Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent at the HennHouse: Day 1

We have many Advent traditions... We move our family devotions to the evening. We light the candles. We do some reading.

And the week before Advent, Tim and I wrap all of our Christmas books so that we unwrap a couple to read together each day.

And we observe the tradition of the Jesse Tree.

For years we've been using "Jesse Tree Devotions" by Marilyn Breckenridge. We hang the poster somewhere that we can all see it every day, and we've been using the same, laminated leaves since 2009. I had to buy a new poster this year.

And we read one "chapter" of "The Jesse Tree" by Geraldine McCaughrean every night.

And we read one page from "Advent Storybook" by Antonie Schneider.

And the kids get a tiny present. This year, they will receive little bits that on December 24 will build a robot. (But don't tell them!)

First Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 11:1-2
From "Jesse Tree Devotions" by Marilyn S. Breckenridge:
"Thank you, God, for our family. Help us as a family this Advent season to prepare to celebrate Jesus' birthday at Christmas. As we think about his family tree, may we grow to love him more and to love our own family more. Amen."

From "The Jesse Tree" by Geraldine McCaughrean:
"And there was nothing for the carpenter to do by to tell the boy the story behind the carvings of the sun and moon."

From "Advent Storybook" by Antonie Schneider:
"How far is it to Bethlehem," asked Benjamin.
Mother Bear smiled, "24 stories away!"

We read the following books:
"The Spirit of Christmas" by Nancy Tillman
"The Tale of Three Trees" a traditional folktale retold by Angela Elwell Hunt.

I try to start Advent with these two books every year. I love these books. If you have a chance to get a copy or check one out of the library, you'll find yourself reading them over and over again.

I've probably read each book 100 times. Or more. And still, I cried in the reading of them this year.

I love Advent season and all of our traditions. I love the feelings of anticipation and preparation. I love seeing the excitement and reverence in my kids' eyes in the light of the Advent candles and the fireplace. This is, by far, my favorite time of year. And there is an even bigger sense of anticipation this year as we're all hopeful that Isaiah can come home for Christmas.

Our anticipation at spending the holiday with Isaiah is best described by Nancy Tillman in "The Spirit of Christmas,"

And so then, my darling, wherever you roam,
my you always be safe... may you always come home.

For as long as the world still spins and still hums,
wherever you are, and no matter what comes,

the best part of Christmas will always be...
you beneath my Christmas tree.

Have a blessed Advent season.

A preview from Isaiah's senior pictures session.
I really can't wait to show you them all.

© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

FFFN: Lego Kids Fest

Everywhere legos.
Lego art. Lego gardens. Lego racing.

Boba Fett!!!

I guess these are legos, too.

It was billed as a "kids fest,"
but I saw as many grown ups having fun as I saw kids.
Perhaps, "kids of all ages fest" is a better descriptor.

The whole time, she couldn't
wait to get in the big lego pile.

Because she wanted to bury herself in legos.

Up to her eyes.
Best photo of the night.


This whole thing was legos!
So many legos.

Thousands and thousands of legos.

AND, Minecraft programming.

© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

When blessings are disguised, and "I'm glad I ended up with you."

We walked out of the restaurant and turned left. Isaac held the leftover food in one hand, and the door with his other. I looked down to Esther-Faith and told her she needed to hold someone's hand in the parking lot.

She spun her chair on a dime and grabbed Isaiah's hand with both of hers. She looked up at his face as he uncertainly took her hand. Then, he stepped in front of me and walked alongside her to the car. Isaac hurriedly slipped past me to catch up with his siblings. On instinct, Esther-Faith reached up and grabbed his hand.

I stopped on the corner and watched. They were laughing together. Walking together. Almost being "normal" siblings. And they had been doing it all throughout our lunch.

We didn't have a lot of time to spend together. Some folks from the group home brought Isaiah back to his hometown to begin the transition from children's mental health services to adult mental health services. I left work at lunchtime to meet him downtown. The plan was for Tim to get the kids when school ended and meet us for a meal.

As usual, our plans were upended.

The mental health services facility refused to treat Isaiah because of insurance. Because he HAS insurance. His social worker and I, standing next to each other when the news was delivered, were baffled. She actually seemed a little angry. We were blindsided. And we're back to square one. Trying to figure out how to get him the help he needs in order to reintegrate with his family in a safe way.

I texted Tim who was having a hectic day at work. "CALL ME. RIGHT NOW."

Yes, I used all caps.

He called.

I explained the situation to him. He said, "I'm going to see if I can leave work right now. I'll get the kids and meet you."

We talked for a minute, and I asked the group home counselor if we could take Isaiah further into downtown so he could complete the application to stay at the YMCA. My request was granted.

Tim arranged to meet us and headed home. Isaiah's social worker headed back to the office to try to sort out this mess.

The YMCA is interesting. And sad. There didn't seem to be much happy down there. At one point I was approached and asked for a free cell phone. The guy actually wanted a free cell phone. It was crazy.

The YMCA was another dead end. He can't get a room until he gets a job. He can't get a job until he moves back home. He can't move back home until he gets a room. I was almost forcing Isaiah to ask his own questions. He's not timid, but he doesn't know what to ask.

While I was talking to the group home counselor, one of the YMCA employees approached me. As usual, she didn't know I am his mom. Quietly, she asked me, "Is this his only option? Is there anywhere else he can stay?" I looked around. My gut was telling me that everything about that place was just wrong for Isaiah. I looked at the counselor and back to the employee's eager eyes. "I'm going to try," I said. "I'm going to try."

We talked for a minute, and I thought the conversation was over. But she followed us as we stood behind Isaiah who was asking his questions. "You need to find another place for him," she said, thisclose to my face. "He'll get eaten alive in here." I looked at her and back at my son. His social awkwardness showing. His uneasiness. And his confidence. He is so eager to show Tim and me that he's willing to do whatever it takes to come home, he's willing to overlook the flaws in this place. I looked at this woman and recognized the anxiousness of a mother's eyes. "We'll see what we can do," I promised. My head was spinning with questions and ideas and worries.

Isaiah walked over to me and stood very close. He said, "I can't stay here with pending criminal charges." He handed me a post it note with a name and phone number on it. "You have to call this lady after I go to court in December."

I recognized the defeat in his eyes. And worry that this chaos we're living will last longer. I reached my hand up and scratched his back. "It's going to be okay," I said. "Do you want to hang onto this or do you want me to put it in my folder?" He wants me to hold onto it. The counselor and I told him that the charges will likely be dropped or reduced. But he wasn't convinced. He was worried.

I asked the group home counselor if I could still take him to a late lunch. "Of course," was his answer. Isaiah rode with me.

Lunch was easy. And fun. The kids talked mostly to each other. Isaiah sat between his siblings. Esther-Faith gave him at least a dozen "sneak-attack" hugs. The kind where she points to something and says, "Look over there," and as soon as you look she's draped around your neck laughing and squeezing some love into you.

At least a dozen of those.

Probably because it took at least the first six for Isaiah to be comfortable returning the hug. He doesn't get much positive interaction at the group home where the people all up in his personal space are there because they love him.

When Tim arrived with the kids, I noticed that Isaac didn't walk in. "Back me up in this," he seethed to me under this breath. Isaac trailed slowly behind. I could tell that mayhem had ruled the short drive from his school to the restaurant. I looked at his eyes. Crazy with dysregulation. He sat down next to Isaiah without saying anything or touching him.

These boys. The ache they must feel in being apart. And the peace they must feel in being apart. And the confusion in the dichotomy of those two things.

Isaiah looked at me. I had prepped him with things to ask his siblings. I nodded my head in Isaac's direction. "Tell me about your art projects, Isaac" he said. Isaac smiled and talked about what he's working on and what projects had been selected for display. Esther-Faith talked about her birthday dress. And her teacher. And the dog.

Luckily, the subject of the dead cat was not approached.

I smiled at Tim. He squeezed my hand. I sipped my coffee.

Time was short. Too short. We settled the bill and headed outside to hand Isaiah over to be taken back to the group home.

I think goodbyes are easier for the kids. They didn't seem phased or melancholy by the impending farewell. I stood frozen on the sidewalk watching them. Just as I had hundreds of times before. At the zoo and COSI and on vacation and through the mall. Holding on to each other and forgetting what they each face every day.

Tim came around the corner and bumped into me. I wiped a tear and told him that I wanted a photo. He opened the camera on his phone and chased down the kids.

When we were sitting at the YMCA completing the application, Isaiah told me that he doesn't have any real memories of his birth mom, and that he's interested in finding her in a couple of years. He shared with me that he thinks his memories are idealized.

I was floored. What an amazingly mature thing to say.

I turned my phone over so I wouldn't be distracted by the steady stream of text messages, email alerts, and Liverpool news. I reached out and brushed my fingers on the back of his hand, saying nothing.

He pulled a book from his backpack, 20 Life-Transforming Choices Adoptees Need to Make. He looked at me and said, "I'm really happy with my real mom, you." I squeezed his hand. "I don't want to find my birth mom so she can be my mom again," he continued. "I just want to make sure she's okay." I watched his brilliant brown eyes. "Mom?" he said. "I'm really happy you're my mom." I blinked hard. Struggling to hide the tears. "I'm glad I ended up with you."

I couldn't speak. And we were interrupted by the guy who wanted a free cell phone.

On the way home from the restaurant, Isaac rode with me and Esther-Faith rode with Tim. That's actually the opposite of how the kids typically choose, but we almost always let them choose. Today, Esther-Faith wanted to ride with Tim. Isaac wanted to ride with me.

It's the little things, folks. The tiny decisions that have a major impact.

We were about halfway home when Isaac started asking questions. About his brother. Their birth mom. Foster care. Injustice. Anger. And what is next.

We had a great conversation, but he seemed most worried about what is coming next for Isaiah with the criminal charges. I explained what we're hoping would happen. And I explained what could happen. I told him that his dad is the expert. But it turns out, he didn't want expert advice. He wanted his mama. He needed me.

There are days I really feel like a complete failure as a mom. And even though there were failures wrapped up in today, and there was dysregulation, and there was absolutely anxiousness, I don't feel like a failure today.

Isaac shared with me how worried he is that Isaiah will go to prison. How he feels responsible for his brother and sister. How he's not sure he should join the army--his dream of late--because he thinks he should get a better job so he can help support his siblings.

And he started to sob. Actual hot tears streaming down his beautiful face and soaking his white school shirt.

I reached over and grabbed his hand. We were close to home, so I passed the house. Slowly I made loops through our development explaining things to Isaac. Abuse. Assault. Sexual abuse. Neglect. Foster care. Trauma. RAD. Hope. Mistakes. Fault. Cause. Healing. And Hope again. At least 20 times we passed the house. He never asked what we were doing. He just cried.

I explained mistakes and consequences. He knows all about both, but this time it was so hard. He knows that if Isaiah goes to jail, Isaiah will be getting a consequence for an action. Maybe he couldn't control it. Maybe he could. But the consequence for his actions, his mistakes, could be prison. And he has to pay for what he did.

And Isaac asked me the most profound question, "But hasn't he been paying for someone else's mistakes his whole life?!" He made air quotes around the word "mistake" when he spat it out.

He was emphatic. And upset. And sobbing.

I had held it together until that moment. Because yes. Yes, he has. He's been paying for something someone did to him before he knew to fight back. And now, again, the system is failing him.

How my heart ached for my boys in that moment. The one who is starting to understand, and the one who likely never will. The boy who feels compelled to change the course of his life in order to be there for this brother who may never hold a steady job or attend college.

These kids. What amazing children they are. And how lucky we are to call them ours.

I couldn't be more proud and more sad.

They are my heart. My very broken heart.

On the way home from my nephew's band concert this evening, we were listening to some Christmas music. I love Christmas music. This is not a revelation. I have accumulated a significant collection over the years. iTunes has been great in helping me organize my music. There's a playlist of all the stuff I love and listen to all season. There's a playlist for the stuff I listen to while I sleep. And a playlist of stuff that the kids love--musicals and whatnot.

My all-purpose Christmas playlist was on in the car on the way home from the concert, and a song "An Irish Blessing" from the Touched by an Angel Christmas Album came on. Isaac groaned in the back seat. Tim started complaining. I turned it up.

This album, along with MANY of my favorites (Guitar Winterlude, Christmas by the Fire, and others) was gifted to us by St. Nick. It is a great album. Including the song "An Irish Blessing" from the Touched by and Angel Christmas Album.

I'll admit. It's a little strange. With enough Christmas Ale, Tim makes up great alternative lyrics to the blessing. Humorous and inappropriate lyrics. His son has started to bastardize the song as well. So tonight, because I was driving and I love the long, I made them shut up and actually listen to the lyrics.

And no one spoke a word. I hesitate to call it this, but it felt like a Christmas miracle. Tears were streaming down my face when Roma Downey recited, "And may you come to realize that insignificant as you may seem in this great universe you are an important part of God's plan. May he watch over you and keep you safe from harm."

Because that is my prayer. That my sweet boys realize they ARE significant. That their lives matter. That they are important. And valuable. And needed. And that God keeps them safe from harm.

Every time I see Isaiah, I look for the scars from the failed suicide. I wonder if Isaac looks, too. I wonder if that is why he feels like he needs to take care of his siblings. To keep them safe.

I guess my prayer for my children is just that. Wrapped up in a cheesy Christmas song from an album that maybe only a couple thousand people own. That they see the beauty in things that seem insignificant. That they find hope in each other. And that they realize the power of family.

An Irish Blessing
By Roma Downey and Phil Coulter

May the blessing of light be upon you
light on the outside
light on the inside

With God's sunlight shining on you
may your heart glow with warmth like a turf fire 
that welcomes friends and strangers alike

May the light of the Lord shine from your eyes
like a candle in the window
welcoming the weary traveller

May the blessing of God's soft rain be on you
falling gently on your head
refreshing your soul with the sweetness of little flowers
newly blooming

May the strength of the winds of heavens bless you
carrying the rain to wash your spirit clean
sparkling after in the sunlight

May the blessing of God'd earth be on you
and as you walk the roads
may you always have a kind word for those you meet

May you understand the strength and power of God
in a thunderstorm in winter
And the quiet beauty of creation
in the calm of a summer sunset

And may you come to realize 
that insignificant as you may seem in this great universe
you are an important part of God's plan

May he watch over you and keep you safe from harm.

© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Throw back Thursday: Reality Check

Originally published November 15, 2007.

My how life has changed--as much as it has stayed the same.


You realize that your 22-month-old daughter has a sense of her own reality when she names her stuffed dolphin "Catheter."

You realize that your 11-year-old son has a sense of his own reality when, for his birthday party, he asks that his friends bring hats, gloves, and scarves instead of gifts so that he can donate them to a women's shelter. Because he remembers what it was like to not have those things.

You realize that your seven-year-old son has a sense of his own reality when he develops a tenderness for orphans because he realizes that he used to be one.


© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Legal age

It was about 2 p.m. when I glanced down at my watch and recognized the date instead of the time. November 4. And it dawned on me, I have an anniversary today.

I IM'ed my sister (we work in the same building) that it was my anniversary. That 21 years ago I went on a first date that would turn into a second date, and on a third date, he would kiss me. In his dorm room. We were watching the movie, "The Crow." And he was the last boy I kissed for the first time. I knew in that moment, he was it for me.

I was 18 years old. He had recently turned 20. Babies (by every standard we have set for our children). I don't think we ever talked about it. We just were. There was a comfort to everything we did. From the mundane to the spectacular. It was always with the other in mind. Jobs. Decisions. Surprises. Graduations. Losing children. Bringing children home. And every moment that followed.

He is working today. A 12-hour shift. He gets off at 10. I hope to have a nice appetizer and a chilled beverage waiting for him. I'm putzing around the kitchen, slowly getting it ready. Missing his presence--even as I know how happy it will make him as he peels off his uniform just inside the front door and I hear that familiar sound of ripping velcro signaling he his home safe and sound.

I know he will kiss me first, but within minutes he will check on the kids. Asking about homework time and my evening and her procedure and his tap practice and robot club and more. I will hopefully pull a bubbling, hot appetizer out of the oven just in time for him to schlump into a chair at the dining room table cluttered with backpacks and laptops and cookbooks and sketch pads and lunch boxes.

I will hopefully sit close to him and pour him a glass of wine and smell his scent and kiss his face and look into his beautiful eyes. Eyes I have looked into at least 10,000 times over the last 21 years. Eyes I hope to look into at least 10,000 more. I will tell him about my conversation with Isaac. How he asked when he's going to see his therapist again. His questions about his birth family. His anxiety. His confidence. I will tell him about Esther-Faith's procedure. And her science test. And we'll talk about upcoming parent-teacher conferences, our jobs, and our oldest son.

We're at the stage in our lives where we're in our pajamas within minutes of arriving home from work. It's okay for him, he gets off at 10. I get home at 6. I may, or may not, drive the children to soccer practice or dance lessons in my pajamas. (Not a secret, I do. Last night, in my pajamas and black heels. Because they were by the door, and one of my flip-flops is missing. Don't judge.)

It's also the stage during which we get to make post-kid plans. Although, we're realizing that will look very different for us. We're both in the second half of our careers, and we get to decide if we're okay with that or not. We're developing new hobbies--together. We're learning to cherish every, single minute we have on this earth. And to appreciate all of the moments we're given to spend together.

When I was 25 years old, during a routine exam, my doctor found a lump in my breast. I remember standing in my kitchen after an Ohio State game--my in-laws were town to see their daughter march with TBDBITL--I remember picking up a glass and taking as sip as I heard my Tim try to tell his parents about the impending surgery and all that followed. I saw him struggle. I saw their faces as they thought they would be hearing different news. Perhaps of a grandchild. And I remember being kind of in a cloud as I felt sad that this was the news we were given, and I watched their faces change. And the tears start and the hugs. So many hugs.

Those people love us. In the scary and the ugly and the chaos and the happy and the ecstatic. But here's the thing. November 4 is the anniversary of their first date, too. Many, many years before our first date 21 years ago. It is something we share. Something important to the four of us, and maybe no one else.

So, they have an anniversary today. But so do I. Not a big one. Not a significant one as years are measured. It is an anniversary, though. A day to reminisce the beginning of this love affair. The beginning of this commitment. The beginning of this...

This us. 

The us that waits for the moment the door opens and we are safe under the same roof. The us that continues to fight and pray for our oldest son. The us that continues to be apart so that the time together is more valuable. The us that is committed to loving each other in the hardest and the easiest of moments, and the us committed to making the lives of our children better.

The us that has now been an us longer than we were each an I. 

The us that is us. 

Us. November 4, 2015

© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.