Blog Challenge Day 24: A difficult time

Describe a difficult time in my life.

By far, to date, the most troubling time in my life was at 23 and 24 years old. I was newly married and freshly off all forms of birth control. We were going to start a family. With all that potential in the air – and it was palpable – we forged ahead in anticipation that I would have a positive pregnancy test by the beginning of 2002, if not by the end of 2001.

Nothing happened, so we upped our game. Still nothing happened, so we went to the doctor.

It was at this point that a dark cloud came over our two-bedroom apartment in North Chattanooga and settled there for the next year and a half. It was dark, so much that the darkness crept in my heart and pushed out all the happiness. There would be no pregnancies. Ever.

All around me, friends fell pregnant, and one-by-one, they hesitated to tell me. We weren’t planning it, they’d say. We hate to tell you this, they’d say. It was as if all they had to do was run into each other in the hallway and – voila! – pregnant!

They hated to tell me, and I hated to hear it. The darkness got worse and I hated everyone. I was a horrible friend, a horrible person. Mother’s Day in 2002 was the worst. Pastors and preachers, don’t ever ask all the mothers in the congregation to stand up and be recognized with applause. I’m still surprised lightning did not strike me dead in the pew on account of my awful thoughts.

It was around Christmastime in 2002 that my best friend, Karin, cautiously, carefully told me she was pregnant. After feigning excitement for the duration of the phone call, I hung up and wept at Chuck’s feet. Not only was this the absolute lowest possible point I could fall, it was also the turning point. I resolved that I would enjoy pregnancy through Karin. If I wasn’t going to be a mother, I would at least be the next best thing – the auntie.

Starting in January 2003, I scraped myself off the floor, wiped my face, and helped Karin decorate the nursery. We shopped together and I helped host her baby shower. I put my hand to her belly and felt the baby kick. I did all the things.

The darkness in my heart was still there, but it had waned. Occasionally it resurfaced, like when we started the adoption process and the road felt long and hopeless, but I kept focused and diligent. I would be a mother eventually.

In August 2003, we met Jeremy’s birth mother. In September 2003, we were there for his birth. From the moment I decided to lift myself out of the fog to the moment Jeremy was born, it was exactly nine months. 

adoption quote

Blog Challenge Day 11: Most proud moment

First of all, HOW BOUT THEM VOLS!

So, what’s my most proud moment? 

Let’s go with my most recent, and it happens to be connected to Tennessee Football.

If you know Jackson in real life, then you know how unique he is. Super affectionate, friendly to everyone, and a big time football fan across the board. He loves Tennessee and the Packers (because I’m a good mother), but he loves watching the game no matter who’s playing.

Jackson and Phil Fulmer

The problem occurs when he gets over-excited. One of the things the psychologist explained to us during his evaluations is that Jackson operates at a nine pretty much all the time, on a scale of one to ten. Those of us who are high strung start our day at a five or six, while others who have a calmer disposition hover at a two or three on a regular basis. As conflicts arise, we slowly inch to ten, each reaching that breaking point when we all lose our minds.

Because he struggles with impulse control, living each day at a nine can be really stressful – good or bad. When the Vols are winning, he’s jumping up and down, snapping, clapping, shifting here and there, repeating stats and obsessing over numbers. When the Vols are losing, he’s crying, tossing himself on the ground, sayings things he does not mean.

impulse control autismIt takes a daily reminding – no, hourly – that he needs to recognize his own level of frustration and make the decision to calm down or change his situation (leave the room, change the channel, walk away, etc.) Because when he Reaches 10, it gets ugly.

That brings us to the Tennessee-Arkansas game last Saturday. We found cheap seats online and went as a family. It was a risk, considering how Tennessee has played this season. I was mildly worried about Chuck’s blood pressure, but I was mostly worried about Jackson Reaching 10. And in a crowd of 102,000 fans, how would we handle Jackson Reaching 10?

Throughout each quarter, I had to gently remind Jackson, It’s not a big deal, It’s okay, Calm down, Sit down, It’s okay, It’s not a big deal. But then we reached the fourth quarter and it wasn’t looking good. I could read Jackson’s face quite clearly. If Tennessee did not pull out all the stops, Arkansas was going to win and Jackson was going to melt down. I half-watched the game and half-watched his face.

Tennessee fumbled. The game was going downhill fast. Jackson spun around to me and said boldly, “I NEED TO LEAVE.”

Calmly, I turned to Chuck, who’d driven separately, and said, “Jackson needs to leave.” Then the two stood up, grabbed hands, and left the stadium. Jackson diffused along the way.

While Jeremy and I finished watching the pitifully poor game, I sat proudly. Tennessee was losing to a team that they should have beat, but Jackson totally won that night. He recognized his temper and MADE THE DECISION on HIS OWN to walk away. It was a big move. It was ginormous. To date, it was one of my proudest moments as a mother: Jackson crested the rim of Reaching 10 and decided on his own to turn back. 

Throwback Thursday: Twelve years of friendship

We send Ethan home today after being my third son for a short week. I wasn’t present at his birth because while Ethan was making his arrival in Chattanooga Chuck and I were in North Carolina waiting on Jeremy. The boys are five hours apart. It was the sort of supernatural gift only God could orchestrate for two best friends.

Jeremy and Ethan collage

In 2007:

jeremy and ethan in 2007

In 2014:

Jeremy and Ethan in 2014

They’re quite a pair. No matter how much time passes they seem to pick right up and forget they live in different cities. My hope is that this friendship goes on infinitely, that it matures and sticks. Eventually our parental efforts will wane and it will be up to them to carry it on. Until then, we’ll continue these visits as little deposits into their future.

Yesterday we went to the Sunsphere and a local playground. The weather was completely perfect.

Knoxville Sunsphere

From atop the sunsphere

The water they can't play in

I love how Jackson smiles with his eyes. 

Jack smiles with his eyes

Thanks for coming to visit Ethan! You always have a place here.

Jeremy and Ethan Knoxville 2015

Jeremy and Ethan at the playground

Jeremy and Ethan play 2015

Family rules, according to Jackson

One of the classes Jackson is taking at our new (and wonderful!) co-op is Literature and Creative Writing. This is a topic I feel comfortable teaching at home, but Jackson has an extra creative mind so double-dipping for this subject can only benefit him.

The classes was assigned to write a paper about family rules. I only helped him with grammar and punctuation, not content. It was his own idea and choice to start the paper with humor, which I adore.

Of course I have to share it with you:

In my family, we have a lot of strange rules. Before we go to bed, we go outside and eat grass. If it’s snowing, we go out and get really, really cold rolling around without jackets! Then we go to a beehive and get bitten. Then we go in the mud and get really dirty!

No, I’m joking! A real family rule is that we are very kind to each other! Also we have table manners, because it’s rude to burp while we eat dinner. We also have an electronic time limit. On weekends we have one hour, and we have to obey our parents and do chores. Then we do school on weekdays and Fridays we take a test. We can’t talk to our parents if they are doing work. We can only watch some PG-13 movies.

If we don’t obey the rules, we are in trouble, but we always obey the rules. Sometimes, we have ice cream at night. We have no breaking anything, no attacking anyone, no arguing with school, no lying, no making the dog really crazy, no making anyone mad, and no video games on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. That is all the family rules we have here.

Fourth and Sixth Grade

We start the academic year on Monday so it felt proper to take some school photos. We may not have a yearbook or a sit-and-smile photography studio, but we do have the flexibility for me to say, “Go put on some nice clothes and come out in the driveway! It’s time for school pictures!”

Let’s do this.

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Throwback to 2009 when Jackson fell out of the toddler bed

In August 2009 we were living in Amarillo. Even though we had a three-bedroom house we made the boys share a room so we could have an office/guest room/treadmill space. Jeremy, nearly six, was in a twin bed and Jackson, at three, had just recently moved to a toddler bed (the crib, minus one wall).

From infancy, Jackson was a tummy sleeper. I know, I KNOW, that’s illegal in this country. But as soon as he could make the choice, he’d flip over onto his stomach, pull up his knees, and sleep in a crouching position. For years he did this.

So on a late night in August, on my own way to bed, I peeked in their room to make sure they were still alive. (We only stopped doing this a couple of years ago, by the way.) Jeremy was sound asleep, and so was Jackson, in his crouched up position on the floor. 

I honestly can’t remember if I left him like that or if I moved him back to the bed.

jack fell out of bed august 2009

That’s baptized?

Baptism in the reformed tradition is a sacrament that publicly announces our belonging to God. Many, but not all, choose infant baptism as a means of acknowledging the promises of God and subsequently promising that our efforts as a church body will always direct the child to Christ. (For more on this, click here.)

We are currently raising our boys in a church that celebrates baptism differently from how we were taught (or more specifically, how I was taught). In a previous life, I considered baptism valid only if the recipient of the sacrament made the decision himself. That is, someone had to verbally say the words – to repeat the script, of sorts – and personally choose to be baptized. Infant baptism eluded me. How could a baby choose to be a follower of Christ? How could a baby make a public statement?

I understand the significance and validity of that theology. It makes sense. Someone chooses to follow Christ, therefore someone chooses to make that decision public through baptism. I get it. I was baptized under that theology and so was Jeremy.

That being said, I’ve come to a place where I recognize, respect, and believe that infant baptism is just as valid, just as special, and just as meaningful as any other form of baptism. It’s a sacrament rooted in promise and proclamation. Why not place your baby before the church and God and everyone and promise to tend to her body and soul and, as a collective, proclaim the child as God’s? I totally get it. I’m down with it. God is way bigger than all the ways we try to box Him in. 

By the way, have you ever seen a baby baptized? I tear up every time.

This brings me to Jackson. He is not baptized, nor has he really inquired about it. If you ask him about God and Jesus and the Bible, he gets a little fuzzy. In Sunday School he draws pictures of superheroes and Josh Dobbs. He takes communion with us, but the meaning of it isn’t something he can explain on his own. (He did tell me once that the grape juice we drink for the Lord’s Supper is his second favorite drink, the first being Sprite.)

On Sunday we celebrated an infant’s baptism, and as our pastor sprinkled the water over the child’s bald little head, Jackson leans over to me and whispers, “That’s baptized?”

I nod, he nods, then he goes back to reading his book about the San Fransisco 49ers.

A flood of questions fill my head. What if he’s never baptized? What if he’s never able to explain the holy triune or know that celebrating the Lord’s Supper is a precious, commemorative, sacred act that connects us directly to Christ? What if my tender-hearted animal lover reads too many Old Testament passages about burnt offerings and can’t deal?

What if Jackson never gets it?  

There’s a lot of stuff Jackson gets, by the way. He’s a stellar student. He’s so sharp academically that I’m working hard to make sure I get enough curriculum to last him through next April. He’s emotionally vulnerable and very sensitive to when others are hurt. His selective memory is incredible (football stats, anyone?) and he totally knew that Vision was going to make an appearance in the second Avengers movie long before it was announced.

Ant man

But spiritually, I wonder.

What I’m not worried about is God’s claim on Jackson. That’s covered. My worry lies in the reciprocation.

Thankfully, we belong to a church body who is really great about teaching kids about God in kid language. Jackson is a rising fourth grader and that means he’ll graduate to a new group that uses The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter as a conduit. It may be that Jackson continues to draw pictures of superheroes and Josh Dobbs while everyone else draws Aslan and Hedwig. He may not get the symbolism or draw parallels. He may love it or he may get bored. Sometimes his Sunday morning mood is dependent on whether or not Tennessee won its football game on Saturday.

Still, we press on, because whether or not Jackson ever stands before a congregation and says the words, or whether or not he speaks them quietly to himself, he is a loved, cherished, irreplaceable child of God, and that’s the kind of promise that doesn’t break. 

“Not being weird is my goal today.”

This is what Jackson said to me in the car on the way to drama camp this morning. My heart broke in a million pieces.

Fountain at HH

It reminded me of a conversation he and I had a few months ago when he used the word “weird” to describe himself for the first time.

Jackson: I don’t have any friends. Everyone thinks I’m weird.

Me: You’re not weird. You’re unique.

Jackson: What does that mean?

Me: You’re one of a kind. I’d much rather have a kid who’s one of a kind than a kid who’s like everyone else.

Jackson: Well that’s nice.

Jackson cuts the water

If someone knows what else I should say, I’m happy to listen. He wasn’t moved by my efforts to comfort him but instead has continued to call himself “weird” every so often. (I’d love to know where he got that from.) I’m quick to correct him because the last thing I want either of my children feeling is less than.

And yet, that’s where we are so often – Jackson calling himself weird and Jeremy feeling insecure about his hearing impairment. I’d love to say that I’m the perfect example of a healthy self-image, but I fail miserably in that arena all the time. It makes me wonder if my boys don’t stand a chance at confidence because I’m unable to offer an example. Even though I don’t bum around the house being down on myself (which would be an obvious habit to break), perhaps I don’t exhibit a positive attitude in a way that promotes a healthy self-esteem. Telling my boys to be confident is much different from living by example with an intentional mindset of contentment. 

It’s something to consider, don’t you think?

in the Atlantic

What a careful balance it is – being your children’s cheerleader while letting them fail and suffer so they can learn to bounce back. I want to protect them from all the junk in the world, but that will only produce adults who flail and drown in a bubble of naiveté. They need to experience the lows so they can appreciate the highs. They must know sorrow so they can recognize joy.

By the way, no one tells you these things when your babies are all new and fragile and smell so good you think nothing will ever go wrong. No one warns you that one day your child may be so riddled with insecurity because kids are cruel and the world isn’t kind and you don’t know how to fix it. Here is your warning, new parents! Hold tight. Get ready. Take notes.

In keeping with the randomness of this post, I’ll leave you with another recent conversation I had with Jackson. Let’s end with a laugh, shall we?

Jackson: I’m sorry Mom, but my wife and I are only going to have dogs. No cats.

Me: No cats? Why?

Jackson: Because we’re dog people.

Me: What if your wife doesn’t like dogs?

Jackson: Oh, she will!

Me: But how will you know?

Jackson: I’ll buy her a ring, then I’ll get down on my knees and ask her to marry me, and then I’ll say, ‘Do you like dogs?’

Me: And what if she says she’s allergic to dogs and can’t have one?

Jackson: We’ll get rabbits!

Ninth Birthday Eve

If you know Jackson, then you know he’s prone to obsess here and there. Superheroes, football, holiday celebrations, et cetera. If he likes something, then HE REALLY LIKES IT and wants to share his passion with you. In keeping with his tendency to obsess, we’ve been counting down to his ninth birthday for the last three months. This morning, with great fervor, he announced that today is his “Ninth Birthday Eve.” As if we’d forgotten!

For the last installment of birthday interviews, I present to you Jackson’s Three Favorite Characters in Fiction.


Birthday Month Interview No. 1

I told Jackson that we’d do some interviews leading up to his birthday. He insisted we start right away. In this first video we talk about how to have a fun summer, whether or not Age of Ultron was better than Tomorrowland, and how I’m a lovely mother. You know, important things.

Diagnosis: ADHD and ASD

If you know us in real life, you know that our youngest son, Jackson, is a unique fella. He’s happy, giggly, and thinks the best of everyone. He’s sharp, affectionate, and a ferocious reader. In his dreams, he is a superhero.

He’s also in a world of his own, so much that Chuck and I decided that we needed some outside help with adjusting our parenting style. A handful of evaluations later, the psychologist confirmed what we already knew. Jackson has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and is on the Autism Spectrum – both mild but “clinically significant.”

Jack in Jacksonville

To be clear, this diagnosis is not upsetting. We’ve known from the very beginning that this kiddo is one of a kind. Along the way he’s had early intervention and other accommodations to keep him flourishing. We think carefully before involving him in one activity or another and take the extra step to make sure he’s safe in places where he’s not necessarily paying attention (large crowds, parking lots…). However, in the last year or so there have been areas of Jackson’s behavior that leave us baffled. We simply don’t know how to respond, such as when he’s physically attacked someone, going from Happy Jack to Hulk Mode in a nanosecond because his impulsivity took charge. We know he’s overwhelmed in certain situations but we’re not always sure how handle the come-down.

Jackson's birthday loot

So we sought help. As I explained to the psychologist during the consultation, I’m not looking for labels. Beyond this post, it’s likely I won’t mention them again. All kids are unique, some more than others, and we all have to do our best with the resources we have. For us, that means modeling appropriate social interactions and enhancing predictability in certain areas of daily living. It means keeping our cool and remembering that Jackson is already functioning at a high stress level.

Arrows up

We have a 30-page report detailing Jackson’s evaluation results along with recommendations on how to help him, which is exactly what I was looking for. Now we have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of Jackson’s brain. Sure, he snaps his fingers and flaps his arms and has an emotional outburst now and again, but he’s also extraordinarily creative and unfailingly affectionate. He wants to jump in with other kids, even if he doesn’t fully understand how to interact with them. His heart is big, and so are his efforts.

Jack Loves WALL-E

I suppose that’s all there is to say on the matter, so I’ll end this post with the haiku Jackson wrote this morning:

Ultron has come down
but the Avengers are here
they will save us all.

Iron Man in second grade

Undefeated and Preaching on Sunday

It’s times like these that I want to laugh when people ask if my boys get enough socialization, as if homeschooling means we never leave the house.

Jeremy had his eighth and final soccer game of the season on Saturday, which they won, therefore the Blue Bombers finished the season undefeated. Jeremy couldn’t be more pleased since last year’s football experience was the exact opposite – they never won a single game. He worked his tail off and his coach made the remark that Jeremy is one of the players who showed the most improvement.  Continue reading “Undefeated and Preaching on Sunday”

“I cannot live without books.”

This morning, on my way from the bedroom to the kitchen, the tornado of books in the living room gave me pause. Judy Moody, Big Nate, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda… they were everywhere. My perfectionism surged and I started stacking books by size on the coffee table. Jackson, who was waiting patiently in the kitchen for his Strawberry Mini Wheats, got concerned.

“What are you doing?”

“The living room is a mess,” I told him. “There are too many books in here.”

I cannot live without books,” he said calmly.

My heart beamed.

“I know. Me neither. But we can at least stack them neatly.”

Continue reading ““I cannot live without books.””

A story from the other writer

Y’all, we have another writer in the house. I didn’t edit his story, but I did format it properly. Jackson has been really into writing over the summer and lately he’s been begging me to type his stories out on the computer. As if I’d say no!

Super Cat!
by Jackson Miller

Super Cat

One night a cat was playing with a ball. He was A TALKING CAT! He heard a (bang) then a (clang). He went outside.

Oh, he thought.

The next day he went to Target to get cat food and some books. Then he went down the new movie aisle and he saw tons of them: Lego Movie, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America: the Winter Soldier, all kinds of them!

After that he started going home and then he heard a scream again! It was the evil teddy bear!

“What are you doing?” Super Cat asked.

“DESTROYING STUFF!” he yelled.

Super Cat ran home really fast! He had super speed! He found a package and scratched it open: TADA! It was a suit with a mask and a cape! It had the letters SC on it. When he found evil teddy bear he said, “You are no match for me!”

And then he killed him.

The End.


From now on, call me Gary.

On our way home from the grocery store last night, Jackson announced that he’d like to change his name. No, that’s not accurate. He had already changed his name and decided to inform the rest of us about it.

Jack: From now on, call me Gary.

Jeremy: What?

Jack: Gary. Like Gary Old Man.

Me: Gary Oldman?

Jack: Yeah.

Jeremy: Who’s that?

Me: Sirius Black. Commissioner Gordon.

Jeremy: Okay. Well that’s weird.

Jack: No it’s not! It’s the best name. Call me Gary from now until forever.

Okay, Gary, we said.

Jack: Jeremy, what should we call you?

Jeremy: Awesome.

Additionally, after getting his hair cut last night, I took a picture, to which he replied, “Call it ‘Gary’s new haircut.'”

So, here’s Gary’s new haircut.

Gary's new haircutHappy Weekend to you, readers. From all of us. And Gary.


Have fun with your kids

If you know us personally, then you know we take humor very seriously. We rarely do anything without incorporating something funny, or in most cases, adding some element of prank on the kids.

Take, for example, a simple thing like washing the car. The boys are really interested in earning money right now, so we had them help Chuck in the driveway on Sunday. They were good sports and super helpful. Fantastic! We made sure not to miss the opportunity to thank them properly.

Water prank1 Water Prank2 Water prank3 Water prank4 Water prank5 I’m not sure there’s a better photo than this next one: Jeremy is ticked and offended. Jackson is shocked and screaming. Chuck is having the time of his life.Water prank6Pissed:
Water prank7Crying:
Water prank8 Hysterically laughing:Water prank9 No worries. They’re fine. They’re used to it. In fact, they should’ve known better! Water prank10


Last batch from Jax

Because I need to move on with life, this will be the last batch of beach photos, and it’s going to be a small one. We drove down to Jacksonville for a few hours one day just to see the beach and have lunch. Of course, Jackson thought it was way cool to be in Jacksonville, so we went one step further and let him put his feet in the ocean at Jax Beach. Parents of the Year, people.

Jack in Jacksonville

Boys at Jax

Bridge at Jax Beach


Before driving back to Amelia Island, we grabbed lunch at Salt Life, where I had the most massive stack of nachos ever in my life. I ate through three layers and surrendered.

Hangry nachosAnd Chuck had this:

Seafood at Salt Life

T’was a great week, friends. We all had a great time, save a few sunburns and bouts of chaffing. Even though it was a quick five days, it was worth the drive just to put our feet in the sand.

Feet in the sand



Call me Kitten

It went something like this.

Jackson: What’s your nickname?
Me: I don’t really have one.
Jackson: But you call me Rabbit.
Me: Cause you’re my little Jack Rabbit. I’ve always called you that.
Jackson: What can I call you?
Me: Call me Mom.
Jackson: I’m gonna call you Kitten.
Me: Don’t call me Kitten.
Jackson: Why not, Kitten?
Me (laughing): I don’t think it’s a good idea.
Jackson: But it’s cute, Kitten.
Me (laughing harder): Please, stop.
Jackson (giggle): Okay… Kitten.

This conversation happened a week ago, and though he doesn’t call me Kitten all day every day, he says it enough to warrant a giggle, which is just enough encouragement for him to continue.

pet me

Silent Videos from 2005 and 2006

My first digital camera was a Kodak EasyShare that took sketchy video with no audio. Chuck gave it to me for Mother’s Day in 2005. I loved it because it meant I could take digital photos and video without developing film or hooking up the video camera to the television. It all seemed so convenient. Instant gratification and all.

Then, in December 2006, I got a second Kodak EasyShare that took video with sound. What a concept! That meant we were left with a year and a half of silent footage. Toddler Jeremy and newborn Jackson didn’t make a peep.

Earlier this week, I decided to pull bits of those videos together into one compilation set to music. It’s nearly nine minutes, so I realize only family and friends will commit to that sort of length. The first 4:45 minutes are all Jeremy. Then Jackson is born and there’s footage from the first time we saw him through the nursery window. He was less than 24 hours old.

There are also a few cameos of friends and cousins. Grace is at 2:45, Hank is at 4:15, Jacob makes an appearance at 4:30 and again at 5:56. Jackson is born at 4:54 and there’s a brief glimpse of Brenda, Chuck’s mother, at 5:37.

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