Happy Anniversary! (Leaving Berkeley, Blog #1)

Today is our wedding anniversary. I told Andy earlier today that this will go down in history as the worst anniversary ever, but he disagreed. How could it be the worst anniversary ever, he asked, when Prince Charming is coming to the last-minute rescue of his sinus-infected princess?

Andy has been gone for three very long weeks. Weeks during which:

Aaron has started daycare and not dealt incredibly well with the change.

Work crews have been at our house non-stop to prep us for the move.

I have come down with a terrible sinus infection for which my doctor refuses to prescribe an antibiotic until at least Monday.

We only have two useable rooms on the main level of our home, neither of which are the rooms the kids actually play in.

All the belongings usually housed in the non-useable rooms are crammed into the useable rooms, which means we are tripping over everything, everywhere, all the time.

I haven’t been able to watch a single baseball game.

And the kids’ school is closed today and it’s raining and I’m sick.

So today, facing a looonnnggg weekend of being crammed into about 200 square feet with an incredibly needy four-year-old, a monkey of a one-year-old, a whiny German Shepard, and approximately five guys who are kindly and patiently stepping over Legos, unwrapping Aaron when he gets into the tape, and dealing with too-long stares from Rachel in addition to her “whys?”, perhaps it was no surprise that I texted Andy, “Can’t you come home today? Please?”

After a lot of back and forth and working out details, he agreed and, as I type, is waiting to board the next flight to Oakland. Prince Charming indeed.

To kill time earlier today, in our five-bedroom-turned-studio home, Rachel and I looked through wedding photos. Collin, of course, featured prominently.

“Where are Aaron and me?”, she asked. (we’re working on grammar, I promise).

“Well, you weren’t there yet because Mommy and Daddy weren’t married yet.”

Blank stare. She cannot fathom a world without her in it.

A few things came to me as we scrolled through the wedding pictures that I’ve yet to put into a fancy album:

1)   Our wedding photographer did a horrible job.

2)   There was a lot of love in that room.

Looking at the faces of the 150 to 200ish people present, I realized that some of them have gotten married, at least one has passed away, and approximately 12 or more babies have been born. The boys who hung out in the choir room instead of dancing are now off to college, and the ones playing ball in the grassy area by the church are now taller than me. One of those kids is in a shelter; another was a National Merit Scholar.

Some of the faces belong to people I thought I’d always see on a bi-weekly basis, if not more, and yet I haven’t seen them in months or even years.

On our first date, one of the first questions Andy and I asked each other was, “Would you ever leave Berkeley?” We both answered an emphatic “no.” Too perfect, too beautiful, too “bubbly” to leave. Even though I thought our first date was pretty terrible, that answer gave me hope.

And yet… here we are. Packing up, moving out. Vetting agents and making spreadsheets. It happens. But still it took me by surprise. Five years. Three kids. A first home. Multiple nephews. One kid in college, another almost off to kindergarten. Three dogs became one. One lawyer turned writer, and one baseball coach turned non-profit executive.

No wonder we’re so tired.

One of our friends came to look at our house when we first bought it. “A definite fixer-upper! Good thing you guys are young. Next time, you won’t buy a fixer, I promise.”

I laughed. “There won’t be a next time! You know us… we’re stay-put kind of people.”

He just smiled in that annoying way people who are older than you sometimes do.

A lot changes in five years.






I Know You Think You’re “That Family,” but Trust Me, You Aren’t. We Are.

The nicest guy in the world is painting the inside of our house. His name is Gonzalo, and he’s a single dad to six kids. And yet, there he is, every morning, knocking on my door with a giant can of Monster is his hand, looking like he’s ready to take on the day.

When Gonzalo signed on for the seemingly-easy-enough task of painting the house, I said, “You know my husband and I both work from home…. and the kids will be around most of the time, too. Think that will be okay?”

“Oh, that shouldn’t be a problem… just work around you. No problem at all.”

“So, you’ve done that before and it’s been okay?” (tone of hope)

“Eh, no… we’ve never had this come up, but I’m sure it will be fine. Don’t worry.”

Here we are, about two weeks into the job, and Gonzalo’s default cheer is fading fast. I feel for this guy. If I remember correctly, he’s got a three-year-old, an eight-year-old, an eleven-year-old, and a thirteen-year-old with him full time. I imagine work is usually a reprieve from the insanity of childrearing. I mean, I know that for me even a trip to the dentist for a root canal is a reprieve (I can lay down! I can close my eyes and no one will try to decapitate me with a plastic object!). But for the last two weeks, Gonzalo has gone from his own zoo to mine. So when yesterday dawned dull, gray, and wet, and neither kid was scheduled to be at daycare, I knew I had to do something, anything, to avoid death by paintbrush.

So we went to Habitot.

Andy and I took Rachel to free day at Habitot when she was younger, and I’d say it was a resounding failure for a number of reasons. It’s also expensive and germ-filled, so given our little kids’ propensity for getting sick, we just haven’t been back.

Until yesterday.

I would love to list each and every adventure we had, from attempting to use a broken handicapped lift, strewn with debris and what I think was (adult) urine, upon entry, to losing our parking ticket—twice—upon exit. But I won’t.

Instead, I’ll just say that Aaron stole the show. I mean, seriously. We were THAT family. It wasn’t even close. Given that it was a rainy day, Habitot was packed and I had a lot of kids to evaluate against my own. The results? Rachel measured up beautifully. Aaron… not so much.

For real. He was the ONLY child not playing nicely at a station. That isn’t to say other kids weren’t running back and forth, but they were doing it in an orderly, okay-now-I-know-he’s-going-to-fall-down-get-up-then-take-a-sharp-left sort of way. Aaron was just hopped-up-on-Mountain-Dew crazy.  I am so not kidding: there were at least four other moms—you know, the kind who not only say it takes a village, but actually live it—helping me keep Aaron from drowning, throwing himself from high places, moving furniture from one side of the building to another, etc. And that was just the moms. There were also two STAFF women who assigned themselves to the not-paid-enough task of looking after us. Habitot has been around for a looooonnnngggg time, but it wasn’t until yesterday that staff had to check with their boss to ensure that neither the paint nor the soap was toxic. Because, you know, Aaron ate them both. And that was WITH a total of five moms and two staff watching.

At first, the non-helping, spectator moms seemed to get a kick out of watching Aaron run pell mell down the hall covered in paint and a ladybug apron. But after a while, they started taking notes, with headings like “What Not to Do in Public With Your Child,” and “How to Studiously Avoid the Woman Whose Eyes are Pleading With You to Help Her.” I honestly think our neighbor was there with her daughter who is Aaron’s age, but every time I tried to get close enough to talk she’d quickly leave the scene.

Rachel, sweet little Rachel, went straight for the art room and began to nicely paint the walls. After much corralling, Aaron joined her. He started off double-fisting the paintbrushes, painting with one and eating the other, Fun-Dip style. Then he decided to cut out the middle man: he tossed both brushes to the floor, grabbed the supposedly-child-proof cup of paint, and dumped it straight into his mouth. And then the floor. You know, for variety.

So I convinced Rachel that instead of painting, she really wanted to give the little naked, plastic, private-part-endowed babies a bath. She was totally into that, so we went to the water station. I actually got to sit down at this point. Aaron was thrilled to splash around, and there was the added benefit of washing the paint off him without any effort on my part.

Just as I started to relax, thinking it wasn’t so bad after all, things took a turn for the worse. I realized Aaron had not just been splashing, but for the last five minutes had been actively DRINKING the water from the splash tub. The same tub that had ten little cootie-filled kids around it, arms in up to their elbows, and filled with dolls, boats, scrub brushes, and other toys that had been only-God-knows where being used for not-even-God-knows-what before landing in that tub.

The other village moms and I tried our best, but I finally had to resign myself to squatting beside the tub right by Aaron, one arm out, defense-style, ready to pushhisfaceoutofthetuborgrabthebowlfromhismouthorextractthetoyfrombetweenhisteeth.

This gave me the perfect vantage point for watching Rachel put the smack down on a kindergartner who picked on Aaron.

Little kid: “Hey, give me that!” snatches toy from Aaron.

Aaron, who is the youngest of three, doesn’t hesitate to take it back.

Little kid, getting pissy: “You took my toy!” Takes toy back. Aaron glares but then takes a big gulp of swamp water and is happy again.

Not so much Rachel. From the other side of the tub, Rachel says in a mama-voice, “he’s just a baby. He doesn’t know any better.”

The kid stares at her. About 30 seconds pass and then Rachel apparently decides this simply isn’t good enough.

Rachel walks like she has a purpose–arms swinging, face determined–to the other side of the table to stand by the bully. She gets right up close, peering into his freckled face for a few seconds before saying, louder this time, “He’s just a baby. He doesn’t know any better. You have to be nice to him!”

Bully-kid thinks Rachel is off her rocker, but from that point on is much nicer. Rachel seems satisfied and shuffles off (not quite happily, because I couldn’t play with her, what with trying to keep Aaron from drowning and all) to the cool water ramp-thingy.

At no point in all of this did I feel embarrassed. Not even when I had to send Rachel alone to the cubbies to put Andy’s favorite sweatshirt (which I was wearing) away before it got ruined, and one of our two self-assigned staff members offered to walk with her since, you know, Rachel is four and the cubbies are right by the front door. It just is what it is. I commiserated with another mom whose first—her first!—was the same way. A year after her first was born, she gave birth to twins (who were much, much calmer, she said). I was encouraged by the fact that this woman was still alive and able to function well enough to share her story.

My mother-in-law has suggested that Aaron is such a handful because he doesn’t get out much. That’s a nice suggestion, but given Aaron’s recent adventures climbing six-foot tall ladders, jumping into buckets of oil-based Kilz, and tying himself up with blue painters’ tape, I think Gonzalo would disagree.

Surviving in Difficult Marriage: Car Wash

Today’s post is from author Elisabeth K. Corcoran. Give it a read, and be sure to check out Elisabeth’s new book!

I don’t know why I remember so vividly sitting in the car that cold, sad January morning, while my then-husband washed our car, and my kids sat in the backseat.  They were tired and whiney, pre-teens who just wanted lunch and to be done with the day.

It was one month prior to being threatened for the first time with the cruelest words anyone had ever spoken to me.

And it was two months prior to me breaking the news to our little world of the abuse that had been going on for fifteen years.

But I didn’t know any of that then.

What I knew that morning was that my aunt had just died and we were on our way home from her funeral.  And that my husband had just taken us to Wendy’s where the kids were only allowed to get hamburgers and water, no fries, and I couldn’t decide what to get if anything because my husband wasn’t getting anything at all, choosing instead to wait until we got home to eat, and I always gauged what I would get based on how much he spent on his order.  So I remember struggling with this guilt and resentment and restriction that felt so disrespectful and intrusive on the grief that was supposed to have top billing that day.

I remember a few days before when I told him that my aunt had died and he hugged me, and I felt emptier in that hug than if he hadn’t hugged me at all.  I didn’t know then that that would be one of our last hugs.

And we sat in the car, and I watched him walk around with the hose, his breath coming out in vapor because it was so cold, thinking he was crazy for not just paying the extra two or three dollars – two or three dollars that we totally had – to get a regular carwash on such a freezing day.  And I was spent.  And I just wanted to go home. And I remember how the sadness I was feeling about my aunt dying completely paled in comparison to the sadness I felt about my marriage’s constant dying, but I wouldn’t have said that to anyone then, because I was ashamed.

I didn’t know then that was our last carwash as a family.  I didn’t know then that was the last fast food run we’d make as a foursome.  I didn’t know then that was the last family death we would walk through together.  I didn’t know a lot of what I know now.

But something in me must’ve known something was coming or shifting, because why else would I remember every detail of a carwash four years later?  Because within months, every single thing would be different.  My marriage would be on its way to being beyond repair and then, within a year, the time of death would be called on it.

So everything changed and something died, and now, new life is springing up.  Slowly.  Painfully at times.  In fits and starts.  But it’s coming.  And now instead of recounting all of our “lasts”, I’m celebrating as many firsts and new things as I possibly can.

EKC photo2Elisabeth Klein Corcoran is the author of Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage and Unraveling: Hanging Onto Faith Through the End of a Christian Marriage, along with several other books. She speaks several times a month to women’s groups, and is a member of Redbud Writers’ Guild. She has been featured on Moody’s In the Market with Janet Parshall, This is the Day with Nancy Turner, and Midday Connection with Anita Lustrea.She lives with her children in Illinois. Visit her online at http://www.elisabethcorcoran.com/difficult-marriage-divorce/ or https://www.facebook.com/ElisabethKleinCorcoran.  She is the moderator of two private Facebook groups: one for women in difficult Christian marriages, and one for Christian women who are separated or divorced. Email her at elisabeth@elisabethcorcoran.com if interested in joining.

If you’d like to support Elisabeth’s work, go here: http://www.patreon.com/elisabethkleincorcoran.


Week Links #16

Could it be true that I haven’t posted a Week Links since August? Why yes, I think it could be.

August…. getting the oldest off to college, Christmas planning starts in September, birthdays in October, November, and December, plus all the holidays…. I’ve noticed over the years that September to February tends to be… off. But here we are in March, so perhaps things can stay “on” for the next 5 or so months. We’ll see, anyway.

I haven’t had much time to peruse articles online, but I did manage to come up with a handful of must-reads.

Recline! Why “Leaning In” is Killing Us, by Rosa Brooks  Interestingly, I posted a link to one of my blog posts in the comment section of this article, and received hundreds of views from all over the world. Who knew that people 1) actually read through comments, and 2) actually click links in comments. What if I had posted spam?!? But I hadn’t. Instead, I had posted this. I actually feel much differently now that when I wrote that post a year ago, in the throes of RSVnewbornery, but, you know. The internet is forever, so there you go.

Andy had a great post up this week that ran at a few different places (he’s in demand!). It isn’t “sexy” stuff, so to speak, but his article addresses what could be the most important little-discussed issue of our time when it comes to eradicating poverty. If you want to sound smart at parties, on your next playdate, or in line at the liquor store, take a minute to read his post, Stealing Debt Relief.

My Redbud friend Margot Starbuck (who has a new book coming out in a few days!) had a great interview at RLC with Jonathan Chan, a man of many hats with Haiti Partners. Super catchy title, too: Why Facebook Posts and Free Food Giveaways Aren’t Transforming Lives. By the way, if after reading the interview you want to know more about how you CAN transform lives, go back up one link to Andy’s article. Click the link. Read the post. Bam! Now you know.

True story: A guy once invited me to be on his radio show to do an interview about a woman-focused article I had written. I can’t remember which article. Anyway, I researched him a bit and found out his was not a show I wanted to be on. Also, I had family in town. The same guy recently asked a Redbud friend of mine, Dorothy Greco, for an interview. She researched him, too, but he gave her a list of interview questions and things seemed fairly straight up. So, she did the interview. I won’t ruin the ending, but I will say that, alas, it did not go well (to put it mildly). Read Dorothy’s article, Misogyny is Alive and Kicking, to find out what happened. Take your blood pressure pill first, though.

Yet another Redbud friend (who I’m lucky enough to actually see in person on a fairly regular basis!), Bronwyn Lea, had a much anticipated post up at CT’s Her.meneutics exploring how God really feels about divorce: What God Teaches Us About Broken Marriage Vows. Bronwyn’s a deep thinker and a smarty pants to boot, so it’s well worth your time to check out her first CT piece.

And finally, my most read of the week, which I just so happened to write almost a year ago: 50 Years After the Feminine Mystique, I Just Can’t Do it All.

If you like what you read here, won’t you take a moment to “like” my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter? Or perhaps get automatic updates when I post by entering your email address in the little box that says “follow this blog”?

Pop Quiz: What do American Dependency Courts and Resource Poor Countries Have in Common?

I recently read and reviewed Gary Haugen and Victor Boutrous’ new, groundbreaking book, The Locust Effect. In it, Haugen and Boutros spend a considerable amount of time detailing the corruption, abuse, and dysfunction rampant in the justice systems and law enforcement agencies of developing worlds. Until these systems are fixed, they argue, remedial measures to eradicate poverty will not be able to take full effect.

Although Haugen and Boutros say little about corresponding U.S. systems, as I read their descriptions of outrageous police, judicial, and community actions that disallow the poor and disenfranchised from receiving justice, I couldn’t help but compare those descriptions to what occurs here in the United States.

I won’t pretend that our justice system and law enforcement agencies are anything near what is described in The Locust Effect. Our systems are vastly less corrupt, less abusive, and less dysfunctional. Nonetheless, I found far too many similarities between the impoverished courts of developing worlds and the American court system established to obtain justice for the least powerful among us: abused and neglected children.

In a section entitled, “Justice Moves at a Glacial Pace,” Haugen and Boutros detail the most harmful courtroom conditions they have witnessed, and greatly emphasize the outrage Americans would feel if such things took place in American courtrooms. Making the list of outrage-worthy actions:

  • a shortage of judges and decades of underinvestment in the judicial system
  • trials conducted over months and years instead of consecutive days
  • that lawyers, witnesses, and even the judge can, with impunity, simply fail to show up
  • pre-trials and trials being frequently cancelled and rescheduled
  • child sex victims having to testify two or more times
  • frequent changes in counsel.

Having spent over a decade working within the foster care system, I have witnessed my fair share of courtroom action on behalf of abused and neglected children. Unfortunately, the conditions detailed above are precisely what occur most days in the American courtrooms whose mission it is to protect children.

Let’s compare:

Haugen and Boutros are clear in their belief that Americans would revolt if trials were not heard on consecutive days and settled within short periods of time. Yet, that is precisely what foster children—who wait daily to determine where they will live and who they will call “mom”—experience. Because of backlog, underfunding, and overcrowded dockets, trials can take months or even a year. Often times this occurs due to the next absurdity noted by Haugen and Boutros, which is also commonplace in American dependency courts: key players fail to show. And instead of being punished for this, the trial is cancelled and rescheduled, sometimes being put off for a month or more due to scheduling conflicts, vacations, or court holidays.

It is for similar reasons that child witnesses are often forced to testify over the course of several non-consecutive days. Even when the child’s testimony is given within the judge’s chambers, outside of earshot of the accused, the emotional impact is great.

Lastly, given the overwhelmed and underpaid attorneys and social workers who are appointed to represent and advocate for children, counsel and social workers frequently change. This impacts not only the attorney/client, social worker/client relationship, it impacts the judicial process as new social workers and attorneys must be brought up to speed about prior proceedings.

In their call for complete and total reform of judicial systems in most developing worlds, Haugen and Boutros write that these problems are “devastating little detail[s] of systemic dysfunction that people outside the developing world might never imagine.”


And those outside the dependency system would never imagine them, either. But these problems do exist, and they do the same harm here that they do in resource poor countries: delay justice, increase pain for victims, and create distrust of a system put into place to protect those in need

We are lucky. We have well-educated professionals to protect children. We have kind and caring judges. We have loving social workers and passionate attorneys. Importantly, we also have laws to protect children from the “devastating details of dysfunction.” But as Haugen and Boutros write, laws on the books do little good if they are not applied in the day-to-day workings of police stations or courtrooms.

Haugen and Boutros paint a striking picture when they rightly compare courtrooms in the developing world to Alice in Wonderland. When the Queen puts Alice on trial for stealing, Alice takes comfort in her familiarity with the court environment. She can identify the jury box, the jurors, and the judge—she is perhaps not in her element, but she is at least knowledgeable of what (she anticipates) will occur. Yet when court enters session, Alice witnesses “absurdities, gibberish, and malapropisms” far removed from what she thought she knew.

Similarly, we—as Americans or lawyers or advocates—think we know what happens within our courtrooms. We can identify the key players, we sometimes even know applicable law. But upon entering courtrooms whose job it is to protect children, we become “lost in the swirl of confusion, non secquitur, and dysfunction,” just as Alice was.

I do not purport to know the answer to this problem. We have decent laws and wonderful attorneys, judges, and social workers. We have non-profits such as the National Center for Youth Law whose mission it is to change the policies that cause such problems (and others) to occur. The people who are aware of the existing dysfunction are trying to make things right. Perhaps if we bring this dysfunction to light for others—not just those intimately involved with the foster care system—change agents will discover this “new” place of need and act accordingly.

We are all called to different works and moved by different needs. We cannot, however, realize our callings and passion without knowing what needs exist. So here you have it. Just as Haugen and Boutros say justice systems in the developing world need our attention and efforts, so too does the U.S. dependency system. If you didn’t know this before, you know it now. I would ask that you search your heart and conscience to determine whether this is something you are passionate about and willing to take action to address.

If so, I suggest checking out wonderful organizations like Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). I suggest paying far too much for law school so you can take an underpaid job helping children. I suggest pursuing an MSW so you can spend 12-hour days driving between the foster homes of various children just to make sure they know they are loved. I suggest saying a prayer for a judge or commissioner whose docket is (over) crowded with heartbreaking stories of abuse and neglect, and who sometimes tears up during testimony.

If this isn’t your area of passion, I get that. But if you feel a little niggle in your heart as you read about local courtrooms comparable to what two American authors call a “dysfunctional outrage,” then please, do something. Leave a comment here if you have ways others can get involved, or if you want to know more about ways you can help.


The Locust Effect

Despite our best efforts, we’ve somehow missed it.

Even in the midst of our generous financial donations, volunteer hours, mission trips, and letter writing, we’ve failed to see what should have been glaringly obvious: the global poor lack the most basic ingredient for forward progression — personal security.

In their recently released book, The Locust Effect, Gary Haugen (founder of the International Justice Mission), and Victor Boutros (federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice) convincingly argue that all our best work to eradicate poverty — even while worthwhile, helpful, and well-intended — is for naught unless we concurrently address the epidemic of violence and fear facing the poor in the developing world.

Read the rest of today’s post here.

Via thelocusteffect.com

Why I Don’t Care About Valentine’s Day

I’ve never been a big fan of marriage.

OK, that’s not really true. I think marriage is awesome. But for me, personally, marriage is, well, hard.

I’m the introvert to end all introverts. “Alone” is my middle name. So as much as I adore my husband and can’t say enough about the wonderful things I think both the legal contract as well as the covenant before God do for individuals, society, and children*, sharing daily space with someone is a whole other story.

I struggle with this a lot, and bless my husband’s heart, he puts up with me anyway.

Over the last couple of weeks, life’s been a little tough for us. We’ve had whooping cough, possible mono, colds, and, of course, work + kids. Throughout all this, my husband has remained perfectly (inexplicably frustratingly) healthy. He’s made me bad food (sorry, sweetie), changed even more diapers than normal, and pretty much rearranged his entire schedule to be home to put the baby down for his nap so I don’t have to.

Sweet, huh? But that’s nothing new. He’s always been that kind of guy.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, after a 12-hour work day for him and a long kid day for me, I saw my husband standing in the living room, vulnerable and crumpled in his shirtsleeves, tired and leaning on a doorframe… smiling. Laughing at some absurdly bad joke of mine, loving me despite my use of the word “shirtsleeves” and having worn the same pajama pants for 14 days in a row.

After sharing a tired hug, I said good night and headed down the stairs to go to bed while he stayed up with the baby.

On about step three it hit me: I love marriage.

I love that my husband and I joke in the middle of overwhelming fatigue, the way we start singing Journey in unison when the baby cries, our code words and wiggled eyebrows in social gatherings, and the fact that no matter how bad the days get, we know that we have to keep sharing space, keep singing Journey, keep smiling for the kids. And eventually, the bad days are forgotten and we dance in the kitchen to songs my husband doesn’t like but knows I do, while the kids try to cut in because they just can’t stand not to share in the love.

Valentine’s Day isn’t really a day to celebrate marriage. At least not marriage with kids. It’s about too-expensive roses, fattening chocolate, and waiting three hours on a table at an overcrowded restaurant with a mediocre fixed menu while the teenaged babysitter racks up the big bucks and goes through the medicine cabinet.

Instead, it’s the remaining 364 days out of the year that are about celebrating marriage. The bad days, the even worse days, and the grooves worn in the floor from dancing the same steps, day in, day out, laughing at it all, and knowing the person who you sometimes can’t stand is someone you will always love.

* I’m going to ignore the fact here that, historically, the structure of the legal contract was not necessarily a good thing for women.

Happy Valentine’s Day to the love of my life. You rock.