my husband is a rock star and I should probably tell him that more often.

Is this a moment I will remember? Christmas time reflections from the highway

December 25, 2014
I am in the passenger seat of our car basking in the aftermath of a lovely, relaxing Christmas morning with my husband and son. After a whirlwind holiday last year of cramming in and maximizing time, we made a necessary decision to simplify this year- to slow down and actually enjoy Christmas as our own family unit. To sleep in our own beds and wake up by our own Christmas tree.

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Now it is early afternoon, and as we get on the highway to visit family and keep the holiday going, I find myself with more time… Time to reflect, pray and remember. So many wonderful memories are filling my mind. My childhood Christmases when my siblings and I would open up a game to play while we waited for my dad to wake up. STOCKINGS! I have always loved that part. Spending the afternoon playing with my toys and trying on my clothes. I remember being a teenager and driving with my brother and sister to my grandparents’ house on Christmas afternoon. It was a time to talk and reflect and listen to music.  A ritual we had while making that drive was to play Everything But the Girl’s song “25th December”. There’s a line in it that keeps running through my head today…

“Oh I never, no I never ever realized”

Memories are so mysterious. We look back and romanticize and glamorize and immortalize. But when we are there, we don’t tend to realize. It’s funny what stands out in my mind now from my childhood. It’s not the big moments I thought it would be. It’s so many snapshots. Random experiences with people I love. A joke that turns into an inside joke that turns into a family story. It’s a look that sums up a relationship with perfect clarity. A smell that triggers a stage of life; not one particular moment, but the culmination of experiences that becomes a single memory.
So is it useless to try to remember? If we take enough pictures or videos, will we ever be able to fully recreate the moment? Or does trying to remember actually take us out of the moment?

December 28, 2014
Here I am again, reflecting and typing in the passenger seat of our car on our way back home. After our lovely Christmas morning opening presents and starting new traditions in our home, we spent the rest of Christmas day making memories and connecting with loved ones. Now, a few days later, I am already beginning to look back and sort through events and interactions and moments to see what stands out. I remember the moment when Dave discovered that the robot dog we got Josh for Christmas was set to Spanish mode instead of English. I remember Josh opening up his pogo stick from my sister and seeing the genuine excitement in his eyes.  I remember playing Calico Critters with my niece Aimee and laughing uncontrollably when her tiny toy rabbit’s ear broke off. I have those memories, but I also have a feeling. When I think about Christmas Day 2014, I hope I remember it as sweet, connected and special. I pray that I remember the warmth I experienced throughout the day and the depth and genuineness I felt from loved ones. When I look at pictures from that day, my wish is that they will not only spark memories of events, but also the feeling I felt that day and continue to feel now as I look back.

We don’t really know what will hold in our minds when we recall certain events and experiences. Since we don’t know what will stick, we have even more of a responsibility to be present- not to let moments pass us by, and also not to put too much focus on remembering any single moment that we aren’t actually “in it”. When we sit back and watch, let’s also lean forward and engage. When we grab for our cameras to capture a moment, let’s also pause and look at it with our own eyes first. Let’s laugh and cry together so that our memories can be connected to our relationships. Because from my experience, the memories that stick the most are the ones I share with others.

Let’s be present this new year. Let’s be engaged in life and relationships so that our collective experiences will produce shared memories and deepen our connections to others. But let’s also remember that, as hard as we try to be present, there will always be times when we will think, “I never, no I never ever realized”. After all, there are some experiences that cannot be fully realized without the passage of time. And there are gifts in those moments, too. But my prayer is that I will continue to learn to be more fully present and realize the beauty and pain and complexity of life all around me. Because even when it hurts, I would rather be present in my life than absent. I would rather remember than forget.

Especially the precious moments, like these.

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My Octobers: How pain and uncertainty can lead to connection and growth

When I used to think of October, the first thoughts that would come to mind were pumpkins, spiced everything, football, and the beginning of fall.  I love fall.  As a child, it was just what I longed for after the start of the school year.  It meant that the holidays were coming and there was a lot to look forward to.

For the past few years, October has been my most eventful and intense month of the year.  Three Octobers ago, my husband and I picked up our son Joshua for the final time and spent almost half the month in South Carolina waiting for paperwork to go through.  I remember feeling both intense joy and perpetual helplessness.  We adjusted to our “new normal” by enrolling Josh in preschool, introducing him to family and friends, and celebrating our first Halloween together.  We also attended my grandfather’s 102nd birthday.  I remember being in a constant state of awareness and disbelief.  It was one of the best months of my life, and one of the most exhausting.

josh and gramps meeting     100_2286

Two Octobers ago, my “not so new” family reunited in the mountains with some of our closest friends.  We experienced nature and rest and fun together.  Upon returning home,  two other dear friends were undergoing  an immense trial of having their baby, Ari, rushed to the NICU where she teetered between life and death for weeks.  Walking through such intense pain and heartache with friends created a  heightened emotional state that our entire community lived in throughout the month. I don’t think I have ever prayed harder in my life.  Everything seemed fragile. Alongside this intensity, my family was also experiencing our first round of “repeats”: Josh’s second year of preschool, my grandfather’s 103rd birthday, and the beginning of our second holiday season.

Ari 2          gramps and josh   josh superman

This year, as October approached, I had much to be thankful for and look forward to.  Sweet Ari was thriving and doing great as we were all getting ready to celebrate her 1st birthday, for which we had fervently prayed.  I was busy preparing for the wedding of my cousin Molly who has been like a little sister to me throughout my life.  And in the midst of all the excitement, I expected one more thing to remain consistent- we would celebrate my grandfather’s birthday at the end of October like we always have.

Then I got the call from my brother that changed things.  My grandfather was in the hospital again, and this time, there was talk of “the end”. I spent the rest of the month of October going back and forth from Orlando to Gainesville visiting him in the hospital, then in his home with hospice care, and making his funeral arrangements with my family. When his 104th birthday finally came the day after his funeral, I felt depleted.  This October, with all of its extreme highs and lows,  took everything out of me.  By God’s grace, I mustered up enough energy from my reserve tank on the very last day of the month to enjoy a great Halloween with my family.

10563080_10105517083152951_3044614371198159223_n    gramps hands    halloween 2014

The last three years, my Octobers have been roller coasters of emotions.  I have agonized and waited. I have anticipated and celebrated. I have prayed desperately for life and I have made peace with death. I have spent time with my dearest loved ones and I have been reminded of the pain of separation and loss.  And I have walked away from each October feeling utterly exhausted, yet more connected and grateful.  In the midst of all the uncertainty and change, each October I am drawn more intimately to God and knitted more closely together with others.

Although I can look back on my Octobers with tremendous gratitude and fondness, I can’t help but also feel relieved to see November come.  While my Octobers have been filled with change and uncertainty, my Novembers seem to bring a familiar comfort.  The start of the holiday season is accompanied by traditions and history and collective experiences that feel warm and inviting.  The change in weather (even in Florida) seems to bring a change in energy that I welcome. I look forward to November.

But I do not dread October.  I have learned more about myself these past 3 Octobers than any other season in my life. I can push through the pain and heartbreak for the intimacy and depth of relationships.  And because of my Octobers, I have a clearer picture of redemption and faith.  When I find myself questioning if God really has a plan for me as we wait eagerly for more children, I can reflect on the October when my longing to be a parent was met with the sweetest face I have ever seen.  When I doubt that God answers prayer, I can scroll through Instagram and see a picture of precious Ari playing and laughing, and I remember how desperately so many people prayed for her.  When I find myself fearing pain and death, I can remember my grandfather’s dream about the never-ending road and the legacy of his life that lives on in his family.

And when I feel alone, I can think back on my Octobers and picture the moments of true connection I have experienced- watching my family and my husband’s family embrace our son in South Carolina; staying up late responding to group texts from my community of friends as we waited for updates on Ari; dancing to the Brady Bunch with all my extended family at my cousin’s wedding and reminiscing about our childhood.  Standing around my grandfather’s bed after he died with my brother and sister feeling fully known and understood and loved.

We can’t perpetually exist in a heightened emotional state without some pretty significant consequences, but there are seasons in life where we have to.  And in those seasons, I feel more deeply and acutely aware of my surroundings, my relationships, and my need for God and others.  Those seasons are my Octobers.  And I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

When did I grow up?: Feeling old and nostalgic in a college town

Fall in a college town. The air is energized and swirling. The streets are packed with cars, bikes and pedestrians all trying to get where they need to go and coexist. Target and Publix are bursting at the seams. And I am smiling. I ask myself, “Why am I smiling when the calm of summer in a college town is being replaced with chaos, noise and (worst of all) traffic?” But then I see a young man buying cereal, Doritos, and a bar of soap at the grocery store with an air of self-assurance that only comes from the freedom of making decisions without anyone looking over his shoulder.  I watch a father load a rug and table lamp into the back of his SUV with his excited 18-year-old daughter eager to set up her new home. I hear friendships forming and connections being made when I am walking on campus as students talk about their old lives and new lives intertwined in their conversations. That’s why I am smiling. I remember those days, and I hold them tightly in my memory.

My freshman dorm room

    My freshman dorm room

Along with my nostalgia comes a question I have been asking myself quite often these days.

When did I grow up?


It’s tough to say.  As a little girl, the epitome of being a grown-up was being able to buy candy whenever you want.  At different points in my life, I have said to myself, “Huh. So this is what grown-up feels like.”  But then, undoubtedly, I would soon after experience something else that would cause me to feel childlike and unprepared for real adulthood.

When I was in high school, I pretended to be grown-up.  I wanted to be independent and free, making my own choices and not answering to anyone.  Then I would lock my keys in my car while it is still running in the parking lot of my part-time job and have to call my parents. I wanted so badly to be mature and older than my station in life, yet my mom still woke me up for school every morning and packed me a lunch with a note until I graduated. I made dumb decisions that, at the time, seemed totally appropriate, but now seem completely insane.  I thought I was so big.  I felt invincible.  I believed I really was grownup.

Then I went away to college.  All of my big, bad “I can take care of myself” attitude went out the window as soon as my family drove off and left me alone at my dorm.  I was scared, and I had changed my mind.  I didn’t want to be grown-up anymore.  I clung to the few people I knew from home and counted down the days until I could go back for a visit. Over time, I regained some confidence and began enjoying my freedom. I explored my new surroundings, filled my mini fridge with a combination of healthy and not-so-healthy foods, learned how to get up every day without my mom’s rendition of “Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory”, and even got my belly button pierced because I could. I remember sitting in the chair at BodyTech thinking, “Well, I guess I really am an adult.”

My parents getting ready to leave after bringing me to college

My parents getting ready to leave after bringing me to college

At some point, the grown-up moments started occurring more frequently, and the moments of faking it happened less and less. But I still have those moments where I feel overwhelmed and unready. Moments when I want someone else to make the decisions or relieve the pressure or tell me everything will be okay. Does that mean I am not really grown-up?  Or does recognizing my limitations and seeking help actually make me more grown-up? Maybe permission is what it really comes down to. As children, we want to know that we are allowed to grow up, and as adults, we want to be reminded that we don’t have to always feel or even act grown-up.

As I observe the young students embarking on this new adventure of independence and adulthood, I feel like Wendy telling Peter Pan that she can’t go back with him to Neverland anymore because she is all grown up. But I realize that it’s not about going back. It’s about continuing to experience change and uncertainty and new levels of being grown-up with courage and excitement. It’s accepting that, as grown-up as I may feel, I still want permission to be scared and to need help and support. I want to remember that being a grown-up doesn’t mean I am alone. But being grown-up does mean that I can splurge on a candy bar at the grocery store just because I can.

What were the symbolic moments in your life that felt very grown-up?